The larger the #carbonfootprint the greater the #humanhandprint

This being Labor Sunday, I gave a service this morning at the Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, celebrating work. We celebrated all kinds of work:

t’s the weekend of Labor Day and the end of summer is upon us. Let’s take a few deep breaths and remember all the people, both known and unknown, obvious and invisible, who worked hard to help us get where we are in life. Unfortunately, not all work bears noticeable fruit. We all benefit from the work of others, and engage in it ourselves, whether manual or intellectual, monotonous or wonderfully creative, secure or piecemeal or threatened. It’s all part of the process to feed us, shelter us, and provide for both the necessities and the luxuries.

Among other things, we read a prayer litany, blessing our many hands. I shared a poem I had composed for the occasion:

…for me to speak to you today,
someone–actually a team of doctors, nurses, and other hospital professionals–helped my mom deliver a baby boy
someone–in fact, many loving family members–raised me to self-confidence
someone–many teachers along the way–taught me to speak
someone–more than one Public Speaking and Homiletics professor–taught me to speak and preach well
someone–many friends, coaches, and mentors along the way–informed me of proper social etiquette and professional conduct
someone–writers and dreamers across the ages–inspired me to hope and to live that hope into life.

Someone–actually a steady stream of builders, bricklayers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, inspectors, and general laborers–built this house
someone–probably a family eagerly anticipating residing in this place–had it painted and furnished and decorated
someone–and, indeed, many people over the years–took care of this house.

You get the idea:
someone stitched the clothes I’m wearing
someone farmed the food I ate for breakfast
someone else got it to the store, where someone else arranged it on a shelf or in a cooler
someone planned out and others paved the roads I drove on to get here
someone designed the car I used and others manufactured it
the materials used in it were mined by people working for a living
or perhaps under debt bondage

They say many hands make for light work
it takes many, many  working hands to make it possible for any of us to take anything for granted.

During the postlude, as Bruce Springsteen was singing about a folk hero little heard of these days, I had an epiphany as I drank the last few drops of my coffee. Like the car I drove to the service this morning, the coffee passed through many hands to find it’s way to me for my consumption. We tend to think and talk of this cost of getting products to us in terms of resource consumption, or carbon footprint. I believe there’s a direct correlation to the human resources required to get products to us as well. In fact, the larger the carbon footprint, the greater the human handprint. Coffee, in particular has an enormous human handprint, and is one globally traded product with a high likelihood of coming from slave labor. Carbon is a chemical element that is essential to our environment and to life on this planet. Yet it’s still just a chemical, something remote and abstract from most of our experience. Human hands, on the other hand, is tangible and real. I’m using my two hands right now to type these words. I use my hands to embrace my loved ones, and I work with my hands to feed, clothe and shelter them and myself. Human hands are what it’s all about, which is why warlords in Sierra Leone hacked them off of their enemies. Thus the #humanhandprint hashtag can help us reframe the climate change debate into the human moral problem that it really is. Island nations drowning in tropical storms and rising sea levels aren’t victims of nature or some angry god because climate change has #humanhandprints all over it. The people having to flee their homes, becoming climate refugees have and leave #humanhandprints. It’s about the humans, not the carbon.


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