The Coming Mormon Environmentalism

Elder Marcus Nash

On April 12, 2013, I attended a Symposium on Religion, Faith , and the Environment in the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. There were attorneys, Buddhists, Hindus, evangelicals, Native Americans, and various leaders of environmental institutions from across America. It was fascinating for the audience to stand with Lacee Harris (a Native American Elder) and pray as we faced the east wall of the Moot Court Room.

We heard the stories from Vasudha Narayanan of Hindu Earth Goddesses and the sacred, eternal Ganges as universal water and purifier, and sadly a river threatened by global warming. A Buddhist MD spoke of the psychological nature of their tradition with universal human suffering, and self-relinquishment as an environmental act. Nalinin Nadkarni, a biologist from the University of Utah, addressed her favorite topic—rainforest trees and how vulnerable life is in the canopy. There was a palpable excitement in the audience as she spoke of humans as the heirs of Noah, and showed how prisoners and children are aiding the research to save rainforests. We saw pictures of rap singing sessions among the trees and a Tree Top Barbie intended to attract the youth into the cause.  A biologist from USU spoke of three models used to represent the human/nature interface: 1) human dominion over nature, 2) human guardianship of nature, or 3) simple human partnership and participation within and without nature.

For Elder Marcus Nash of the LDS Quorum of Seventy, the dominion/ stewardship model is the appropriate ones for Mormons. His delivered a watershed speech on Mormonism and the environment. Elder Nash claimed to be speaking, not for himself, but for Mormonism. I am not certain whether he was simply stating that he personally was reflected the core of Mormon beliefs on the environment or whether he meant that he was authorized to speak for the Church. My guess is that he was authorized to speak as a representative for the Church at the Conference. But of course, he is not the leader of the Church. It clearly was a Mormon presentation, relying on scriptural and prophetic precedent. He cited Mormon scripture and as many modem day prophets, including the following: Psalms 8:4, Abraham 3:24, Moses 3:5, D&C 49:19-21, D&C 82:19, D&C 59:20, and Moses 7:28.

According to Elder Nash, the universe was created for the benefit of humans, but that humans are accountable for their treatment and use of the earth which is to be in the spirit of respect and humility. He stated that selfishness was the cause of our environmental problems. The role of the Church, according to Nash, is to teach correct principles and let people govern themselves. This of course sidesteps the issue of what the Church itself does on issues of sustainability, and how the silence of the Church encourages inaction among its members. That was beyond the scope of his presentation. Certainly, as a high level emplyee of the office of the Presiding Bishop once stated to me on the subject of renewable energy: “We are not pioneers, you know.” Unfortunately, we are not, anymore. The Church could singlehandedly change the score in the sustainability movement. But that game is not yet over.

Back to Elder Nash. He then quoted some church leaders such as Ezra Taft Benson who stated that strip mining is a sin, and Brigham Young’s admonition to keep the valley “pure.” He quoted Elder Neil A. Maxwell, a Mormon apostle: “True disciples of Christ will be environmentalists.” I don’t see any conference talks on that topic. One participant complained that she has been making the same point for years in the face of scoffing ward members that consider her scriptural arguments distorted.

Elder Nash’s presentation is ground breaking. My guess is that this speech is just putting the church’s toe in the water. I predict that we will see more of this kind of presentation. They will pay a small price among conservatives for addressing environmental issues. But the price is far, far higher for ignoring it. The price of doing nothing is the loss of faith of its own youth. This issue is critical to keep the youth. The power is in the hands of our leaders to make Mormonism either a truly universal and relevant religion or to consign it to the role of a marginal sect. This is the issue that picks the future path of Mormonism. The Church has a choice: seriously address environmental issues or lose the youth. The Church is too pragmatic to ignore that fact that the youth are already leaving, in part because the Church is not addressing one of the great moral issues of our time.

This was the first time I have heard a General Authority speak with such breadth about Mormonism and the environment in an authoritative and comprehensive way. I was stunned. I was surprised to find tears running down my cheeks. I have been waiting for this speech all my life. But nothing serious will happen in Mormon on the environment until we hear it in general conference.

After the environmental conference ended at the U, I engaged in a discussion with a young Utah Mormon and an Elderly California Mormon. We agreed that Elder Nash’s speech opens the door for exciting things. Here are some of the predictions this group came up with:

  • The Church has been backing off of discussions with credible religious and environmental groups such as Interfaith Power and Light. As one senior employee of the Church’s for-profit real estate arm (Suburban Land Reserve) stated “We (the Church) do not make good partners.” Necessity is the Prophet’s Father. This dialogue of religious allies of the earth will begin for the first time soon. There are churches that really do need the LDS Church and all it has to offer them. It is also a venue for all to explore best practices for religious responsibility on the environment. If nothing else, it is a great PR move for Mormonism. No brainer. This will happen soon.
  • The LDS Church will draft a Declaration on the Earth. (This may or may not be a good thing depending on its content.)
  • The Prophet and other General Authorities will regularly give speeches on Mormon environmentalism in General Conference. This will be a regular part of conferences. Until this happens, Mormons will not be serious guardians of the planet. After this happens, the windows of heaven may just break open on environmentalism in Mormonism and shower down blessings too full to hold.
  • The Presiding Bishop’s Office will escalate its current efforts at sustainability in church buildings, including the appointment of a Director of Sustainability (as many Fortune 500 companies currently do) under the Presiding Bishop. Renewable energy will become a large part of Church energy.
  • The Church will organize a long tern sustainability plan, and start to set key performance indicators to achieve goals—as many large corporations and the US Military are doing.
  • Each ward will have a Sustainability Director that works with the Relief Society on ward environmental and energy issues. (This may not happen in my lifetime.)
  • Missionary work will involve environmental service.
  • BYU will become a place where students go forth to the world to serve the cause of sustainability. BYU will eventually sign the Presidents’ Climate Initiative seeking to eliminate carbon from its campus, start using the STARS system for measuring real environmental sustainability on university campuses, and start employing renewable energy sources on its campus (currently they have zero). This may happen in my grandchildren’s lifetime.

Check back with me in a decade and let’s see what progress we have made.


Comments

The Coming Mormon Environmentalism — 20 Comments

  1. You will know something is happening when the Church requires garments to be made from organic free trade cotton.

  2. I think there is likely to be increased church participation in environmental topics. Notwithstanding, I thought some of the author’s predictions a little over stated. For example, “The price of doing nothing is the loss of faith of its own youth. This issue is critical to keep the youth. The power is in the hands of our leaders to make Mormonism either a truly universal and relevant religion or to consign it to the role of a marginal sect. This is the issue that picks the future path of Mormonism. The Church has a choice: seriously address environmental issues or lose the youth.” This presupposes that youth and LDS youth in particular value environmental issues more highly than whatever spiritual benefits and importance they ascribe to the church, and that doesn’t seem to be true among most of those I have observed. Now its entirely possible that some future cohort of youth will more closely reflect the assumed value priority structure of the author, but I don’t see any concrete reason in this post to suppose that that will be the case. Even though I disagree with some of this authors assertions, I think there is good evidence that the church is indeed moving in the direction of greater environmental awareness and has been doing so for a while. Consider, for example, that the conference center has rather large green roof on it, and the church has been experimenting with buildings green enough for LEED certifications. These include the Church History Library

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-history-library-goes–green–with-leed-certification

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/additional-resource/new-buildings-undergo-extensive-process-to-achieve-leed-certification

    and new meetinghouse prototypes

    http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_14968222

    that incorporate solar panelling and parking for rechargeable cars. While there is much more being done today in the form of green physical facilities than previously, there has been mention albeit not huge of environmental issues in past conference addresses. Consider, for example,

    http://www.ldsveg.org/Kimball.htm

  3. My impression is that environmentalism is largely a 1990s issue.

    There’s not much attention paid to it anymore, and the youth seem fairly apathetic about it.

    It’s more an issue that middle-aged “GenX” bloggers care about than kids at the local high school.

    But that’s just my impression.

  4. There is a difference between the junk “science” of global warming and environmentalism/stewardship. You would do well to separate the two in your mind. One is part of our endowment as children of God and the other is a massive play at Global Governance and stripping individuals of their God-given rights.

    No, I don’t think the Church will be signing the President’s carbon initiative anytime soon.

  5. Anthropogenic global warming is not junk science or a new world order conspiracy. It’s the scientific consensus. A recent survey of all peer-reviewed abstracts on global climate change published between 1993 and 2003 showed that not a single paper rejected the consensus position. 75% of the papers explicitly agreed with the consensus position while 25% made no comment either way (Oreskes 2004). A subsequent study surveyed scientists and found that 96% of climatologists who are actively publishing on climate change believe that global temperatures are rising and that human activity has played an important causal role in these temperature changes (Doran and Zimmerman 2009). Now, one can certainly take issue with the various policy solutions that have been proposed, but let’s please not perpetuate the myth that 96% of actively publishing climatologists are conspiring to take over the world.

  6. Chris, actively publishing climatologists are the root of all evil. I’m sure that if one were to take every 3rd letter of every 5th page there would be clear, indisputable proof of the monstrous proportions of their maniacal plot. Ever since the days of Rome these sinister entrail-readers have wielded power behind the scenes… =)

  7. Jesse,

    A correction on your comment–it is the Presidents’ Climate Initiative (note the apostrophe designating plural possessive) not the President’s Climate Initiative. It is not a mass conspiracy of the President or Global Communism. It is the individual university presidents signing a voluntary commitment for their own university to be carbon free. Michael Young (the Mormon and former President of the UofU) signed it. Stan Albrecht (the Mormon President of USU and former BYU faculty member) signed it. Most of the Pac 12 Presidents signed it. Are you suggesting that these large and gifted American universities are dooped into junk science? The University Presidents’ Climate Initiative is supported by corporations such as Xerox, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Lockheed Martin, and Siemens. It has received wide publicity during the past five years. Last November, the three large international oil companies publically announced their support of a carbon tax to control global warming—even on their own products. The implication of your comment is that these many respected American scientists, corporations and universities are all part of some grand global conspiracy.

    A few years ago, one BYU faculty member suggested that the BYU faculty ought to be discussing sustainability more. The response by the administration was that he nearly lost his job for making the suggestion. When I asked a member of the Sustainability leadership at BYU why they had not signed the Presidents’ Initiative, they said that they had never heard of it. If you want to discuss junk science and stripping individuals of their God-given rights of free speech, it will not be found in the voluntary commitment of university presidents against global warming. It is not the voluntary commitment of American corporations against global warming. It is not the consensus of science about global warming. If you want to find a conspiracy against free speech and real scientific discussion, you just may find it among anti-intellectual institutions masquerading as lovers of truth and forums of free speech.

  8. Seth,
    I think you are wrong. In my experince the youth of the Church are interested in enviromentalism. A few weeks ago, a father in Washington state pleaded with me to help his young teeenage daughter reconcile with the church beacuse of the way they irresponsibly use resources in their ward.

    I met a returned missionary at the University of Utah who asked me a few months ago what he can do to cut global warming.

    A young married woman asked the question of Elder Nash’s why his speech wasn’t part of general conference.

    Many young Mormons are learning enviromental science and global warming issues in school. I have spoken to professors that teach classes on it in Utah. At least one Utah high school teaches a science class using the text Collapse by Jared Daimond of UCLA. It implies the possibility of global societal collapse due, in oart, to enviromental exploitation. This is one of the great moral issues of our time, and discussed widely. And you say that the youth aren’t thinking about this?

  9. Chris, you seem very quick to jump onto the 96% bandwagon, if that is actually the case. Throwing out citations from a single paper may be enough proof for you, but the fact that global warming has not occurred as predicted is what I would actually use for evidence. A consensus at the moment does not make the science any less of a piece of junk. The East Anglia Climategate emails/models should have revealed to you that consensus when it comes to climate change is a joke. Perhaps you might consider that the Sun has more to do with temperature cycles than carbon emissions. Only after several more decades of satellite based GLOBAL temperature observance will we actually be able to confirm this. As it stands, you and the consensus don’t have enough data. Crazy, I know, but that happens sometimes in science…

    The real question you should be asking is what are the actual motivations of this consortium you believe have such complete control of the minds of our youth.

    And you have conceded that the solutions proposed by this same consortium, based on their actual motivations, are not effective at all and you are quite right. This idea that one must be in opposition to the natural expansion of human activity and economies in order to be a good steward is anathema to God’s plan. It is the life of man that is paramount, and this planet is for man’s use. Bottom line. If you think that denying God’s plan for our children is what will appeal to the “youth” I think you are barking up the wrong tree.

    Yes, we must take care of what we have been given. But you warmists have no monopoly on environmental stewardship, either inside the church or out. There is no movement focused on saving the planet through government regulation of emissions that is also not ultimately tied to denying human beings their God-given rights to utilize their property as they see fit. If this is not the case, give me one example.

    The President’s Climate Initiative does not qualify, for the President is also a supporter of Cap and Trade which is a massive power grab based on government managed artificial scarcity of energy and other products essential to human life, which as history has proven in other centrally managed economies (such as the Soviet Union) will always harm the poorest among us. Give me something else, besides the Socialist in Chief’s pet projects.

  10. A paper from Watts et al. which lays out the current data conundrum which the consensus has done its best to ignore:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/07/29/press-release-2/

    That is why I maintain an open mind about this issue. It may be that human activity is leading to some degree of warming, but we need GLOBAL data to confirm it. And not just a few year’s worth, but decades worth…

    Real science takes time and discipline. It also requires the humility to accept that your original hypothesis may have been wrong. The current consensus on AGW does not seem to have these essential qualities so necessary for the good science which actually benefits mankind. Hence the moniker “Junk Science”.

  11. The greatest discoveries in Science have been when the Consensus was proven without a doubt to have been wrong. The Consensus does not have a good track record, historically speaking. Its main strength lies in its control of current human perceptions about a problem, but it does not extend far beyond that, and most likely results from the power/money/prestige associated with that control. Consensus on highly complex issues such as AGW most certainly does not guarantee accuracy or truth in any meaningful way, and rather is a reflection of human weakness.

  12. Go read up on the so-called “climategate” emails. This “scandal” was basically manufactured by the media, as several independent committees and review boards have concluded. The supposedly scandalous statements in the emails were misrepresented and quoted out of context in order to boost TV ratings and sell newspapers.

    Climate science is based on global data, and much, much more than just a few years’ worth. The “time and discipline” that have gone into it might surprise you. Go take a look at the summary of the latest IPCC report. To quote David Reay of the University of Edinburgh, “The information that makes it into the IPCC reports is some of the most rigorously tested and debated in any area of science.”

  13. I have read up on the ClimateGate scandal, and I don’t need an independent committee to confirm for myself that the peer review process, not to mention the underlying scientific techniques, employed in “validating” AGW to the masses have been highly corrupted. The science is most certainly not settled, as no science surrounding highly complex problems ever is. To say that there can be no other valid perspectives pertaining to the earth’s GLOBAL temperature, which can be affected by untold numbers of variables, not the least of which would be the Sun’s own cyclical properties, is asinine to the extreme. Read Dr. Robert Carter’s book “Climate: The Counter-Consensus” for an unassailable breakdown of the corruption of science in the AGW arena.

    You claim that the media instigated ClimateGate is highly laughable. Nearly every media outlet is part of the consensus, so what would they have to gain? Actually the media has covered up and ignored this story to the greatest degree possible, just as they have ignored the actual science which refutes the claims of the AGW alarmists (see Watts et al). No, ClimateGate was actually the result of a whistleblower on the inside of the IPCC process who apparently became disgusted at the blatant corruption of the peer review process. Go figure…

    And NO, you do NOT have GLOBAL data. What you have is a hodgepodge of weather stations, some of which are highly susceptible to the urban island heating effect. The hockey stick models that have been extrapolated from this dataset have been tortured and twisted in so many ways with the primary purpose of reducing the effect of stations that show significantly less warming than the AGW alarmists have predicted.

    As I stated before, you need to measure the GLOBE as a whole, using satellites, before you make alarmist pronouncements pertaining to AGW. You need to measure the GLOBE as a whole for decades before you have enough data to know whether the CO2 centric theories currently in fashion are actually valid. Even then, your theories could not account for all the variables.

    AGW science is not repeatable or observable outside of our own planet, so it remains highly theoretical, and thus highly undisciplined. Are there other planets we have observed where human activity pertaining to CO2 caused a dramatic uptick in Global temperatures? Until you get to that point, or at the very least the AGW scientists establish a credible means of measuring global temperature, then you have much more work to do. Better get to it.

    In the meantime, you can rest assured that I will do my part to be a good steward of the land God has blessed us with, all while upholding the human freedom he has established in the form of the US Constitution, which is far more critical to the future of mankind than AGW.

  14. The urban heat island measurement problem has long since been dealt with, as you’d know if you’d read the IPCC report. Solar effects have also been measured and included in the IPCC models, but they’re fairly small compared to other effects. As I said before, the science is quite rigorous. Your “Counter-Consensus” book was written by a paid propagandist who’s in the 4% minority. Ten years ago, there were reasonable objections one could raise to the conclusions of climate scientists. But the science has advanced far in the last decade, and those concerns are no longer valid. Mr. Carter has either ignored or failed to keep up with the latest science.

  15. Pingback: By Their Powers Combined: Religion and Environmentalism | The Ecotone Exchange

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