50 Ways to Help Save the Earth. Revised Edition. (Rebecca Barnes) - Review

50 WAYS TO HELP SAVE THE EARTH: How You and Your Church Can Make a Difference. Revised Edition. By Rebecca J. Barnes. Foreword by Gradye Parsons. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. 128 pp.

As the debate about climate change rages on, whatever our position, the challenge to be good stewards of the environment is ever before us. Green is the color of the future – new energy sources, conservation of existing resources, and cleaning of toxic sites. The question is – what can we do as individuals and as churches? According to Rebecca Barnes is the Associate for Environmental Ministries of the Presbyterian Church (USA), there are at least fifty ways that we can go about saving the earth. This is a revised version of a 2009 book, though the revisions seem minor. There is also a preface added to this edition written by Gradye Parsons, the recently retired Stated Clerk of the PC(USA). 

I've chosen to essentially repost, with minor changes, my earlier review from 2009.  The point of the book is the introduction of fifty things we can do that can help save the earth. Reading a book like this, despite its slim size, readability, and useful graphics isn’t easy. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the feeling that there’s simply too much to do. You read a section, and before long you have this overwhelming sense of guilt. Or, you look at suggestions and taking them as commands, you feel like it’s simply not doable. But, while the author may envision our embracing every idea in the book, I expect that she understands that we will start small, and work way up to the more difficult and challenging possibilities. 

The point of the book is to get us thinking about our environment, to start thinking theologically and biblically in a green direction. So, we start we’re at, and move forward, knowing that this is part of our being disciples of Jesus Christ. So, here is our task:

“To learn to reshape our lives to honor rather than destroy God’s creation. To Participate in God’s saving work will be an ever-unfolding journey, one that has no definable end but that is both worthwhile and absolutely vital for the future of the planet.” (p. 10).

The call to action involves life changes, but also reflection and celebration. The author reminds us that as we move through the fifty ways of saving the earth, every seventh idea invites us to rest and celebrate, a reminder of Sabbath – something we Western Christians have difficulty experiencing. The final idea is an invitation to Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10-12) – a call to praise God, to rest before God, and even give back that which we’ve gained over time.

Barnes organizes the book around seven categories – Energy, Food and Agriculture, Transportation, Water, People, Other Species, and Wilderness and Land. Under each of these seven categories you’ll find seven possible ways of effecting a green revolution in our society. For instance, under Energy you’ll find suggestions to reduce energy consumption, support renewable energy, advocate for clean air laws, work to stop mountaintop removal, build and renovate green, audit energy us, and rest and relax.

Under each of the seven suggested ways of effecting a green lifestyle, the author offers ways of accomplishing this goal. So, for instance, under “support renewable energy,” you’ll find eight “how to’s” that range from “purchas[ing] part of your energy from a green source” to “buy[ing] a solar cooker for yourself or someone else.” You will also find a box called “Walking the Talk” that profiles a person or congregation living out this particular idea. Under this idea, we find the story of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, which has converted to 100% renewable energy for the congregation’s needs. Finally, under each of these ideas is a section called “Faith Matters,” which features either a prayer or a relevant scripture. Published using “30% post consumer recycled paper, processed chlorine free,” the book itself seeks to bear witness to a greener world. And if we needed any further reminders of the need to be green, the book is printed with green ink.

Some of the suggestions require little of us, beyond studying the issues and becoming aware of our role in climate change, such as learning about land use laws, or they involve advocacy for peace and justice. These are things that Mainline Protestants are good at – study and advocacy. Other suggestions will require more of us. These range from stopping the use of bottled water to reducing our water consumption. Under this latter idea, the author suggests such things as saving a flush, using low-flow technology, reusing gray water (“keep a bucket in the bath or shower to catch the water wasted while waiting for hot water to arrive” and then use it water plants or flushing the toilet (p. 60). We can walk or bike rather than drive our cars, use public transportation and car-pooling – steps like these make life more inconvenient, and are often difficult to manage in many of our suburban communities.

Rebecca Barnes has done a commendable job providing clearly laid out ideas for making a difference, one step at a time, so that the world we inhabit cannot only survive, but thrive. This is a book that can be used in study groups, in church-self-studies, and simply by individual Christians wanting to make a difference. The book begins with the premise that climate change is being fueled by human activity, and therefore we can, if we choose, make a difference. But, we must also remember who we are and what we can do. She writes this, in the closing section -- "Jubilee!":

We are not in charge of the earth. We are not, by our own human prerogative, going to save the world. We do not know enough. We do not have enough power or resources.(p. 125).

But, keeping in mind this admonition, the challenge remains before us -- what role will we play in God's work in the world?


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