I just finished a great book called Serve God Save the Planet by Michael Sleeth. It was an interesting introduction to environmentalism and social consciousness from the perspective of a former head of a hospital emergency ward. It’s mostly familiar stuff, but told with the compelling and rather believable perspective of a medical doctor. One of the fascinating things for me was how he felt it more important, or more impacting, to leave his practice and address issues of energy use, ethical consumption and environmental stewardship. It seems crazy at first, but he decided that the immediate medical issues he dealt with every day could be directly preventable if people were to make small-scale lifestyle changes that have global repercussions (like changing your light bulbs, driving less, buying less and from ethical sources).
He also attacks consumerism in general as a means of combating worker exploitation, industrial overproduction and general waste (do you need an electric chocolate fountain?). I found his personal examples of how he and his family have reduced their waste (and their “global footprint”) both compelling and inspiring. He also provides step-by-step, feasible, examples of how to begin changing your attitude and then your habits.
At first I thought it was a little basic and sort of late in the game for this type of book, but then I realized two things: 1) I’m also late in the game on environmentalism/social consciousness, so I have no room for criticism. My wife, Beth, on the other hand, has been a vegetarian for around 14 years, volunteered with child aid organizations and been a member of animal rights groups for years also. I knew I married her for a reason. 2) There still seems to be a huge backlash in the Christian/Evangelical community against these issues for some (ridiculous) reason. Perhaps it has to do with James Dobson’s call for Richard Cizik’s removal from the NAE. I’m not sure how encouraging ethical living and environmental stewardship are actually repudiated as “divisive” but if they are, I say divide and conquer (ignorance and bigotry).
In a first-step art response to this recent line of thinking, I’ve been contemplating a new project for my “Jesus year” (my 33rd birthday is coming up). I’ve decided to go vegetarian for a year partly in solidarity with Beth and partly because of the huge, unnecessary, environmental impact of meat production in America. We’ll see how it transitions into an interesting art project, but I think maintaining and documenting the process might be a good start.