Why Mormons Should Be the Most Environmentally Friendly People on Earth

We had an excellent Sunday School lesson today in my ward about the Creation, which focused primarily on our stewardship for the earth and for all of God’s creations.

Here are some great quotes (most of which were distributed from my ward’s gospel doctrine teacher) that illustrate just a taste of why, I believe, Latter-day Saints should be the most environmentally friendly people on earth.

From Hugh Nibley:

The title of dominus designated the Roman emperor himself as the common benefactor of mankind inviting all the world to feast at his board. In short, lordship and dominium are the same thing, the responsibility of the master for the comfort and well-being of his dependents and guests; he is the generous host, the kind pater familias to whom all look for support. He is the lord who provides bread for all, but how? By tilling the earth that he may “eat his bread by the sweat of his brow” (see Genesis 3:19)-he is not a predator, a manipulator, or an exploiter of other creatures but one who cooperates with nature as a diligent husbandman. (Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, pp. 7-8)

From President Kimball:

I have traveled much in various assignments over the years, and when I pass through the lovely countryside or fly over the vast and beautiful expanses of our globe, I compare these beauties with many of the dark and miserable practices of men, and I have the feeling that the good earth can hardly bear our presence upon it. I recall the occasion when Enoch heard the earth mourn, saying, “Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me?” (Moses 7:48). (Ensign, June 1976, p. 4)

Here’s Elder Ezra Taft Benson:

A common problem is a concern for our environment. It is not likely that someone who does not love his neighbor will be concerned with his adverse impact on the environment. To love one’s neighbor is a spiritual law. Just as physical laws are interrelated, so are spiritual laws. One dimension of spiritual law is that a man’s self-regard and his esteem for his fellowmen are intertwined.

If there is disregard for oneself, there will be disregard for one’s neighbor. If there is no reverence for life itself, there is apt to be little reverence for the resources God has given man. The outward expressions of irreverence for life and for fellowmen often take the form of heedless pollution of both air and water. But are these not expressions of the inner man?

Whatever mortal reasons there are to be concerned about environment, there are eternal reasons, too, for us to be thoughtful stewards. President Brigham Young said: “Not one particle of all that comprises this vast creation of God is our own. Everything we have has been bestowed upon us for our action, to see what we would do with it—whether we would use it for eternal life and exaltation, or for eternal death and degradation.”

We are concerned about scarred landscapes that cause floods and leave an economic emptiness that haunts the coming generations. Similarly, unchastity leaves terrible scars, brings floods of tears and anguish, and leaves a moral emptiness. Significantly, both imprudent strip mining and unchastity rest on a life-style that partakes of an “eat, drink, and be merry” philosophy–gouge and grab now without regard to the consequences. Both negligent strip mining and unchastity violate the spirit of stewardship over our planet and person. (“Problems Affecting the Domestic Tranquility of Citizens of the United States,” Vital Speeches, Feb 1, 1976.)

From Elder Alexander B. Morrison:

In a revelation concerning the United Order given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in April 1834, the Lord reminded His Church that every man (and assuredly every woman also) is accountable as a “steward over earthly blessings” that He has made and prepared for His creatures. (D&C 104:13.) The importance and priority of that sacred stewardship are indicated by the fact that our accountability will be given to Christ Himself: “That every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship which is appointed unto him.” (D&C 104:12.) When He interviews us, I feel certain that one of His questions will, in essence, be the following: “What have you done with the earth which my Father and I gave you as a home? Have you cherished and protected it? Have you dressed it and kept it, as your father Adam was commanded to do? Or have you laid waste to it, defiled its waters, destroyed its fertile lands, befouled its life-giving air?” To those questions, I fear there are many, even among those who aspire to become a Zion people, who will hang their heads in shame. The earth groans under the insults inflicted upon it. (Visions of Zion)

A fantastic quote from Brigham Young:

The Saints of God should be self-sustaining. While they are laboring to gain the mastery over themselves, to subdue every passion and feeling of their nature to the law of Christ; while they are striving to possess the Holy Ghost to guide them every moment of their lives, they should not lose sight of their temporal deliverance from the thral[l]dom which has been thrown around them by the traditions of their fathers and the false education they have received in the nations where they were born and reared. In Utah territory they are well located for variety of climate suitable to the production of materials necessary to gratify every reasonable want. So far as we have learned the resources of the country, we are satisfied that we need not depend upon our neighbors abroad for any single necessity of life, for in the elements around us exists every ingredient of food and raiment; we can be fed with the daintiest luxuries, and can be clothed almost equal to the lilies of the field. Cotton and fruits of tropical climes can be grown to perfection and in abundance in the southern portions of Utah, while cereal crops, flax, wool, silk, and a great variety of fruit can be produced in perfection in the northern. Our object is not to find and possess great stores of the precious metals. Iron and coal would be far more valuable to us than mines of silver and gold. (President Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses Volume 10)

And this one takes the cake, from Brother Joseph himself:

We crossed the Embarras river and encamped on a small branch of the same about one mile west. In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, “Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.” The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger. (quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions)

To all who need to hear: This should not be a political issue, folks. It’s about our temporal and spiritual salvation. We would be wise to listen more to these great leaders of ours–and listen less to voices that ridicule efforts to care for this great earth we call our home.

We can start, many of us, by walking to church.

(Or emailing this post to your friends.)

16 Responses

  1. It seems to me that these brethren are strong promoters of conservation. That is different altogether from the more extreme and more politically charged environmentalism. That said, the responsibilities associated with conservation should be noted by every person who calls themselves a Latter-day Saint. We can do more to care for our stewardship over the earth without becoming extreme or losing our perspectives. Walking to church is a great start.

  2. Dallin,

    I agree with you in part, I think. I do think there is an important distinction between conservationism and certain notions of environmentalism. I used the term environmental rather broadly, to be construed as a recognition that one’s way of life can make an enormous impact on the welfare of the earth (for good or ill) and that people ought to make a concerted effort to care for the earth.

    What I’m not sure about, though, is whether conservationism is less extreme or less political than environmentalism. From a certain way of looking at, conservationism could actually be more extreme–it may demand much more of people, in terms of just about everything they do.

    In terms of the political, it seems to be that the dividing line is between the institutional (political) and personal (non-political), not between environmentalism and conservationism. From my experience, in terms of politics, those who are in favor of conservationism could be called environmentalists (though some, like Wendell Berry, may object to that term–and I personally agree with his objection). Still, someone could be a conservationist and not an environmentalist and nonetheless be an extremist and very political.

  3. One more thing about this. I think a lot of conservative Latter-day Saints will concede that conservationism is good but that it shouldn’t be dictated by the government. But I think this argument is hollow, and the pathetic air quality in Utah Valley is good evidence of this. Why is it OK for the Utah government to make mandates about not smoking in public but not make policies concerning the atrocious pollution via gas-guggling SUVs? It’s an inconsistent platform. I would argue that the latter is much worse than the former, in terms of health. Wendell Berry has argued that no-smoking laws across the nation serve as a scapegoat against other harmful addictions, such as addiction to gasoline, but the latter is much more devastating to the environment and to people’s health. In Utah Valley, on the bad air quality days, spending a day outside is the rough equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes. Something has to be done.

    I’ve recently moved from Utah, and there is a clear difference in the air quality. It feels so nice to be able to breathe again.

  4. I also perceive a difference between conservationism and environmentalism. Conservationism tends to be proactive, promoting “wise use”. Environmentalism, on the other hand, tends to promote prohibition, or “denial of use”. Conservationists tend to look upon humans as stewards of the earth, while environmentalists tend to look upon humans as a plague upon the earth. Conservationists promote possibilities, while environmentalists promote catastrophism. Conservationists use equations and models to supplement observations, while environmentalists substitute models and equations for observations. When it’s -40F outside, you will have a difficult time using your models and equations to make a case for global warming.

    If environmentalists would renounce extremism, retreat from catastrophism, and quit constantly telling us what we can’t do, they would increase their credibility. Your subjective remark about SUVs is an example of that extremism; SUVs may be inefficient, but they should not be portrayed as “evil”.

  5. Jack Mormon,

    I appreciate what you’re saying. But I don’t see how my remark about SUVs shows “extremism” or says that SUVs are “evil.” I was simply making a point that there is an inconsistency between people who want to outlaw things like cigarettes but look the other way when it comes to the widescale environmental pollution that is occurring in Utah Valley. I am not in favor of outlawing SUVs or calling them evil. If anything, I am making an argument from the standpoint of a conservationist, who is pointing out how it’s a problem that we’re all addicted to gasoline. And that it’s well within the purview of local communities to take legal measures (of some form) in order to conserve the air quality. Frankly, unless communities in Utah Valley do something about this soon, there could be significant problems. I’m not saying it will lead to the end of the world, but it could lead to problems not unlike second-hand smoke exposure or even worse. Frankly, I think there are many people who call themselves “conservationists” (in order to say they care for the earth but they’re not like those extremist and ridiculous environmentalists) but who really are opposed to anything that makes them take seriously their stewardship to the environment. The reality is that there are few true conservationists. Which is very evident by how few people in Utah Valley walk to church rather than driving 1/4 mile (this is just an example). Or how widescale recycling programs are rare. The conservationist approach to these issues is a no brainer, and it’s unfortunate that these practical solutions get lost in political discussions. Unfortunately, the Republican Party has been hijacked by an anarchist approach to big business and conservationism has been throw out of the window–and because it is moderates and liberals who have picked up on the environmentalism bandwagon (and yes, it often is simply that), some conservatives (including church members) have little interest in common-sense conservative activities (e.g., walking more, using less gasoline, recycling and reusing more, growing a garden, supporting local farmers and growers, etc.).

  6. Dennis – I acknowledge that you did NOT say that SUVs were evil. But your use of the phrase “atrocious pollution via gas-guggling SUVs” conveys the image and nurtures the perception that those concerned about the environment consider SUVs “evil”. This rhetoric is then seized upon by opinion-molders like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who, notwithstanding that I might tend to agree with them on social issues, are admittedly more concerned about ratings than facts from time to time.

    As a former resident of Utah, I can personally attest that the Wasatch Front does have a pollution problem, particularly during the wintertime. But some longtime residents insist it was actually worse during the early part of the 20th century, when most homes were heated by coal. While this should not be used as an excuse for doing nothing, it tends to weaken the case for describing it as “atrocious”.

    If we can out-shout the extremists and counter their catastrophic rhetoric, we can better promote acceptance of the common-sense ideas you put forth, which are not only achievable, but also affordable to the greater population. There is certainly no excuse for driving to church if you’re healthy and live only 1/4 mile away from the chapel.

  7. I agree with how Jack Mormon distinguished conservationists from environmentalists. I also agree that most of us don’t do some of the little things, like walking to church, that would make a difference. We could do more.

    But we don’t have a gas-addiction problem. Cars are, in fact, good things. If we believe that people are rational at all, then the fact that we prefer driving cars to any other form of transportation must mean that we believe we are better off driving and having air pollution than walking with no air pollution. The fact that Utah county continues to grow despite national economic struggles further suggests that the benefits of the area outweigh the negative effects of pollution.

    I know the environmentalists are going crazy over the air pollution along the Wasatch Front. They’d prefer we all take light rail. Of coarse, that would be nice for UTA, which runs the rail systems at a huge deficit. But UTA’s gain is everyone else’s loss as local productivity would plummet; countless hours of work would be lost in traveling to and from a station and waiting for trains.

    Conservationists, on the other hand, are doing fine. They’re not pleased by the pollution, but they do what they reasonably can do to limit trips and support preservation of environmental treasures. They realize that people do have a priority over environment, but they still try to stay on designated trails in wilderness areas and don’t water their lawns excessively.

    Again, I agree with your main point that members of the Church should remember they are stewards of the earth. There is more they (and I) can do.

  8. Dallin,

    I disagree about us not having a gas addiction problem. I encourage you to read my post about walking to church (linked above).

    Let me ask, Dallin, why so few of us (from my observation) do walk to church, even for 1/4 mile or less? How many people even THINK to walk? Why don’t they?

    Answer: They are addicted to gasoline.

    Let me twist one of your paragraphs and see if you still agree with your logic:

    I don’t have a smoking problem. Cigarettes are, in fact, good things. If we believe that people are rational at all, then the fact that so many people smoke must mean that they believe they are better off smoking and having lung cancer than not smoking with no lung cancer. The fact that cigarette smokers continue to smoke despite mounting evidence of the harmful effects of smoking (to ourselves and others, I would add) further suggests that the benefits of cigarette smoking outweigh the negative health effects.

    In a word, this paragraph describes one thing and one thing only: addiction. How is it any different for gasoline? To invoke being “rational” here strikes me odd, especially considering you are calculating only one benefit (gross economic benefits) to the exclusion of all others. Addicts do the same thing, in justifying their addictions. Call it rational if you want, but it’s an addiction all the same.

  9. One other thing I want to add. While I agree with the distinctions between environmentalism and conservationism, I suspect that the majority of liberals and moderates (as well as many conservatives) would consider themselves an “environmentalist” but are nowhere near the caricatures that have been painted about what this means. In other words, most environmentalists are not extremists, from my experience. I say this because I don’t think the distinction between environmentalism and conservationism in terms of extremism and moderation (respectively) is correct. Both can be extreme or moderate, and it’s quite likely that the extremes are a minority of both groups. I may be wrong, but this seems to fit my experience in talking with others.

  10. Well, here’s where we stall. I actually do still agree with the changed paragraph– I trust that people know better what to do with their agency than I do. If the benefit they get from smoking is worth the negative health effects in their estimation, who am I to say they’re wrong?

    Now I agree that all people aren’t perfectly rational. We don’t give the same value to the future as we do the present, for example. Even so, there are incentives in place to help us make those decisions. We don’t make our decisions based on the price of gas alone, for example, rather on the price of gas plus the associated taxes. The result is that we buy less gas– this principle was clearly shown last year when gas prices rose significantly. In short, I disagree with your assertion that gas is evil. Or that cars are evil. Or that people who own cars and buy gas are evil.

    Given our disagreements that are evident already, it shouldn’t surprise you that most if not all self-proclaimed environmentalists that I have ever met were pretty extreme folks.

    It’s been nice talking to you. And again, I agree that more of us should walk to church. And to work/school where possible. And we should conserve. These are all solid principles founded on true doctrines.

  11. Dallin,

    Just to be clear, I never asserted that gas is evil, cars are evil, or that people who own cars or buy gas are evil. If so, I am certainly evil. I did suggest that the fact that seemingly few people make concerted efforts towards conservation behaviors (like walking to church), that it reflects unhealthy addictions that harm themselves and others. I’m not going to tell people they’re “wrong,” but I will say that the patterns of behavior are disconcerting and that it harms themselves and others in ways that are important to strongly consider (and you seem to agree here, or there’d be no reason for you to agree that more of us should walk to church).

    It’s interesting that you talked about how people buy less gas when prices rise — well, I didn’t notice that at all in the last couple years. And if there was a point where it affected people’s behavior, it was a hefty $4. People complained and complained far before it made an actual difference in the amount of gas they purchased or used (suggesting an unhealthy addiction). I didn’t see any difference in the number of people who walked to church in my stake (relatively few, in spite of the fact that all of us lived within one mile of the stake center–a BYU married stake).

    I suspect you’ve met and know lots and lots of moderate environmentalists. They simply don’t greet you with, “Hi, I’m an extreme environmentalist…” I could be wrong, but this seems to reflect my experience, in terms of when you talk to average people about their beliefs concerning care for the environment. I suspect the majority of people, for example, favor greater measures to increase “green” jobs and curb pollutants from factories. In fact, this last year has been the first time in 25 years that less than 50% of Americans have said that the environment should be protected even if it curbs economic growth (presumably because the economy is in such a slump): see http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/24/poll-economy-trumps-environment/

  12. How would you respond if I were to write a post and say, “Why Mormons Should be the Least Socialist People on Earth,” and include 30 direct quotes from Prophets and Church Leaders on the subject, and then say, “This should not be a political issue, folks. It’s about our temporal and spiritual salvation. We would be wise to listen more to these great leaders of ours–and listen less to voices that ridicule efforts to preserve our liberty”?

    Well, I got shot down last time I tried to use LDS Prophets in support of my position in that regards.

  13. Hi Jeff,

    Well, my first response would be that my post isn’t at all about that. No thoughts on the subject at hand?

  14. Thanks for sharing the quotes. I have many similar quotes on my own blog (shameless promotion-sorry).

    The comments are also interesting to me, in that they show the difficultly in navigating between theory and practice. It is one thing to say “We should protect God’s Earth”, however it is much more difficult to say how we should protect the earth. The issue becomes even more cloudy and controversial when government is brought into the question. This just an observation, I have no solutions.

    I certainly agree with the post title.

  15. Dennis,

    I think the argument made in the post is not only correct, but well argued. I agree with you entirely.

    I was just pointing out that this well-made argument has the exact same structure as other arguments I’ve made, but about different topics. I was just wondering if you recognized the irony in that.

  16. Jeff,

    I’m glad you agree with the post.

    Maybe you could provide a link to a post that you’re talking about.

    At this point, though, I would note a few things. First, it’s hard for me to see how not being socialist is not an inherently political issue (though not merely political). How, for example, are individuals socialist (or not) in an apolitical way?

    Second, there may be an important difference in that your example is negative (the least socialist) versus mine being positive (the most environmentally-friendly). I can’t pin down right now what that difference might be, but there seems to be at least a rhetorical one.

    Third, many arguments I would disagree with could be made using a string of general authority quotes and a moral assertion. So just because an argument uses that general structure doesn’t strike me as very ironic. (Plus I’m not even clear on what exactly I’ve disagreed with that you have posted, off the top of my head.) The proof is in the content of the argument, not just the structure. (And I recognize that my own post here could easily be disagreed with by Church members.)

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