Sunday, February 8, 2009

Book Review: Serve God, Save the Planet

What is your motivation for living green? Jaime from Green Resolutions reviews a spiritual green read and answers that very important question. Thank you so much, Jaime, for sharing your review at the worm.

In the spring of last year, I began seeking information about “going green.” I just wanted to find out more about recycling, organic foods, healthier household cleaners and conserving energy.

I went down a predictable path. I purchased green-washed products and modified my consumeristic habits only in that I began buying “green” products rather than buying fewer things. I purchased processed foods with an organic label. I purchased green cleaners that were heavy on the plastic packaging.

But the more I learned, the more I realized that I had not clearly defined my values and I was not living the life I wanted. Along the way, I found a post about APLS on Green Bean Dreams. “Do you spend less money than you make?” Green Bean asked. “Do you consciously buy fewer products and, of those products you buy, do you look for used ones or ones that will last longer? … Do you donate to charity? Time, money or goods?”

Something clicked. Sustainable living. That is how I want to live.

The more I learn, the more I realize how interconnected everything is. Reading Serve God, Save the Planet by J. Matthew Sleeth, MD really brought that home.

Sleeth is a former emergency room director and chief of medical staff. His experiences as a physician — an affluent physician — inform much of the book. As a doctor, Sleeth saw the effects of environmental pollution on our health. I cried as I read about a child with asthma dying on a smoggy summer day in D.C. As an affluent person in the U.S., Sleeth also saw the effects of consumerism on our quality of life. He shares his own story of how his “stuff” took up too much of his time and how much happier his family is in a much smaller home without some of the conveniences we take for granted. (For example, the home lacks a clothes dryer.)

An easy read, the book incorporates references to Scripture as well as the process through which Sleeth came to change his view the world. He includes fascinating, touching and humorous stories from his life’s experiences — ranging from encounters with emergency room patients to his family’s process of discarding a majority of material possessions to mission trip encounters with people who desperately need food or medical care.

Sleeth talks about why we should live a sustainable life. He talks about reconnecting with life: living more simply, focusing on our families, turning off the television, understanding what is important in our lives and making time for that.

The book also has chapters on some of the bigger topics of environmental concern: food choices, large (inefficient) houses, energy and population.

There are some numbers that help readers understand our impact. For example:
"Every time my family used the electric clothes dryer, we put five pounds
of greenhouse gases in the air."

"… if every household changed its five most used bulbs to compact
fluorescent light bulbs, the country could take twenty-one coal-fired plants
off-line tomorrow."
But the book isn’t about numbers. It is about perspective. As Sleeth says, “I am frequently asked about the nuts and bolts of living a less consumptive lifestyle: ‘How exactly did your family make a change?’ I have tried to relate some of the steps we took, but the most important change is not the automobile you drive or the house you live in. What we need most is a change
of heart.”

And if we have a true change of heart, the other changes will surely follow.

Here’s the thing. I may have started this green journey with a lifestyle that uses more than my share of resources, but it is a pretty good life. And the Earth will sustain this lifestyle in my lifetime (because others have so much less than their fair share). Unless I care about the world we are leaving our children … unless I care about the children (and adults) who are hungry and need medical care now … unless I CARE, what is the point?

I do care. And this book opens my eyes to the ramifications of my decisions. Collectively, our old-fashioned light bulbs cause the use of more power plants that cause pollution that affects people with asthma, including people who can’t afford medical treatment. On the other hand, buying organic foods and organic cotton products keep toxic chemicals out of someone’s backyard, out of someone’s water. On and on. As a doctor, Sleeth saw the harmful effects of our collective decisions and with this books, he shows us our choices and helps us clarify our perspective and our values.


Donna said...

Thanks again for the review! When I saw this on your site, I was going to suggest you send it in to the bookworm -- I guess you'd already thought of that!

Kale for Sale said...

What a beautiful review. I read it then got up and turned off a couple of lights before commenting. Now I'm going to read it again. Thank you.