Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Re-Use Revolution: Toward a Lifestyle of Caring


by Diane Waddell

An advocacy campaign — and modeling a lifestyle — of decreasing the use of plastic (especially single-use plastic) offers an opportunity for faith groups to partner with secular groups/city/county government. Working at the local and neighborhood level is an important way to make a difference in caring for Creation, caring for neighbors, and for welcoming future generations with the gift of a safer, healthier, cleaner planet.


A group of us (who are now a part of the JOY New Worshiping Community) organized Ecumenical Eco-Justice of St. Joseph (Missouri), an advocacy group based on the principles of the 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si, “On Care for Our Common Home.” We noted that the city had no environmental committee, so we wrote a resolution for the mayor to consider empowering EEJ to help set up such a committee. The city environmental committee was formed in 2018 and both groups have been active ever since. Our work for Earth Care is similar although the terminology is different — Creation Justice for the faith group and environmental sustainability for the city group.


In time, and after many other projects, it became apparent that work toward educating about the devastating effects of plastic was vital. Our groups needed to become educated themselves, so one of the leaders enrolled in an excellent semester-long class called Beyond Plastic Pollution through Bennington College, VT. After several other online workshops, EEJ was able to partner with the national organization, Beyond Plastics and became the only representative in the northwest Missouri area.


EEJ is working with the city environmental committee to share, through workshops, meetings, and other community events, about switching from plastics to reusable items. One of the City committee’s goals is to “Refuse, Renew, Repurpose, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The committee obtained a grant to purchase reusable water bottles and shopping bags to distribute to groups who take time to hear about the importance of the reduction of single-use plastics.


This year’s theme (also from Beyond Plastics) is the Re-use Revolution, which encourages citizens to change their habits of using single-use plastic toward reusable items, avoiding purchasing items with plastic wrapping, and to bring reusable utensils, take-out containers, and drink containers when heading out to eat. EEJ will be hosting meetings with educational videos, PowerPoint, and more to share about the toxic effects of plastic in cracking, manufacturing, using, and “recycling” or trashing plastic.


“Recycling, while very worthwhile for items made from metal, glass, and paper, is, unfortunately, largely a myth when it comes to anything made from plastic. At least 91% of all plastic will end up being buried, burned or floating in ever smaller pieces in our oceans and waterways. Reuse is a simple, commonsense, sustainable solution that we all need to embrace.” (Beyond Plastics website*)


          Together, we can and must shift our throw-away, wasteful culture to one which understands that Earth is Sacred, water is sacred, our bodies are sacred… towards a culture which will send the message of love and nurturing to multiple generations to come.


 Diane Waddell is a leader in the JOY New Worshiping Community, Ecumenical Eco-Justice and the St. Joseph Sustainable Environment Advisory Committee. 

The Oil Industry’s Plan B


by Jane Laping

The advent of the electric car, solar energy, wind power, and energy efficiency is already reducing the demand for fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency predicts declining demand for fossil fuels with an expected peak in production in 2028. That comes as good news for those who care about the climate and all that God has created.

However, the petrochemical industry isn’t finished drilling for and refining fossil fuels. They have a new plan that has been penned as Plan B for the oil and gas industry. Plastics are made from fossil fuels. The approximately 13,000 different chemicals added to plastics to give them different properties (softness, strength, rigidity) are also made from fossil fuels. Many are toxic and known to cause health effects such as cancer, fertility, and diabetes.


Plastics is the third largest manufacturing industry in the country. More than 600 plastic polymer and resin manufacturers are located in the US with over one million jobs in 2019 concentrated in California, Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Nearly half of the worldwide production of plastics is used for packaging. 


Despite the low 9% rate of plastic recycling and new concerns about microplastics found in bottled water and the human body, the plastics industry is going full-steam ahead. Plastic production has continued to increase annually since 2010. In 2023, ExxonMobil doubled its capacity to produce an important component of plastics in Baytown, Texas.


Not surprisingly, the majority of oil refining and chemical production occurs in low-income and communities of color, exposing those who live there to levels of chemical pollutants above EPA recommendations for health. It is these communities who have the fewest resources to stop chemical-producing plants from locating in their neighborhoods. Therefore, plastic production is also an environmental justice issue. That is one more reason for us as Presbyterians to stop using single-use plastics in our daily lives and replace them with reusable products.


Jane Laping is vice moderator of Presbyterians for Earth Care. Jane started on the PEC Steering Committee in 2010 and then served as Vice Moderator of PEC from 2012-2014. In 2015 she became PECs part-time Coordinator and held that position for six years. Jane is also active at the local and state level, leading the Creation Care Team at her church in Asheville, NC, heading the Earth Care Team of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina (WNC), and is on the Steering Team of the Creation Care Alliance of WNC.

The Albatross: A Lament and A Song Of Hope


by Nancy Corson Carter

“Chris Jordan’s odyssey from Seattle to a small island in the North Pacific Ocean teeming with dead and dying seabirds was fueled by an unlikely siren: plastic. Since 2003, Jordan has amassed a body of photographs that have investigated the United States’ growing addiction to mass consumption. A river of discarded cell phones, a sea of colored glass bottles, an army of Barbie dolls: all these and more, in large-format documentary photos or digital recreations, have pointed to Americans’ propensity to buy goods that end up as mountains of garbage.” — Rosette Royale, Street News Service


When I saw the photo accompanying Rosette Royale’s article, I was horrified. I began to write an angry poem that I couldn’t finish. Now, as our church in Chapel Hill, NC works to alert people to avoid single-use plastics, encouraged by the Earth Day 2024 national theme "Planet vs. Plastic," I remember it.


My research for this photo led to the article. I hope Earth News readers will use the URL to access and ponder it. It explains why this young bird would never reach its adult wing span of up to 12 feet and would be deprived of its lifetime soaring over the Pacific because its mother’s attempts to nurture and care for it were misled by colorful plastic that looked like food but was instead indigestibly toxic.


In the closing of this article with its heart-breaking photos, Chris Jordan’s thoughts rouse us to action:


 “…Jordan believes Midway is a spiritual place, and finds the name evocative. “Here we are at this crossroads,” he said, “where everything that has ever happened has led to this moment and everything we decide now will decide the future.”

He believes the albatross, a central figure in the Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” plays a special role in humanity. “It’s like this spirit bird, the messenger,” he said.
What Jordan wants the film to communicate is that people can change the way they live and alter the fate of albatrosses of Midway. “It’s a message of horror, but also beauty and hope,” he said. “And love.”



Where could I go from that angry poem begun

when I first saw that heartbreaking photo? How could I

summon words of “beauty and hope” or even “love”?!


Since then, I have learned that the name of the world’s

oldest known wild bird (she was tagged Z333 in 1951)

is a Laysan albatross or mōlī named Wisdom.

On December 21, 2023 she returned to Midway Atoll.


With millions of other albatrosses she returns to nest and raise

her young in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National

Monument. She’s seen to embody Hawaiian deity, Lono,

a sacred being. She has lived nearly ¾ of a century

(most albatrosses survive to about 50).


Bird counters come yearly to witness this priceless part of

Earth’s evolution over millions of years, to wonder at their

beauty and power but also to lament the trash and debris

strewn around the birds’ nests, washed up on beaches.


They return with this message: to see these magnificent

creatures is to know that they are part of us, ones we must,

in this time of crisis, welcome and protect as a holy trust.

Nancy Corson Carter, professor emerita of humanities at Eckerd College, has published two poetry books, Dragon Poems and The Sourdough Dream Kit, and three poetry chapbooks. Some of her poems, drawings, and photos appear in her nonfiction book, Martha, Mary, and Jesus: Weaving Action and Contemplation in Daily Life and in her memoir, The Never-Quite-Ending War: a WWII GI Daughter's Stories.

Plastic Jesus


by Eric Diekhans

When I was a child in the 1960s, Coca-Cola and milk came in glass bottles, eggs came in paper cartons, and vegetables were sold loose in grocery store bins. But times were changing quickly, and by the time I was a teenager in the 1970s, plastic had mostly taken over the United States.


Plastic was an easy, logical choice. It was lighter, cheaper, and easier to mold into countless shapes than glass. It was stronger than paper. Plastic was a miracle of science. Few people imagined that today, over 460 million tons of plastic would be produced each year and the impact all that plastic on our environment would be enormous.


As Earth Day approaches, Creation Justice Ministries has produced a resource called Plastic Jesus: Real Faith in a Synthetic World to help Christians consider the cost of plastic and our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation to change our plastic addiction.


This free download provides a theological framework for talking with Christians about plastic, sermon starters, Sunday school resources, actions individuals and congregations can take, and inspirational stories to help you jumpstart an environmental ministry.


The inspirational stories in the booklet include Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), which has been in a grant partnership with the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 2018. ACAT works with indigenous communities implementing effective strategies to limit their exposure to toxic substances and to protect and restore the ecosystems that sustain them and their way of life. One of the most important pieces of ACAT’s work is making connections between health issues among Indigenous people on Sivuqaq (the traditional name for St. Lawrence Island) and the fossil-fuel-driven production of plastics in the region.


According to “Plastic Jesus,” “The people of Sivuqaq rely on a traditional diet of greens, berries, fish, reindeer, and marine mammals for their physical, cultural and spiritual sustenance. Sadly, the study of these foods shows how contaminants from plastic production carried to the far north by atmospheric and ocean currents persist for years and sometimes decades, burdening the regions Indigenous people.”


The resource offers actions that we can take individually and as a community to stem the scourge of plastic. We can focus on an extended season where we try to live plastic-free, cutting as many single-use plastics from our lives as possible. We can reduce our consumption of shellfish, which ingest microplastics that then end up in our bodies and can cause health problems. We can educate ourselves about our personal plastic use, keeping track of how much plastic we use, what happens to the plastic that we throw away, and how much plastic our community recycles.


In our churches, we can use paper or bamboo plates instead of plastic or plastic foam, and silverware rather than plastic utensils. We can use glass communion cups instead of plastic. We can advocate for divestment from fossil fuel companies, and we can look at our own investment portfolios to see if we support the plastics industry.


One of the most important things we can do is advocate at the local, state, and national levels to pass laws that reduce our reliance on single-use plastic, such as banning plastic bags and funding recycling programs.


Eric Diekhans is an author, Executive Director of the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries, and a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Easter Greeting


Easter Greeting – 2024


Flowers and flowering trees

have braved the work of Spring again

amidst raucous winds and seesawing weather.

Climate Change.

Last year’s lilacs tried to bloom 4 times

as January released Spring’s warmth.

It prematurely teased early blooms and buds to open,

only to sharply succumb to bitter frost,

over and over and over again.

Now flowers and leaves keep buds tightly closed, dark,

fearful of fierce cold’s bite

as temperatures wildly swing

from spring warmth to winter frost.


Thus, my Easter wishes for us all

are continued leaning into

work of healing Mother Earth’s wounds,

for all her Life forms

are Sacred,

in all beginning kinds of Faith.

Only a Divine Source of Energy

could have Created the complex intricacies

of the exquisitely vital inter-relationships

continually found in Life on Earth.


Human hubris has

via free will

allowed greed, hatred, love of power

far too much free reign.

We’ve been seduced into

ruling, redesigning Nature

for gains of property, wealth, pleasure.


Many though are leaning into healing

with hopes that we can

nudge Divinely Created Life Cycles

again into some semblance of balance,

not as they were originally created;

for far too many life types have been decimated,

but in ways that nurture

remnants of rich forms of life

with spaces and prayerful use

 so that Mother Earth can emerge once more

 within a Divine Spirit of Resurrection.


                                                                                           Betsy Diaz - 3/23/24

Betsy Diaz, Ph.D. is a member of La Mesa Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque which resides on land of the Tiwa People, from whom as with many indigenous nations, we have much to learn about the Sacred gift of Creation and how we should live to maintain its sustainability.  La Mesa church also supports poetry with a Poetry Post & a Small Library in the Community Garden developed by La Mesa Church and La Mesa public Elementary School, East Central Ministries and the City of Albuquerque.

Friday, March 1, 2024

2023 Earth Care Award Winners Announced


Two Eco-Justice Award Winners Honored

at Presbyterians for Earth Care Hybrid Conference


Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) recognized two well-qualified individuals for their exceptional environmental achievements at their September 2023 hybrid conference in Massanetta Springs, VA. The William Gibson Eco-Justice Award was presented to David Kimball of Billings, MT for his exceptional and far-reaching service in visioning the creation and maintenance of an extensive community garden. Sarah Shimer, a science teacher at Berwick Academy in Maine, received the Emerging Earth Care Leader Award for a young adult.


David Kimball, William Gibson Eco-Justice Award

At St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Billings, MT, Dave develops, encourages, and inspires garden activities that have grown and improved over the last 21 years. The garden, with over 50 families sharing plots and a half-acre mission garden, feeds community members and annually shares thousands of pounds of fresh produce with local, low-income food agencies. Dave has led church members and the community in learning about composting, eco-friendly insect control, crop rotation, non-chemical-based fertilization, and offered instruction around sustainable agriculture and the importance of pollinators. The orchard, labyrinth, greenhouse, compost system, and beehives offer more than just vegetables to the community. Dave’s initial and realized vision is community inclusion and because of his vision, organizational leadership, and cheerleading, today the Community Garden continues to follow a mission that is broadly community driven and oriented.


Sarah Shimer, Emerging Earth Care Leader Award

Sarah first demonstrated sustainable practices and motivated others while in high school, working at Camp Hanover summer camp in Virginia. As a Young Adult Volunteer for the PC(U.S.A.) in Boston, Sarah immersed herself for a year in food justice – the right to grow, sell, and eat healthy, locally-sourced food. In the warmer months she worked with the Hartford Street Presbyterian Church community members in their community garden. After the growing and harvesting season, she served the community at a Place to Turn food pantry in Natick, MA. Sarah is now the Sustainability Coordinator and Upper School Science Teacher at Berwick Academy in Maine. She readily demonstrates earth stewardship and sustainable practices to her students and faculty in the campus garden. Sarah demonstrates great potential as a future leader of sustainability and will motivate many more to care for God’s creation in the future.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Single-Use Plastics Are Simple to Do Without


by Jane Laping


Plastics have become ubiquitous in our environment. Not only do we find them on the shelves in retail stores and for sale online, but they are also litter on our roadways, in streams, rivers and oceans, and are quickly filling up our landfills. Furthermore, microplastics – tiny pieces of plastic that have been eroded from larger pieces – have been found in sea life as well as humans. We ingest a credit cards worth of microplastics every week.


Plastics are manufactured from oil and gas that are subsidized by our government. There is an equity issue too. Plastic factories are usually located in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.


Plastics have become a huge problem across the globe, especially since China stopped taking plastics for recycling in 2017. Beaches in SE Asia are covered in plastic waste, mostly waste from shipping.


The responsibility for all this waste falls on us as Americans. In 2019, US plastic waste generation was approximately five times more than the global per-person average.


What can we do about all this plastic? LOTS. The first step is to stop buying it. Remember the meaning of the chasing arrows in the recycling symbol? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Now there are six more Rs in the updated list for the 21st century: Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Refurbish, Repair, Repurpose, and the last option – Recycle.


When shopping, look for items packaged in glass, metal, or cardboard instead of plastic. If you cannot find them, purchase a larger container and refill it. A good example of that is liquid hand soap. Or you can simply refuse liquid hand soap and use bar soap that is usually wrapped in paper.


Liquid laundry detergent comes in very large plastic containers. By not using more than the manufacturers instructions, you can make the amount last longer. You can often get by with less than recommended. If you purchase powdered detergent in a cardboard box, you are refusing that giant plastic jug. You can also buy detergent sheets that dissolve in water.


If you can pay a little more for a reusable product, there are many options to replace single-use disposable plastics. The most obvious is to carry your own reusable water bottle. There are also reusable sandwich and food storage bags made of silicone. Beeswax wraps can replace plastic wrap. Or use repurposed plastic tubs (margarine, yogurt) to store food at no additional cost. Better yet, invest in glass food storage containers.


If making changes to your shopping list and routine sounds overwhelming, you can advocate for controls on single-use plastics by using your voice. Read as much as you can, search the web, and attend webinars and meetings about plastic waste. When you feel confident in your knowledge, then it is time to make your voice heard.


If your local store doesnt stock non-plastic containers, talk to your store manager and tell them you arent the only person who wants them. Post a request/complaint on the stores FB page. Talk with your family, friends, and neighbors about your concerns.


Call/text/email your local and state elected officials about banning specific plastic items such as plastic bags, Styrofoam take-out containers and cups, plastic straws, and stirrers. More than 500 states, cities, and counties have banned plastic bags at point of purchase.


If you need help, join a local group involved in single-use plastic reduction and take your cues from them. Whatever changes you can make will be appreciated by all of Gods creatures. No more straws up turtle noses, no more plastic filling up whale stomachs, no more six-pack rings around turtlesand gullsnecks.


The biggest impact of eliminating plastic production will be less oil and gas production and refining. Extraction of fossil fuels such as oil and gas and manufacturing of plastics is a major contributor to climate change. We are now witnessing the climate impacts that scientists have been telling us about for years: more intense hurricanes, more frequent flooding and wildfires, rising sea levels caused by increased water temperatures, and extreme temperature fluctuations.


We need to act to stop this desecration of Gods creation and we need to act quickly if we are to maintain a habitable planet where humans can live as God intended.


Jane Laping is the current Vice Moderator of Presbyterians for Earth Care and is active in environmental issues from a faith perspective at the local and regional level. For more than two years she has been involved with Plastic Free WNC, a regional group with the goal of getting state and local laws passed that would limit the use of single-use plastics.

Plant a Native Garden in Your Neighborhood!


by M. Courtenay Willcox

The importance of native species is echoed not just in garden clubs and botanical gardens, but by homeowners who can increase the number of native plants in their gardens while reducing the size of their lawns. This can also happen on church, business, and corporate campuses. Native species are central to sustaining biodiversity, and I’ve taken an idea that was birthed at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Plant Native/Native Plant, on the road by creating a community pollinating garden. BMPC’s Environmental Justice Committee is committed to supporting native plantings on the church’s campus, bringing attention to those plantings, offering resources, and encouraging members to plant native at home.

For my spin-off Plant Native/Native Plant project, I reached out to neighborhood families with young children and gauged their interest in a community garden, which now sits between properties and faces the sidewalk, letting anyone who walks by witness the efforts of the neighborhood’s youngest residents.

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” ~Henry David Thoreau from notes written 1856-1861

Thoreau’s quote was read before planting began, mostly for the benefit of the parents who were in attendance. Then the neighborhood children, ages 1-12, started digging into the dirt to plant 18 native plants that included: Penstemon digitalis, foxglove beardtongue; Carex stricta, tussock sedge; Aster divaricatus, white wood aster; Allium cernuum, nodding onion; Penstemon hirsutus, hairy beardtongue; Solidago rugosa, wrinkleleaf goldenrod.

Before planting, the families received a children’s rewrite of Doug Tallamy’s Natures Best Hope: (Young ReadersEdition) How You Can Save the World in Your Own Yard which, among other things, explains the importance of planting native plants to attract and feed native insects and how this type of nature conservation can happen right outside your backdoor. Planting a native plant is such an easy thing to do. Our garden is proof that anyone, at any age, can plant a native plant.

Native plants also work to create a native greenway that sustains and increases biodiversity, which, in part because of lawn monoculture, is in peril. I was inspired by Doug Tallamy and Home Grown National Park, which provides a blueprint of ways to increase biodiversity within your yard, linking it with a neighbor’s yard, and the ribbon of green grows to support native species. HGNP followers are encouraged to regenerate biodiversity by planting native with no experience required!

Our community native garden was an easy project with just a little investment. The payoffs were huge! Pre-education happened in individual households from Tallamy’s book. Then, purchasing an inexpensive 8’x4’ cedar framed raised bed, toting free fill-dirt from our township’s leaf compost (amazing!), and ordering Bloom Boxs native plant fill-a-flat consisting of 18 beautiful plants that were delivered, was easy. We also planted mountain mint, milkweed, and cone flower seeds which are sprouting.

Through texts, the neighborhood arranged to come together and plant at 5:00 p.m. on a May afternoon. My granddaughters were in attendance as I stood on the sidewalk and looked hopefully down the street. It was empty. And then, just like in the movie, Field of Dreams (if you build it, they will come), the sidewalks filled with children, trowels in hand, and their parents, for the planting festivities.

All the participants have helped water through dry times, and after a deer nibbling, I covered the bed with some netting which has deterred bunny and deer munching. The plants and seeds are flourishing!

This was such a gratifying project that produced a beautiful result and raised neighborhood awareness around the importance of native planting. My heart is full. Anyone can use this model to start a native garden in their own neighborhood. It is an easy lift to support creation care and give a much-needed boost to native insects. Let’s keep the ribbon of green, that will support native pollinators, unfurling throughout our neighborhoods and communities. And remember, Plant Native/Native Plant.

Courtenay's passion around environmental issues is the third leg of a stool that also includes family and God.  She moderated her church's Environmental Justice Committee, founded a local interfaith green group, and partners with PA IPL to share resources with regional faith institutions.  A recent seminary graduate with a certificate in environmental theology, she currently serves Tree of Life Church in Springfield, PA as a transitional pastor.

Inspirational Reading

 by Janet Storts


I first became aware of Paul Hawken in the 1980s when he was selling garden tools and writing books to convince businesspeople that you could make ethical decisions and still make a profit.


If we had all followed his trajectory of insight, study, and commitment to action, we would be in a much different place now regarding global warming.


The following two books, which Hawken edited, give both practical ways to influence climate and new ways to think about our relationships.


Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation


In addition, a search for Regeneration Paul Hawken on YouTube will return more than one hundred presentations and interviews.


To find a source that is practical, inspiring, realistic, and thoughtful gives me hope that we can change our hearts and take action.


Janet Storts is a founding member of JOY New Worshiping Community and Ecumenical-Eco Justice in Saint Joseph, Missouri. She received her MASJ (Social Justice) from Phillips Theological Seminary.

Going (sort of) Car Free


By Eric Diekhans


In an earlier Earth News, I profiled Matt Walker, a Presbyterian choir director who lived a car-free lifestyle. He was able to get anywhere he wanted to go using his bike and public transportation.


Giving up the automobile isn’t practical for many people. We are a car-dependent culture and our transportation system caters to drivers. Public transportation in much of the United States is scant or non-existent. Extremes in temperature can make cycling unpleasant or impossible.


While giving up our cars is a worthwhile goal, we don’t need to live 100% car-free to make a dent in the 4.6 metric tons of CO2 the average car emits every year. Thanks to the boom in e-bikes, we now have more options to change our mode of transportation some or most of the time.


I’ve used a bike for basic transportation since I was a kid, when I zipped around our subdivision and rode the two miles to elementary school. But when I got my driver’s license, my bike was relegated to mostly recreational riding as I enjoyed the freedom and ease an automobile gave me.


When I moved to Chicago and got a job downtown, I began occasionally using my bike for commuting, It saved me money (important to a recent college graduate) and I enjoyed the lakefront scenery while getting some much-needed exercise.


In 2019, I bought a Linus city bike with the express purpose of riding more and driving less. Its wider tires, rack, and fenders were more piratical than the road bike I used for recreation and allowed me to install panniers and take my bike to grocery shop, visit friends, go to the library, or grab a coffee at my local cafe.


I quickly saw the advantages of keeping my car in the garage. I save on gas and maintenance costs, and riding my bike is often faster than driving, Instead of circling the block or a parking lot looking for a space, I almost always park in front of my destination. While drivers sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I ride blissfully by.


In the last few years, e-bike sales have exploded. Whether the bike’s motor is pedal assist or operated by a throttle, e-bikes allow you to ride further, carry heavier loads, and arrive at your destination without breaking a sweat.


Cargo bikes in particular have surged in popularity. As more companies come into the market, prices come down and options increase. I often see moms and dads riding down my street on cargo bikes with one or two kids sitting happily behind them. Cargo bikes can haul a week’s worth of groceries and many can keep up with city traffic.


Cargo bikes may seem expensive, ranging from $1,500 to more than $8,000, but compare that to the price of a typical car. Maintenance is also comparatively cheap. Even if you keep your car, a cargo bike can expand your transportation options considerably while saving you money.


Bicycling magazine recently reviewed some of the latest cargo bikes. They highlighted several factors to consider when purchasing one.


1.     Buying your bike direct from the manufacturer has become a popular option. Online retailers can often offer lower prices because they cut out the middleman. You can also often customize your bike more. The big downside is that you can’t try before you buy, which is particularly important with a cargo bike. They all have different designs with different feels. Cargo bikes are also usually one-size-fits-most If you’re taller or shorter than average, that may be an issue. If you can’t test-ride a bike at your local shop, see if you can find someone with a similar model who is willing to let you try it.


2.     Bikes come in three classes. Consider which one fits your needs.


In class 1 bikes, the motor only works when you’re pedaling and allow a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph. Class 2 bikes have a throttle and allow you to ride without pedaling. They still only have a maximum speed of 20 mph, (Though they still have the option of pedal assistance.) Class 3 e-bikes allow pedal assist up to 28 mph.


Class 2 e-bikes are great if you carry heavy loads or have difficulty pedaling, Class 1 bikes usually offer more range.


3.     Consider storage. E-bikes are heavier than non-motorized bikes. Most are 80-90 pounds, though large-capacity e-bikes can tip the scale at over 100 pounds. You don’t want to be hauling a heavy bike up several flights of stairs, so a garage or storage shed is ideal.


If you’re interested in exploring e-bikes and cargo bikes, talk to owners. There are many Facebook groups you can join. You can also join a local bike club or visit a shop that specializes in e-bikes.


One day, perhaps the United States will look more like the Netherlands, where bike infrastructure is common, 99% of people own a bicycle, and 28% of trips are taken by bike. But you don’t have to wait and you don’t have to sell your car. Using a bicycle for basic transportation has never been easier, and it can make a real difference in lowering your carbon emissions.


Eric Diekhans is an author, Executive Director of the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries, and a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago.