Inspired Sustainability

Planting Seeds for Action

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Erin Lothes Biviano
Ecology & Justice
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , April
     2016.
     288 pages.
     $35.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781626981638.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Inspired Sustainability, Lothes Biviano presents a concept that she calls “the green blues”: that is, a state of mind wherein one is so overwhelmed by today’s environmental problems that one has come close to losing hope that such problems can ever be resolved. Lothes Biviano confesses to having the “green blues” herself, and sets out to investigate how others cope with this affliction. But the book is much more than one woman’s personal quest for (re)inspiration. The author’s arguments for faith-based environmentalism are built on an impressive repertoire of scholarship. Inspired Sustainability is meticulously researched, using a rigorous methodology. Documents illustrating the author’s methodology serve as appendices to the book, and offers helpful reference point to the interviews she conducts.

Inspired Sustainability is similar in approach to Katharine Wilkinson’s Between God & Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change (Oxford University Press, 2012). Like Wilkinson, Lothes Biviano investigates attitudes toward climate change by conducting ethnographic research revealing how faith-based communities and individuals within those communities conceive of the natural world and its preservation. Both Wilkinson and Lothes Biviano make significant use of interview transcripts reflecting the views of people within various faith-based communities and offer rhetorical analyses of those views. In this respect, Wilkinson and Lothes Biviano's books are complementary in style and tone, and make useful counterparts when considering the relationship between attitudes toward religion and climate change. But Lothes Biviano’s book is also significantly different from Wilkinson’s. Wilkinson interviews leaders and congregants from evangelical Christian groups who are resistant to environmentalism and see it to be incompatible with their spiritual agendas and political beliefs. In contrast, Lothes Biviano looks beyond Christian denominations, reaching out to a broad range of faith-based groups emerging from Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions. In her interviews with members of these groups, the author demonstrates how environmentalism is compatible with diverse spiritual agendas and need not be politicized. Thus, in a sense, Lothes Biviano’s research seems to pick up where Wilkinson’s leaves off. While Wilkinson maps religious discourses fueling the climate change debate and attempts to unravel the politics behind Christian communities that appear resistant to mitigating the effects of climate change, Lothes Biviano takes readers to the next step, which is a thorough analysis of why people do act to mitigate the effects of climate change, and how such action becomes a spiritual imperative. Further, where Wilkinson does not discuss privilege, Lothes Biviano makes a point of doing so, demonstrating that often environmental concern and preservation is the province of the wealthy, whereas the poor are more or less fighting for their lives in increasingly unstable environments (26-27).

Lothes Biviano acknowledges that with respect to ecological concerns, Christianity writ large can be particularly problematic because its central doctrines are malleable enough to be interpreted both to be encouraging environmental exploitation as well as protecting the earth. But she also argues that Christian doctrine with respect to the environment should be considered within a much broader context—that is, positioned in relationship to other non-Christian faith-based communities and encouraged to partner with them ideologically. Lothes Biviano argues that successful environmental work requires that people be motivated by a sense of moral responsibility rather than fear, something faith-based communities are uniquely positioned to do. Ultimately, the solution to the green blues, Lothes Biviano argues, is to find an environmentally conscious community, preferably a faith-based one, within which to work. Faith-based communities tend to be especially effective for those suffering from the “green blues” because they offer an emotional support and perspective that a person who finds herself depressed by current environmental issues may well need.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Elizabeth Lowry is Lecturer in English at Arizona State University.

Date of Review: 
August 12, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Erin Lothes Biviano is assistant professor of Theology at the College of Saint Elizabeth, NJ, and an Earth Institute Fellow at Columbia University. She is the author of The Paradox of Christian Sacrifice: The Loss of Self, the Gift ofSelf (2007).

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