I’ve long considered green living to be a spiritual endeavor. For me, that means viewing myself as deeply connected to nature and regarding the planet — with its awe-inspiring variety of landscapes, plants, animals and humans — as sacred. In other words, something to protect and preserve.
That’s also why I’ve always been interested in the increasingly busy intersection between environmentalism and religion, and why I was anxious to read Rebecca Barnes-Davies’ book "50 Ways to Help Save the Earth: How You and Your Church Can Make a Difference."
Barnes-Davies, an environmental activist, divinity student and former director of Presbyterians for Restoring Creation (now Presbyterians for Earth Care), obviously comes at eco-living from a Christian perspective (the idea being “…to reshape our lives to honor rather than destroy God’s creation”). But her 50 suggested actions are actually things that anyone, of any religious stripe or hue, can implement. A quick disclaimer: I’m not a regular churchgoer and am not aligned with a single religious tradition. However, I do occasionally attend a Unitarian Universalist church. In fact, in 2003 I led a green effort that resulted in the church being certified as a “Green Sanctuary” (a national environmental program sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association).
The book focuses mainly on ways to combat global climate change and includes plenty of illustrations and boxes. It’s divided into seven concise chapters, covering energy, food and agriculture, transportation, water, people, other species, and wilderness and land. Each chapter includes seven actions, ranging from practical steps like “audit energy use” to political actions such as “advocate for effective water policies.” Readers are instructed on carrying out these actions via short “How-Tos,” as well as some offbeat tips, including how to bake brownies in a solar oven.
Granted, most of the recommendations can be found in almost any “how-to-go-green” book. However, many are geared specifically toward congregations (for example, hosting a bike-to-church Sunday or nurturing native plants in your church garden). All good ideas that would work just as well in mosques, synagogues and temples. However, some Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc. may not be up for the Bible quotations and numerous vignettes of Christian churches gone green. For non-Christians, I recommend green books written for your particular faith. Check out: Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and Earth Sangha. Also try the Alliance of Religions and Conservation. Atheists and others who prefer separation of church and green should stick to lay eco-books.
As for me, I’m all for promoting environmental action wherever it can be promoted. And, in general, houses of worship seem like good places to reach many people simultaneously and encourage deeper connections to the Earth. Whatever your faith — or non-faith — "50 Ways" is a good place to start awakening a richer sense of eco-awareness. As Barnes-Davies notes, “If you are able to make it through all fifty ways, you will have been transformed, and you will have drastically transformed the world around you for the better.”