Earth Day and the Church

April 22, 2006 | 59 comments
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Today is Earth Day. A number of denominations have given their support to environmental issues, encouraging their members to be sensitive to the protection of the environment. This not only pertains to the major (and controversial) topic of climate change and global warming, but to all the small things people can do daily to save energy, sort waste, recycle, be attentive to what we purchase…

According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, the Mormon Church has decided to stay neutral on the issue. This may come as a disappointment to a number of members, in particular in the “international church”, where commitment to environmental issues is, overall, taken very seriously, certainly in countries confronted with such problems.

The Salt Lake Tribune article mentions the viewpoints of two Utah Mormons on the issue. Richard Ingebretsen, a Salt Lake City doctor, said “global warming is no different a moral issue than storing nuclear waste or locating MX missiles in the Utah desert – both proposals that LDS leaders have weighed in against.” Ingebretsen suggests that “political undertones of what to do about climate change may make LDS leaders uneasy but that quality-of-life is an issue close to heart for Mormons across the spectrum.”

Another Mormon being cited is BYU professor George Handley, who said “it would be unfortunate, though not uncommon, for people to conclude from the LDS leadership’s statement about climate change policy that Mormons dispute whether climate change is occurring or do not care about it. (…) Religion is a very effective way of helping understand the connection between individual actions and larger consequences. Mormons have the doctrine, the practices and the teachings, but we don’t connect the dots.”

I thought it would be an appropriate topic to discuss on this day. Not so much arguments pro and contra the dangers of global warming, but the dimension of responsibility of churches on the topic of environmental protection as such.

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59 Responses to Earth Day and the Church

  1. Julie M. Smith on April 22, 2006 at 9:16 am

    It would concern me if the Church began speaking out on more issues for fear that the assumption would become, ‘if the church hasn’t said anything, I don’t have to worry about it’ which begins to sound like an expectation to be ‘commanded in all things’ instead of acting like wise agents themselves.

    I would, however, like to see the Church act in environmentally responsible ways in its own activities: we don’t, for example, have paper recycling bins in our ward building. We could also have requirements for Personal Progress, etc., related to being wise stewards of the earth and its resources.

  2. Deborah on April 22, 2006 at 9:20 am

    Count me in as frustrated — frustrated that even the evangelicals have now publicly decried the trend toward global warming and genocide in Darfur while we are “ho-hum” quiet. The article remarks, “Dale Bills, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, noted last week that church leaders seldom take positions ‘on matters of public policy.’” Of course, this isn’t true on _social_ matters (gambling, liquor laws, marriage policy). It makes me wonder what battles we choose to fight, and why. In discussing the environment with members, I have occasionally encountered the thinking, “Well, the earth will be changed at the second coming anyway, so it’s more important to focus on X . . .” I hear that less now than I did growing up in Utah, but I wonder the extent to which this quiet notion shapes the views of some members re: environmental stewardship. I remember, as a child in Utah during droughts, the call from the pulpit to “pray for rain.” My very devout grandfather, an old rancher, once remarked: “I don’t pray for rain — I pray that we’ll learn how to take care of the water we have.”

  3. Tatiana on April 22, 2006 at 9:23 am

    It seems to me that the human species is very quickly approaching a precipice from which we show no signs of veering away. I see human extinction in the next few hundred years if we don’t acknowledge this fact, notice what we’re doing wrong, and learn a better way. One of the biggest things we need to do is to put the health of our only liveable planet (so far) as a top priority. Another is to explore and colonize the solar system. Another is to set up a defense against asteroid impacts. A fourth is to become much better at tracking, isolating, and treating diseases that pose a global pandemic threat. Because of the interdependence of all life, we can as a species no longer afford to consider our own needs and living space without due consideration for that of other species. We have been given stewardship over all living things. So far we have not been very good stewards. If we fail in this stewardship, then among the species wiped out by this mass extinction that we’re in the middle of will certainly be our own.

    So far we act like heedless adolescents, thinking we can do what we please and Mom will fix it all. We are acting, like adolescents, in destructive and semi-suicidal ways. What we must do is grow up and realize the limitations under which we survive. There’s no reason we can’t do that. Many wonderful benefits will accrue. It’s time, and past time, we did. The precipice rapidly approacheth. :-)

    I would like to see interdisciplinary courses in “Averting Human Extinction” on the curricula of every major university in the world. It’s going to take the brightest minds and biggest hearts we have to succeed. But we can do it and it will be so worth it! It’s just a choice, like every other choice we make. We can choose well and progress, or we can choose poorly and fall into darkness and ruin. This is what we’ve been trained for. It’s our task in these times.

  4. Wacky Hermit on April 22, 2006 at 9:26 am

    Environmental issues are largely about which tradeoff we as a people are willing to take, since everything we do impacts the environment in some way regardless of which choice we make. Social issues, though, tend to have definite “upsides” and “downsides” when it comes to how they interface with the Gospel. So I can see why the Church would take official stands on social issues while remaining silent on environmental ones.

  5. Wacky Hermit on April 22, 2006 at 9:35 am

    I just had another thought. Wilfried, you open with what boils down to “other churches have opinions on global warming, why not ours too?” I would point out that other churches in the past have had opinions on eugenics as well. Global warming is the trendy issue of our day that (I imagine) will likely be either debunked or better understood 100 years in the future. Having the church take a position on it would mean they would have to look back on it later and explain it away, kind of like the way you have to explain to your kids how you thought that dress you were wearing in that 20 year old photograph was cool at the time.

    Julie, why would you have to have SLC’s approval to recycle paper in your meetinghouse? Or is it that you’re waiting for a directive from On High to do something, rather than anxiously engaging in doing good on your own?

  6. Tatiana on April 22, 2006 at 9:36 am

    Astronomy tells us there are roughly 100 billion (with nine zeroes) stars in our galaxy and perhaps 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe. Our star and our galaxy are fairly typical, neither huge nor tiny. It’s believed now that most solar systems have planets. How many of those planets contain children of God? How many of those species of children of God will make it as far as dominating the planet they live on (as we have), and then fail to grow up to the next level of being true stewards of their planets (as we seem not to want to do)? I imagine that even with all God’s help, a certain percentage don’t make it. I pray that our species won’t be one of the ones that fail.

    There’s a lot to this business of becoming gods. We have a whole lot to learn about it. I think our home planet is crucial in this process. If we aren’t able to be wise stewards over a single planet, if we can’t restrain our impulses and act with wisdom and restraint to keep this place lovely and green and liveable into the far future, then aren’t we sort of refusing to progress any higher?

  7. Wilfried on April 22, 2006 at 9:36 am

    I like your statement, Julie: “I would, however, like to see the Church act in environmentally responsible ways in its own activities.” I ties in with what Deborah (2) remarked: “I remember, as a child in Utah during droughts, the call from the pulpit to “pray for rain.â€? My very devout grandfather, an old rancher, once remarked: “I don’t pray for rain — I pray that we’ll learn how to take care of the water we have.â€? Combining both elements, I wonder why the automatic sprinklers around chapels in Utah seem to waste all this water to take care of the large grass area’s we do not need.

  8. Jettboy on April 22, 2006 at 9:43 am

    What use would it do anyway? Its not like the Saints are listening to the social issues that are pronounced. The same people who want the Church to speak out about the environment are usually the same ones who speak out against the Church on other issues it finds important. The LDS Church already gets blasted for daring to speak on politically relavant issues. My guess, and my belief, is that if the social issues were confronted than the environemental issues would take care of themselves. That seems to be much of what the Scriptures say. Besides, I am anti-environmentalist anyway. Frankly, I think all the environmental gloom and doom goes against prophecy, except as part of God’s punishment of the wicked for other reason than not recycling. Environmentalism and International Policy are not part of the mission of the LDS Church.

  9. DKL on April 22, 2006 at 10:10 am

    For my part, I’d like the church to be less generally assertive about politics. The trouble is, everyone tends to think that the church should be assertive about their pet political issues, but not the ones they disagree with. Consequently, the church is in a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t type situation. As a general rule, I think that it’s best to stay in the damned-if-you-don’t side of this equation.

  10. Wacky Hermit on April 22, 2006 at 10:17 am

    While I’m not “anti-environmentalist” like Jettboy, I agree with him that environmentalism is not the Church’s mission. The Gospel was always about human nature, not Mother Nature.

  11. Tatiana on April 22, 2006 at 10:27 am

    I don’t know what the role of the church leadership should be in this process of growing up as a species and learning to be wise stewards, but it seems to me that church members have a crucial role to play, because our worldview and training are such that we are likely to take responsibility and do what has to be done.

  12. Wilfried on April 22, 2006 at 10:27 am

    Thank you all for participating in the discussion. I do not consider myself as a “hardcore” environmentalist, but I cannot be insensitive to the issues, and I think it helps if we can talk about the role of churches in the matter.

    Another thought about the relation between politics, social issues, human nature or Mother nature. Our physical health is a major and outspoken topic in the Church, ref. the Word of Wisdom. Environmental issues (think toxic waste, air quality, chemicals in food…) have directly to do with our personal health. So is the matter only political, only “Mother nature”, or also affecting us daily as individuals?

  13. Kristine Haglund Harris on April 22, 2006 at 10:47 am

    It’s a little shocking to me that people manage to think taking care of the earth is not part of the gospel, since it’s one of the first commandments God gives to Adam and Eve in Genesis, and is repeated in the temple. (!)

  14. DavidH on April 22, 2006 at 11:21 am

    “I would, however, like to see the Church act in environmentally responsible ways in its own activities”

    The new agency owned cars for LDS Family Services in our area are hybrid Priuses.

  15. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 22, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Environmental issues (think toxic waste, air quality, chemicals in food…) have directly to do with our personal health. So is the matter only political, only “Mother nature�, or also affecting us daily as individuals?

    I think on topics such as this, our leaders expects us to be engaged in what we think are worthy causes. I tend to agree with Jettboy and others that the Church’s responsibilities are not mostly environmental.

    Ward buildings may not have recycling bins, but they also don’t go though a lot of paper. BYU has recycling bins a-plenty. I also think of the deliberate signs on the San Diego temple grounds that say that the water used for the grounds is recycled (or otherwise water-wise). The Church is most certainly not unaware of environmental issues. However, it’s not going to run to extremes on them, either. I am not convinced that all the gloom and doom is really what the Brethren believe anyway. I trust that they will tell us if and when we need to act specifically and collectively. But I don’t think there is anything in our doctrine that doesn’t encourage us to do our very best to be good stewards as much as we can. Again, anxiously engaged….

  16. Melissa Proctor on April 22, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    I think tackling this issue begins at the individual level with recognition and small daily efforts.

    I’ve personally given some thought to this issue regarding organic food. Since September I’ve eaten mostly organic. I have felt great (better than I have in years) and attribute my remarkably improved health at least partly to this dietary change. However, most of the organic food produced in this country is grown in California. It requires a lot of energy (mostly polluting fossil fuel energy) to get the food from California to my market in New Jersey and this makes me feel somewhat conflicted about the benefits. Sometimes I think it might be better to eat locally grown fruits and vegetables even if they were grown with pesticides. When I can find locally grown produce that’s also organic I’m in heaven, but that’s not always possible. Strawberry picking will begin here in six short weeks!

    Although I rarely buy aluminum cans, always recycle my glass jars, and plastic water botttles, and almost always walk to work and church instead of driving, I admit to printing my work on bright white paper and using a lot of it for no better reason than I think it looks prettier than anything less pristine. Using recycled paper is something I could certainly improve on and should commit to, especially given the fact that I’m such tree lover . . .

  17. DKL on April 22, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    There seems to be an underlying assumption that advocating environmental ideas means that one cares more about the environment. This is a questionable assumption at best. It comes too close to saying that if you oppose the “clean water act” then you oppose clean water. There are those who believe that the government is a terrible steward of public space, and that private ownership, where possible, is far superior to even the most tightly regulated shared or public spaces. In fact, I know some people who are rather fiercely protective of the environment who are just as fiercely opposed to environmentalists policies.

    In sum, I believe that it’s a mistake to equate support of the environmental policy advocated by self-declared “environmental advocates” with responsible environmental stewardship. Thus, I think that it is obviously a mistake for the church to come down on either side.

    I should also add another argument for the church being less generally assertive about politics; viz., that it welcomes moral equivalent-type arguments between issues that the church takes a stance on and issues that the church doesn’t take a stance on (e.g., I think that the comparison between the MX missile letter and other issues is not entirely devoid of merit).

  18. annegb on April 22, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    I think we need some optimism here. God is in charge ultimately and we’re not all going to hell in a handbasket. Look at the good you guys are doing.

    I don’t think you can blame global warming for the genocide in Darfur, else why aren’t they slaughtering each other in Texas?

    I like a balance, I like America for that reason, everybody has a voice and we settle in the middle. For the most part.

    The purpose of the church is to bring souls to Christ, not have an opinion on every social issue. Good church members who keep their yards and homes clean and try to live good lives can benefit the environment immensely.

    Tatiana, I do not think anything is ever truly destroyed, I think the elements are eternal.

  19. Silus Grok on April 22, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    Two points.

    First, on the Church leading through example (which is raised by Julie in #1). I wholeheartedly concur. And it wouldn’t entail trumpeting any specific policy or legislative platform…

    Recycling bins in all the chapels; xeriscaping around chapels; reducing the size of our park-like chapel grounds in areas that have parks, and opening them up to more public use in areas that need them; more energy-efficient/materials-efficient/land-efficient designs in our chapels; smaller (and, where legally permissable, practically non-existant) parking lots in areas with critical mass; organically grown/processed cotton/raw silk in our garments; expediting the switch to paperless ward operations; use of 100% recycled paper for all business; hybrid/alternative fuel fleet vehicles; and so on…

    And imagine the impact that mentioning (in an affiming way) global warming in a talk by one of the Twelve would have!

    (#15: what on earth do you mean: that ward houses don’t go through a lot of paper? My ward, for which I’m clerk, goes through reams of paper — so much so, that we just leave a box of paper open in the office. And to whomever said “why top-down”, I’d respond that it would be much easier for a ward house to sport recycling bins and such, if they were available through distribution… and if wards buildings were signed-up for recyclable removal by the powers-that-be.)

    Second, I’d have to take keen exception to those that think that social issues and environmental issues are different issues to begin with! Pride, gainseeking, and self-indulgence are the roots of all sin — including sins against “mother nature”.

  20. Silus Grok on April 22, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    ( Of course, it’s just my luck that I’m a gay Mormon who’s also a strong proponent of environmental stewardship — which neatly fits the stereotype that promulgated by Jettboy in #8. )

  21. Julie M. Smith on April 22, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    Melissa,

    Your comment made me think that you would enjoy _The Omnivore’s Dilemma_. The author addresses the same kinds of tradeoffs about food choices that you mention.

  22. Wilfried on April 22, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    All those valuable comments lead me to this summary up to this point:

    - We do have a duty to “take care of the earth”, as Kristine (13) pointed out with such a powerful reference. I will ponder about the personal implications of that commandment each time I hear that reminder in the temple.

    - However, as DKL (17) mentioned, that does not imply that the Church must publicly support environmental policies advocated by some. No doubt there is wisdom in the caution with which the Church approaches this topic.

    - Still, both the Church and each of us can probably do better to protect the environment. Various examples have been given. Thanks, Melissa (16) and Silus Grok (19). There is no reason why we should not be engaged in obvious good causes. Of course, an occasional encouragement of Church leaders in that respect would certainly help…

  23. Keryn on April 22, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    All the church buildings in Vegas that I see on a semi-regular basis (mostly in the NW section of the city where my parents live) have been “xeriscaped”–some quite recently. Just FYI.

  24. One who served on April 22, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    Oh, the current political hot buttons! It’s a good thing the Church didn’t take a position on Nuclear Winter, which was the hot button 30 years ago. Or the “we are running out of resources, and people will be rioting and starving in the 1990′s” as Paul Ehrlich so infamously asserted in the 1970′s. Or the sodium chloride scare of 25 years ago, when we were all eating too much salt!

    “We are as puppets in the hands of the zeitgeist”, or something to that effect.

  25. Ryan on April 22, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    Deborah:
    Your frustration about the church’s silence on the situation in Darfur seems to be a bit misplaced, last I checked, the church still supports all 10 of the Mosaic commandments including the admonition not to kill. What more should they say?

    “The church also would like to emphasize that our aversion to murder extends to our brothers and sisters in Darfur”

    As though not making such a statement would be a clear sign that Mormons tacitly endorse blanket genocide.

    Additionally, I consider myself an enviromentally conscious outdoorsy guy, but recycling is hardly a black and white issue, far from it. In fact, there are some who suggest that current recycling methods are more destructive to the environment than just throwing it all away or re-using. Now this may or may not be true but the fact that there is a valid and defensible rebuttal to standard recycling methods suggests to me that the church is wise to avoid making a statement on the issue.

    Now I just hope the church doesn’t release a statement regarding run-on sentences or comma splicing. I would be toast.

  26. Ed Johnson on April 22, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    I totally agree that we should be good stewards of the natural world. Also, unlike Wacky Hermit, I think global warming is almost certainly real, and the effects could potentially be quite large, although it seems pretty hard to put much of a dent in it. There are some things we could very easily do with very little downside, like drive cars with 4 cylinder engines.

    However, most of what I hear under the banner of “environmentalism” is little more than a secular religion. There are a lot of really hard questions and tradeoffs for which the best solutions aren’t obvious (like the ones Melissa mentioned in her comment). But most people just seem to assume they know the answer and enjoy feeling superior to anybody who disagrees.

    For example, I can’t even figure out why it is important to recycle paper. Recycling paper itself takes energy and resources. The alternative is to throw paper into a landfill. But what is so bad about that? Our biggest environmental challenge is carbon in the atmosphere, so what’s wrong with taking some carbon (paper) and burying it? How is that bad for the environment? Now, I know that “recycling is good” is an article of faith, so I’m sure some people will be tempted to jump down my throat now, telling me how evil and shortsighted I am. Maybe there will even be some slamming of economists, helpfully informing me that there are some values not captured in the marketplace (duh). But it would be a lot more usefull if you could point to some evidence that shows that recycling paper really makes a positive difference. I’ve looked for such information in the past, and haven’t been able to find it. (Yes I know paper comes from trees, mostly from trees that are farmed, I believe. And I’m not saying recycling isn’t helpful, maybe it is, but it’s far from obvious.)

  27. Kimball L. Hunt on April 22, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    Will any paper’s bein’ recyled substitute for its bein’ instead made anew from cut trees? Which, still standing, would be giving off oxygen?

    & OK per this tree huggas “v” Y.U.P.pies thing — and going along with any tendency to put myself in the best light — Let the marginalized hippy in me add that what’s truly most damaging to the environment is consumerism/ keeping up with the Jonses(?)

  28. Mike B on April 22, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    Deborah comment #2: . . .”church leaders seldom take positions ‘on matters of public policy.’â€? Of course, this isn’t true on _social_ matters (gambling, liquor laws, marriage policy).”

    Actually, the first statement incorporates the second–it doesn’t contradict it (as implied). When someone says the Church “seldom takes positions,” the word “seldom” means there are times when the Church does take positions on matters . . .. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to for the second statement to read: Of course, those occasions when the Church has taken a position have involved social matters?

    (This is one of those times when I comment but don’t contribute anything.)

  29. Deborah on April 22, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Ryan: Any human being with a basic moral compass abhors genocide. I mentioned Darfur in tangent with Wilfried’s post because 1) I’ve recently been quite involved in various bi-partisan and local efforts to put pressure on congress/U.N./Sudanese government 2) virtually every major religious organization in the U.S. has made a strong public statement decrying the situation there. In my county alone in the upcoming month, a Methodist, a Catholic, and a UU church are each hosting benefit concerts; the local Jewish school is taking a bus of interested students to next week’s rally in DC, etc., etc. . . it’s just not something Mormons are talking much about (at least not in my stake; though Pres. Hinckley made a quick reference to it during October conference).

    I’m not condemning the church for this (a little personal disappointment, maybe, but so what?) It just brings me back to my question — asked honestly, not glibly: What battles do we, as an institution, pick and why? We haven’t picked environmental stewardship for whatever reason, and that question (I think) is the thrust of Wilfried’s query in his final line. (END THREADJACK)

    Mike: Yup, I’d accept that revision.

  30. Mark B. on April 22, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    I agree (yet again) with Kristine Haglund Harris. The command to be stewards over the earth hasn’t been changed, and our waste of precious resources is appalling. But we as a people don’t seem to care much–so long as we’ve got our SUV and boat in the garage of our 4,000 square foot McMansion in the midst of a quarter-acre of lawn in the desert, and so long as the traffic doesn’t hold us up too much as we drive everywhere.

    It’s ironic that in a state filled with Mormons it’s a mining company (and a strip miner, at that) that is leading the way in development of a community that is not entirely dependent on automobiles. I wrote about it here: http://the-butler-did-it.blogspot.com/2006/04/and-strip-miner-shall-lead-them.html. (Sorry, I don’t know how to make a link here.) But, we can’t do that in [insert your favorite Utah County town name here]–it violates the cardinal rule of Adam Smithian economics–selfishness.

  31. Ed Johnson on April 22, 2006 at 8:12 pm

    Kimball, trees give off oxegen by growing bigger and taking CO2 out of the atmosphere, storing the carbon as biomass and releasing the oxygen. When the trees die and decay, they release carbon back into the atmosphere. In a steady state, a fully mature forest would be using up oxygen through decay about as fast as it releases it through growth. (Of course we are not in a steady state since atmospheric CO2 is so much higher now, so old growth forests may continue to sequester carbon.)

    But paper does’t generally come from old growth trees, it comes from farmed trees. Whether carbon would be sequestered faster by cutting down the farmed trees and letting new ones grow, or whether it would be better to let them grow longer, is an empirical question that I don’t know the answer to. But in general one would think that the way to get the most oxygen from trees is to cut them down sometime after they’ve had their period of most rapid growth, and then allow some younger trees to again grow quickly. The cut trees could be stored in houses, furniture, patio decks, landfills, etc. (Any ecologists out there may correct me if I’ve over-simplified.)

    Here is a Wikipedia article on the subject. BTW, I’m not claiming that burying our old newspapers is going to stop global warming, but it hardly seems like a tragedy either.

  32. Kimball L. Hunt on April 22, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    OK. (But still think disproportionate consumption by yuppies’s t’ fault…)

  33. JR from Dallas on April 22, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    I believe that the church is unlikely to take a public position on a legislative issue unless it has some likelihood of influencing the outcome of a vote or policy decision. Hence opposition to the MX missiles and gay marriage. You don’t see the church taking a public position on legal prohibitions of adultery. There is a certain amount of realism involved. This, I think, is part of the reason why the church doesn’t make public statements about tragedies like Darfour. What would be the point, really? Would speaking out specifically about Darfour have any impact? And isn’t it already obvious how the church would feel about it? If the church makes a statement about Darfour, then people start asking why it hasn’t made a statement about some other situation in another corner of the globe, and now it has set a precedent where people expect it to speak out, and if it doesn’t, it must not disagree with it.

    As for global warming, it is an issue of teaching correct principles and letting men govern themselves. Opposition to gambling is an easy decision, since gambling is against commandment and carries with it unquestionable social ills (gambling addiction and materialism). But it is no clear line from a commandment to “take care of the earth” to “ensure your vehicles get at least 40mpg and that all your labors are carbon-neutral”. The rather general commandments we have received about stewardship of the earth don’t translate to social and governmental policy nearly as cleanly as prohibitions on gambling and homosexuality, to name two.

    Endorsing any specific environmental agenda, or any specific scientific finding, in an area that is still not well understood is unwise when there is no clear indication in existing revelation of what God would have us do. After all, even if there is scientific consensus around global warming (meaning “the earth is getting warmer”), there is still no clear understanding around what role man’s activities have had, and how changes in our behavior would change the planet’s temperature in the future.

  34. Carolyn on April 23, 2006 at 12:22 am

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned this. The church doesn’t speak out more forcefully on environmental issues because of its ties in the U.S. to the Republican party which gets considerable financial support from big oil. Seems kind of obvious to me.

  35. Seanh on April 23, 2006 at 12:30 am

    Global Warming? Perhaps the the leaders of the church are smart enough to understand that roughly 10,000 years ago most of Utah was under several hundred feet of ice. What melted that ice? Perhaps it was global warming. A question: How many cars, smokestacks etc. were there 10,000 years ago when all that ice melted? None you say, then pray tell how did it happen without the destructive influence of man? Come on everyone think logically for about thirty seconds.

  36. DKL on April 23, 2006 at 7:37 am

    Ed Johnson (if that’s really you), I agree with you about the environmental impact of recycling paper products. It seems to me inevitable that it will take more energy (i.e., read: petroleum) to clean and re-use plant fiber than just to harvest new plant fiber, especially since trees are among the most readily renewable resources.

    I don’t think that it’s the church’s obligation to figure out what constitutes environmentally friendly behavior, and I’m leery of the church accepting yet another example of the conventional wisdom in an effort to cover its moral bases, like it did back when they discouraged IUDs in favor of birth control pills.

  37. Frank McIntyre on April 23, 2006 at 8:14 am

    Ed and DKL,

    I read something on the DOE website that said that recycling takes 20-30%(?) energy, but more of it has to come from outside the factories. Apparently they burn wood chips from the trees when they make new paper, and this gives them quite a bit of th eenergy they need. Recycled products don’t offer that.

    Also, it said the same thing that trees for pulp are not old growth forests, but trees planted for the purpose of getting paper. Oftentimes they are in the 6th or 7th generation of that process. Every tree they cut down, they plant a new one.

  38. Wilfried on April 23, 2006 at 8:33 am

    Seanh (35): “Global Warming? … Come on everyone think logically for about thirty seconds.”

    I am not a scientist, so I have no basis to assess the validity of the warnings of global warning. As I mentioned in the post, I would rather not have this thread become a battle field on the topic. But one thing is sure: it is certainly a more complex issue than one that can be resolved by thinking logically for 30 seconds. I understand there is a fair amount of consensus among specialized scientists that there is at least a potential problem that could affect parts of the world (impact on glaciers and flooding of low lying countries, destabilisation of ocean currents, millions of environmental refugees, spread of diseases…). Even if decades or centuries from now it would turn out to be false alarm, I think it is wise to study the issues now and consider measures in behalf of coming generations.

    Of course, that does not necessarily mean the Church must make statements about it, as has been pointed out.

  39. bgm on April 23, 2006 at 8:54 am

    May be wise not to take an official stand on global warming when there is still debate about whether it is a problem.

    Taking no stand on one environmental issue does not preclude an obligation to take care of the earth.

  40. Mark IV on April 23, 2006 at 9:03 am

    Recycling newprint saves on trees but pollutes more water. John Tierney wrote this in the NY Times:

    Recycling newsprint actually creates more water pollution than making new paper: for each ton of recycled newsprint that’s produced, an extra 5,000 gallons of waste water are discharged. Cost-benefit analyses for individual products become so confusing that even ardent environmentalists give up. After years of studies and debates about the environmental merits of cloth versus disposable diapers, some environmental organizations finally decided they couldn’t decide; parents were advised to choose whichever they wanted This sensible advice ought to be extended to other products.

    We are friends with a couple who are concientious about their choices. For instance, they re-landscaped their yard to have the desert look, with a lot less lawn and more shrubs that don’t need much water. They consider themselves committed environmentalists. They choose to drive an SUV because they believe the most important thing to preserve is their own lives, and they believe SUVs are safer in the event of a crash. They have gotten some sideways looks from people who think they have violated one of environmentalism’s orthodoxies.

    Beyond the general and occasional counsel to be wise stewards, I’m glad that the church is taking a pass on this particular bandwagon. It would be difficult to craft a statement that would apply to a worldwide church. There are places in the world where people still bathe in the same water they drink. A Quiche’ Indian in Guatemala has different problems on his hands than a North American. For now, I’m happy with the instructions to turn out the lights in unused rooms and to watch where the thermostat is set.

  41. Beijing on April 23, 2006 at 10:03 am

    “I don’t think that it’s the church’s obligation to figure out what constitutes environmentally friendly behavior…”

    Don’t people turn to the church for guidance on significant moral issues? If stewardship of the earth is a significant moral issue, then the church should provide guidance on it. The church responds to the moral issues of personal grooming, financial responsibility, preparedness, and sexuality by figuring out how many earrings are appropriate, what types of debt are appropriate, how much food to store, what age is appropriate to begin dating, and so on.

    Maybe the church isn’t *obligated* to figure out what appropriate personal grooming or financial behavior is, either, but it does. And the fact that stewardship of the earth is a moral issue that relates to every member’s everyday behavior, yet the church avoids figuring out how to provide guidelines to its members on that issue, sends a (perhaps unintended) message that my family got loud and clear. They view my recycling as one more sign of my unbelief in the glorious message of the Restoration–which tells them that the earth holds “enough and to spare” and frees them from my shortsighted worries about conservation.

    Ed and DKL, a quick google search on recycling paper turned this up. I don’t know how accurate it is, but I think it raises concerns that are worth looking into on an empirical basis, rather than just guessing how much energy it takes to do what:

    Producing recycled paper involves between 28 – 70% less energy consumption than virgin paper and uses less water. This is because most of the energy used in papermaking is the pulping needed to turn wood into paper.

    Recycled paper produces fewer polluting emissions to air (95% of air pollution) and water. Recycled paper is not usually re-bleached and where it is, oxygen rather than chlorine is usually used. This reduces the amount of dioxins which are released into the environment as a by-product of the chlorine bleaching processes.

    Paper is a biodegradable material. This means that when it goes to landfill, as it rots, it produces methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas (20 times more potent than carbon dioxide).

  42. JR from Dallas on April 23, 2006 at 10:11 am

    Mark,

    I like your point about the “worldwide church”.

    The problem with trying to make a global statement about curbing CO2 emissions is that there are only two options: you include developing nations (where many of the members and even more of the converts live), or you exclude developing nations.

    If you include them, it sounds hypocritical and judgmental. “We got rich, but you can’t.” It’s easy for a rich country to talk about how people should buy a hybrid vehicle. But developing nations simply cannot afford to reduce emissions without severely damaging their developing economies. We would be trapping generations at a lower standard of living, after we have burned all the fuel we wanted to get to where we are.

    If you exclude developing nations, then it seems unfair to people in developed nations. It would drive more jobs away as production became even cheaper overseas. And it would also seem pointless, since most of the growth in emissions over the next several decades are projected to come from developing nations.

    It’s a hornet’s nest of a political issue. Taking a global position on global warning will enrage some, offend others, and stir up plenty of controversy, all of which will distract from the church’s mission of bringing people to Christ. And for what? Even for those who accept both that the planet is warming and that man is causing much of it, they can’t agree on whether the tradeoffs involved are worth doing anything about it. See the results of the Copenhagen Consensus, where a panel of scientists and economists made a prioritized list of world problems that could be solved with limited resources. Climate change is at the bottom of the list, when you consider return on investment (lives saved/improved vs. cost), behind AIDS, malnutrition, malaria, clean water, etc.

  43. Kimball L. Hunt on April 23, 2006 at 10:49 am

    Re methane from paper’s decomposition: How bout grass clippings? Cow manure? The fancy house my friends allow me to rent a room within has an immaculately landscaped, SMALL yard & I eat no meat but fish: Only we nouveau peasantry can be righteous?

  44. Ed Johnson on April 23, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks for the link about recycling paper. I have some further questions, but I don’t want to turn this thread into a debate about recycling. My main point is that the question “why doesn’t the church do X” assumes that X is something important to do, which may not even be true.

    I think Beijing makes a good point, though…if global warming (for example) is really an important looming disaster, then why don’t the prophets warn us about it? Or conversely, if the prophets are silent, can we conclude that it’s not a problem? I think some members might be concluding just that.

  45. DKL on April 23, 2006 at 3:10 pm

    A lot of these environmental issues have been hashed out at Rusty’s blog on his If Our Doctrine is Green, Why Isn’t Our Culture? thread.

  46. greenman on April 23, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    #27 “Let the marginalized hippy in me add that what’s truly most damaging to the environment is consumerism/ keeping up with the Jonses”

    I couldn’t agree more. And let the marginalized hippy in me point out that if we were truly honest in our efforts at dressing and keeping this garden we call earth, we might seriously consider the benefits of the hemp plant (yes, that hemp) and its viability as a “plant of renown” (Ezek. 34:29). I can only imagine the ramifications of promoting the leaves of that tree for “the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2).

  47. annegb on April 23, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    Do you honestly believe, Ed, that the world is going to be destroyed by global warming? Do you?

    I’m assuming you’re LDS. We know the prophecies, we know from Revelation how things will go down when Christ will come again, and “the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” If we believe that, there is no need for panic here.

    God is in His heaven. Our church teaches people to be clean, good citizens (although as I drove home today by a run of four run-down houses, including the former bishop of the neighboring ward, I had to wonder). People who try to live clean lives are contributing to the good of the world, who live “providently” are following the prophet. He doesn’t need to come out with a proclamation that the world is going to heck (I got reamed on another blog for cussing, but this is ridiculous, long story, you can’t say some things without cussing) in a handbasket and let’s all get scared to death and starting saving aluminum cans.

    That’s not his job, that’s not the purpose of the church. I called them years back reaming them about their lack of suicide prevention and education in the church. And a sister who was the counseler in the RS Presidency, I can’t remember her name, but she was terrific, not Sherri Dew or Cheiko Okazaki, another terrific woman, and she said to me, “Sister, that is not the purpose of the church. The purpose of the church is to bring souls to Christ.” You guys, she was right.

    You are the church, get active, speak out, be vocal, and don’t wait to be told to do it from the prophet and then criticize him for not saying it. It’s not his job.

    If the missionaries were in Darfur, and the people got converted, let’s say a mass conversion, would their lives be better? Yes. Why? Because they are conserving water? No, because they are turning to Christ and receiving revelation and taking care of things. Their lives would dramatically change.

  48. jjohnsen on April 23, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    Just because the world may not be destroyed by global warming doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about making it very uncomfortable for those living after us. I hope it isn’t real, then the crazy temperatures will go back down and my power bill won’t go so gross.

  49. Chastity on April 23, 2006 at 8:11 pm

    I think the Lds church already backs up the idea of taking care of our planet. We should be doing right without anyone telling us that.

  50. JR from Dallas on April 23, 2006 at 9:58 pm

    jjohnsen,

    Global warming has absolutely nothing to do with your power bill. Even the most fervent believers in global warming say that the earth has warmed only 1 degree Fahrenheit since the late 1800s. Any increased heat you perceive in your short lifetime is the result of natural variation and an active imagination.

  51. greenman on April 24, 2006 at 4:56 am

    Yes, the world is going to hell. Yes, the earth will be cleansed by fire. We should all promote global warming and get the furnace heated already!

    But seriously, we should consider the agony of Enoch at witnessing the Earth’s suffering:

    “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? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?
    And when Enoch heard the earth mourn, he wept…” and cried unto the Lord, saying “When shall the earth rest?”

    How much do we as individuals care about our mother? Enough that we would weep at witnessing the pain that our wickedness causes her? Enough that we would actually change our ways and repent in order to alleviate her suffering? Some of us are trying to make a difference while the rest of us probably don’t even consider the importance of doing something so seemingly trivial as recycling or driving fuel-efficient automobiles. We don’t have to be radical environmentalists in order to do our part.

  52. JR from Dallas on April 24, 2006 at 8:42 am

    Personification of inanimate objects is a wonderful tool for evoking emotional responses rather than reasoned ones. This Ikea commercial is a classic example.

    I’m not sure that the wickedness Enoch was talking about was people putting too many logs on their evening fire.

  53. Wilfried on April 24, 2006 at 11:18 am

    According to our “Guide to the Scriptures”, the Earth is a “Living entity”. Of course, we all understand we are here in the religious realm, and that our perceptions are not those of others.

    “GS – EARTH

    The planet on which we live, created by God through Jesus Christ to be used by man during his mortal probation. Its final destiny is to become glorified and exalted (D&C 77: 1-2; 130: 8-9). The earth will become an eternal inheritance of those who have lived worthy of a celestial glory (D&C 88: 14-26). They will enjoy the presence of the Father and the Son (D&C 76: 62).

    Created for man: God gave man dominion over the earth, Gen. 1: 28 (Moses 2: 28). The earth is the Lord’s, Ex. 9: 29 (Ps. 24: 1). The Lord has given the earth to the children of men, Ps. 115: 16. (…)

    A living entity: The earth abideth forever, Eccl. 1: 4. The sea of glass is the earth in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state, D&C 77: 1. The earth must be sanctified and prepared for the celestial glory, D&C 88: 18-19. The earth mourned aloud, Moses 7: 48.

    Cleansing of the earth: Rain fell upon the earth for forty days, Gen. 7: 4. The earth is reserved unto fire against the day of judgment, 2 Pet. 3: 7. After today cometh the burning, D&C 64: 24. The earth desires to be cleansed from filthiness, Moses 7: 48.

    Final state of the earth: The earth will be wrapt together as a scroll and pass away, 3 Ne. 26: 3 (D&C 29: 23). There shall be a new heaven and a new earth, Ether 13: 9 (D&C 29: 23). The sea of glass is the earth in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state, D&C 77: 1. The earth must be sanctified and prepared for the celestial glory, D&C 88: 18-19. This earth will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim, D&C 130: 8-9. For a thousand years the earth shall rest, Moses 7: 64. The earth will be renewed, A of F 1: 10. “

  54. Daniel on April 24, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    I agree with Tatiana, that much of this has to do with our eternal progress. Brigham Young taught that a big part of our test here on earth is what we would do with the blessings God wants us to enjoy in the eternities, to see if He could trust us with them. He gave us the opportunity to marry and have children, and how we treat our families will, in large measure, determine whether or not we will be married and have children in the next life. Likewise, He gave us this earth, and dominion over it and the plants and animals. If we mistreat them, and “foul our own nest,” so to speak, why would Heavenly Father grant us the opportunity to ruin other worlds, or misuse animals, in the next life? Yes, the earth was created for us children of God, but that doesn’t mean God wants us to exploit it. In fact, in D&C 59 we are specifically told to use the things of the earth with judgment, “not to excess, neither by extortion.”

    How we treat the earth is one way we reveal the content of our character. Whether or not you believe in global warming, pumping poisons into the air is just not healthy. Wasting energy and resources is, well, wasteful. It doesn’t really matter that the earth will be transformed at the Second Coming, or after the Millennium, or whenever. The real question is, can we be trusted to act in a responsible manner with the blessings God gives us?

  55. Wilfried on April 24, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    Thank you, Daniel, that was very well said.

  56. One who served on April 24, 2006 at 11:13 pm

    The best guarantee that the earth will be protected, and that our water and air will become cleaner, is usually economic advancement. It is in the developed economies that we find a concern for a cleaner environment, and in the underdeveloped economies that we see pollution everywhere. Therefore, to promote policies which will lead to the third world advancing economically may well be the best thing to clean up the earth’s environment.

    The index of environmental indicators in the US shows continuous improvement. http://www.perc.org/perc.php?subsection=10&id=597

    I think we have the environmental movement to thank for much of that progress. However, it is a shame that too many of those in the movement are extremists who want to paint a gloom and doom scenario, with apocalyptic consequences, and will push for policies which cause, and will cause, death and misery in the third world.

  57. esposito on April 29, 2006 at 8:00 am

    One who,
    I think your reading of economic advancement as panacea for our pollution woes ignores important contexts. Yes, US environmental conditions have improved, but we have also moved increasingly into a post-industrial economy where the industrial production once taking place here has moved to those developing countries where environmental conditions were and are poorer. We have to admit that while the US is a consumer/post-industrial economy, the global economy cannot on the whole eschew the polluting effects of industry. Similarly, as you argue, US improvements in realms of the environment owe at least some debt to regulation (both by pushing industry beyond borders and raising standards).

    The apocalyptic scenarios may be too stark in your view, but I don’t see how that recommends a complacency expectant of technological salvation. Worldwide public goods like air and water by definition require something other than a market, and I imagine those extremists forecast, not necessarily without cause, some future tragedy of the commons that warrants some of their saturnine concern.

  58. esposito on April 29, 2006 at 8:12 am

    Overall, I think with LDS it might be our own eschatological viewpoint that can be ungenerous when evaluating others’: For example, because Christ comes again to save from all manner of calamity, the activist’s worry of extinction isn’t as threatening to us, and we, in turn, we criticize the activist’s means as if they have no telos because we don’t believe that is how the world ends. But if the activist perceives for one second the strain of Mormon eschatology that we can use as an excuse to not worry, the roles reverse pretty similarly.

    I think it would be best, in this case, for LDS to focus on stewardship and resolve this impasse because, save total conversion, I don’t see us bringing people to accept the most-dismissive strains of anti-environmentalism prevalent among church members when I find them myself distasteful. I understand some of the concerns with recycling, but that doesn’t forgive the areas where we fall short. I think the “big-boy’s toys’” aspect of the western world has definitely infected Mormon communities as much as the rest of the US. Likewise, I’d like it if individual families decided to purchase, live in, and improve old homes rather than expanding into new ones in animal and plant habitat. I think these solutions could also as an added bonus stem the tide of borrowing among us. At least, so says this government-owned graduate student.

  59. looking for Mormons who care on May 23, 2006 at 8:47 am

    I’ve read this blog thread with great interest and have some genuine concerns and questions with regard to the LDS church and the issue of climate change. It would be great to know how people feel about these concerns, because I can find very little else on the net on the subject and at some point in the futuret the debate will erupt in public.

    Essentially, I can’t see how in the long run the LDS church will be able to avoid engaging officially with the threat of climate change despite its traditional reluctance to comment on ‘politics’. Yet I think there are some key reasons why it will have to give careful thought to how it does this, reasons that I’m suprised no one has yet voiced.

    The dilemma for the LDS church arises initially because climate change impacts will threaten the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people first and foremost, as rising temperatures play havoc with growing seasons, increase the prevalence of vector-borne disease and diminish base water supplies in arid regions. The UK-based international development agency Christian Aid has just released a major report agreeing with the world’s scientific community on the severity of the threat (the scientific community is in fact worried it has underestimated the threat as the UN’s IPCC prepares it’s Fourth Assessment Report). Christian Aid – along with many Christian organisations – warns that unless third world countries pursue a clean energy development pat, with rich western nations immediately reigning in their profligate use of fossil fuels, the ultimate consequences for Africans already struggling to establish viable livelihoods will be nothing short of apocalyptic. (The report is on-line at http://www.christian-aid.org.uk/indepth/605caweek/index.htm)

    As the LDS church currently sends out over 60,000 missionaries a year world-wide to different nations, a majority of which must involve flights to and from other countries, the first difficulty for the LDS church will be that it may find itself confronted with a choice between on the one hand the moral obligation to dispense with unneccessary airplane flights – since avionic flight is far and and away one of the heaviest contributors to carbon emissions – and on the other its desire to not only maintain but increase its global evangelical program.

    In fact, all organisations, companies and institutions will in be obliged to examine and reduce their “carbon footprint”. This will mean that not only the huge amount of flying but also the colossal building program of the church will eventually come under scrutiny as the world faces up to the need to greatly cut back on non-essential projects that consume large amounts of fossil fuel. At the very least the LDS church will need to base it’s building program – and the transport requirements of it – on renewable sources of energy. Indeed, I think the church could eventually show leadership in this regard, given its past emphasis on a just use of the world’s resources for the benefit of all. It is the church’s belief in this just use that makes its silence on climate change and issues of justice slightly irritating. The world’s most vulnerable people are now faced with catastrophe because the rich western nations have been building and flying and consuming with scant regard for the consequences.

    A second problem arises from precisely this huge and disproportionate consumption of the world’s resources by rich nations: all of us. Americans alone use 25% of those resources. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has an exemplary Humanitarian program and has poured huge sums into fighting poverty and responding to emergencies, but it will have to change its own energy consumption patterns to show the deepness of its committment to just use of resources.

    The LDS church is seen – quite rightly I think – as generally a force for good in the world with its willingness to invest in human development and its belief that all people deserve a chance to grow. In a more specifically American context it is seen as a ‘moral’ force. But it’s willingness to speak to moral concerns such as pornography, family life, alcoholism, drug use and etc. is not matched with a moral condemnation of the vastly more destructive evils of inequality and deprivation caused by an unequal use of the world’s resources. What I’m trying to say by this is that Mormons are generally affluent and lead affluent – high consumption – lives. This high consumption is paid for by unjust economic and trade systems, and maintained by reprehensible corporate behaviour in third world countries, that all serve to leave people in Asia, Africa and Latin America unable to rise out of poverty and address their urgent health and educational needs. And Mormons are as guilty of quietly enjoying the fruits of this inequality as the rest of us are. The difference is that the rest of us do not claim to have the one and only truth of God on our side, nor do we claim to be led by a man who speaks directly on behalf of Jesus Christ. That in this day and age of such terrible injustice, poverty and suffering, a man held to be a prophet of God can keep silent on such matters while presiding over a church full of wealthy people who continue to enjoy privileged lifestyles at the expense of the Third World just as all of us do, is somewhat confusing for those of us who otherwise respect the LDS church and think it holds great promise as a model of social organisation.

    Why is it that the latter-day prophet has not warned anybody that a threat of genuinely armaggedonal scale like climate change is coming? ‘How did he not know? Why is it that Mormons have been encouraged to stock food and make sure they are self-sufficient to prepare for a time when systems break down but they have not been asked to cut down on flying, not been asked to stop buying consumer goods made from ethically questionable corporations, nor to think about their enormous use of electronic gadgetry dependent on minerals mined and pillaged from war-torn African states such as the Congo, have not been asked by their prophet to cut back on their fossil-fuel intensive lifestyles.

    Why? The psychological danger for the Mormons will be that as they retreat to their self-sustaining stronghold when the global food supply collapses – which it seems quite likely to do – and as the floods come – as they seem almost certain to do – they will not be retreating as a community of saints innocent in the midst of a world paying for its sins. Rather, they might be seen to be making good their escape after enjoying as much as all of us do the sportswear made in Asian sweatshops, the automobiles, flights, and reckless use of electricity at the expense of Africans ability to grow food, the zinc from the Congo and the copper from Peru at the expense of local human rights, economies and environments.

    As the LDS church moves to becoming a prominent world religion and with the possibility that Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency will raise it’s profile internationally, it will have to address these questions or be seen to not really care. It will be seen to be assuming that since a “second coming” of the Lord will see an automatic renewal of the world anyway, it doesn’t matter if on a practical level high-consumption LDS lifestyles are a sort of scorched earth way of living, although it is becoming increasingly clear that that scorched earth results in children starving, African communities seeing more frequent and more severe droughts as a climate in chaos rips apart lives and FAMILIES in the third world who can no longer support themselves in environments destroyed for the sake of the western bubble of affluence we are all guilty of living in.

    Compared to these issues, the peripheral threat to the integrity of LDS values from the endless “polygamy” debate manufactured by the US press pales into insignifcance.