Erin Lothes BIVIANO. Inspired Sustainability: Planting Seeds for Action. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2016. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2015. pp. 286. $35.00 pb. ISBN: 978-1-62698-163-8. Reviewed by Dolores L. CHRISTIE, Shaker Heights, OH 44122.


As the planet warms, blanching corals and disappearing forests; the urgency to combat global warming heats up. This challenge is largely ignored. Using theological and interdisciplinary analysis Biviano examines the moral stagnation that characterizes even faith-based responses to this serious moral issue. She takes seriously the words of Pope Francis: “[W]hat has made you environmentally unconscious?” Her research explores the factors that block earth-friendly action even among the well-intentioned. The term she uses for this resistant disease is green blues.

The author intersperses personal testimony from twenty-five focus groups of different faith traditions with serious theological and psychological research. Drawing heavily on the anthropological insights of Paul Ricouer, she explores the demonstrable disconnect between motivation and effective action in the environmental crises. She wants to know what causes “gaps” in knowledge of the problem, caring enough to do something, and effective action.

Conversion of heart and life-style moves persons to work to alter the direction that points relentlessly to the earth’s destruction. Many people who are aware of the sustainability challenges of today’s earth do not move from personal unease about the problem to concrete motivation to do something about it. Many factors slow or impair the implementation of action. The book explores both the psychological resistance and political implications to acting for change.

Biviano uses the hermeneutic circle to describe the transition from discomfort with the challenge of our planet’s decline to individual and collective action. A true ethicist, she looks at the factors, both culpable and non-culpable, that cause people to remain ignorant or slow to act in the face of a growing moral crisis. Readers will squirm as they identify themselves within the categories of inertia that the author describes. Once the personal and group issues are faced, there is little else to do but form a plan of action.

This is an amazing body of research. The author moves brilliantly between the mundane world of focus groups and that of detailed discussion of human fallibility and finitude. I would love to be a fly on the wall and watch a class discussion among students to whom the book is assigned. While they may find some chapters hard–we theologians love these kinds of discussion, particularly when done well–they will not be able to avoid thinking deeply about a very important subject.

The final chapter demonstrates how the green blues can be dissipated and effective action can be applied to produce “green hope.” This book is clear, but sometimes the author becomes very technical. This may discourage readers from completing it. I hope not. At the end of the book, she offers appendices that include topics and questions posed to the focus groups, consent forms, and a breakdown of the composition of the various cohorts. She also provides a list of the original questions that guided her research.

The book is very personal. Even if not an easy read, the abundance of heavy data is described well. The reader is struck by the candor and urgency in the testimony of the group participants. A person cannot read this book and not be moved. Further, the exquisite analysis will apply equally to other overwhelming and pressing evils such as racism, particularly after the recent Charlottesville debacle. Maybe that’s the greater point. And maybe the book should be tucked into the Christmas stocking of any thinking person.