Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Commentary: Why are some Saints down on the environment?

I have observed that some Latter-Day Saints are antagonistic toward environmental sensibility. I say “environmental sensibility” rather than “environmentalism” because the latter only encompasses a portion of the antagonism that I’ve observed. I can’t call this antagonism a trend because I don’t have any data other than what I have observed in my little corner of the Mormon world. Trend or not, I am troubled and intrigued by what I’ve observed. Hence, I created this blog to explore what the Gospel says about the environment, as well as the related topics of sustainability and consumption.

Why are some Mormons (and others too, I suppose) down on environmental sensibility? I’m sure there are more reasons, but I propose this antagonism comes from any or all of the following:

Economic Position. Some find environmental protection and policy to be at odds with their economic interests. Here in Idaho, water policy has many interested parties including agribusiness, hydroelectric, and wildlife. I can imagine that it is hard for farmers to be concerned with salmon when their field of potatoes is in need of water.

Political Persuasion. Some find environmental protection and policy to be at odds with their political beliefs. For example, regulating auto fuel-economy may go against one’s belief in a hands-off government.

Radical Kickback. Almost every cause has over-zealous supporters. Environmental protection is no different. Perhaps some of the antagonism is a reaction to radical behavior.

Doctrinal Position. Parts of the agenda pushed by some environmentalists are clearly at odds with the Gospel. For example, “multiply and replenish” is in opposition with population control.

Doctrinal Side Effect. Some doctrines are interpreted to be in opposition with environmental sensibility. I have heard some Mormons (and some Evangelicals) who apply the doctrine of Christ’s second coming in such a way that environmental sustainability is not needed…“We don’t need to worry about the environment because Jesus will return to save us before the resources run out.”

Oblivion. Amidst their families, callings, and work, many Saints are oblivious to the environment. In their oblivion these Saints aren’t antagonistic, but I list this condition because it seems to be the most common attitude that I encounter.

My Position

I find myself in the unique (or is it?) position of being both a Latter-day Saint and a budding environmentalist. In full discloser, I’m not particularly upstanding in either role. That said, I am trying, and I believe that these roles are not exclusive of each other. Quite the opposite, I find that my faith and my growing environmental/sustainability ethic are in harmony. So much so, that I have chosen “Latter-Day Sustainablist” as my on-line moniker.

What about the antagonism displayed by some Saints towards environmental sensibility? I chalk most of it up to “throwing-out the baby with the bathwater.” However, disagreement with some environmental policy -or with some environmentalists- does not mean one should reject all environmental sensibility. The resources referenced by my other posts are full of reasons why Latter-Day Saints should be good environmental stewards. And although I haven’t found many specifics in the Gospel about this stewardship (nothing specific about recycling in the Book of Mormon, for example), I hope to explore this topic in future posts.

I can’t end this post without saying that I find it extremely myopic to hold the position that environmental sustainability is useless because Christ will return before the resources run out. But I’ll save that soliloquy for another post.


What attitudes (be nice) do the Saints in your part of the world have towards the environment?

What are other reasons why some Saints have antagonistic attitudes?

Where am I right? Where am I wrong? Lay it on me.


eugie74 said...

In the Book of Mormon there is a promise that a people will prosper if they keep God's commandments. I have observed that many Latter-day Saints, believing ourselves to be a righteous people, have come to understand prosperity and consumption as the same thing. Only in the last couple of years have I begun to see the connection between my purchases and the way they affect the environment. It's a slow change because my brain is hard-wired to believe that if I can afford it, then I can buy it. Lately my interest has been in growing a lot of what I eat and finding local sources for the food that I buy.

Latter-Day Sustainablist said...

Well said Eugie.

Elder Oaks has a similar view:

"If Latter-day Saints are specially susceptible to materialism, this may be because materialism is a corruption of a virtue in which Latter-day Saints take special pride. Materialism is a seductive distortion of self-reliance. The corruption occurs through carrying the virtue of 'providing for our own' to the point of excess concern with accumulating the treasures of the earth" (Dallin H. Oaks, Pure in Heart [1988], 85).

Please check back and share your experience with local food.

green mormon architect said...

Very excited to stumble onto your blog. We must be on the same wavelength since I also recently started a sustainable lds blog. It will be nice to have someone to talk to now...I have been amazed by how much has been written on the subject by leaders and members.

I think that politics has a lot to do with LDS skepticism on the environment. To me, it is not a political issue, though, but a global issue that should be uniting us in a common cause rather than dividing us. I also think that certain buzz-words are a turn-off to people, such as 'global warming'. But even if we take this out of the equation, sustainable living is still the right thing to do. But it seems as though talk radio has convinced many that the environmental movement is the enemy.

Another attitude that has been passed down in the Church is a sense of 'rugged individualism' that was inherent with settling the West and starting the Church in the secluded mountain deserts. I think that this, in connection with hunting season, is still very prevalent in much of the Church.

Lack of knowledge, as you state, also contributes, which is why I started a blog. I think that the Church and its members should be leading the way for sustainable living.

Latter-Day Sustainablist said...

GMA- glad that you found me. If it is OK with you, I'd like to put a link to your blog on my link list. Let me know.

Dan C said...

Thanks for starting up this Blog. I'm totally pumped about find it. Apparently you're not alone in this point of view. Recently I've been wondering the same thing... what viewpoint of sustainability do members share in general?

I'm a graduate student at Unv. of Illinois and sustainability is huge topic here in the Midwest. I'm a civil engineer so (my kind) do not have the best tract-record for building sustainable infrastructure. My focus is on stormwater so my sustainable views are mostly focused on water related issues (not that I don't agree with other areas sustainability).

But... I definitely agree with all the comments already posted. I think prevalent political views, "radical kickback" and our history of settling the West are main issues. I also believe our society in general has lost tract of how nature really works (I guess that hits oblivion). I think a lot of it comes from the Industrial age where there's this mindset that I can "build or do anything" and no consequences will follow.

I've posted a link to some publications from a great engineering firm in Chicago that's dedicated to sustainability. Check out the first two articles listed on that site, "Designing Sustainable Systems" and "Ecology and Culture of Water". It's more geared to water, but the authors make some great points.


green mormon architect said...

That would be fine - I'll also add your site to my links if that's ok.

Latter-Day Sustainablist said...

Dan C.

Thanks for the link to the sustainability papers.

Your comments remind me of a paper I've been reading:

The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis
Lynn White, Jr.
from Science

I think that it is considered a classic text for environment/religion studies. The author points to the Christian dogma as a reason for man dominating nature rather than living in harmony with nature.

Good luck with spring semester.

Dan C said...

Latter-Day S

Thanks for "Historical Roots..." article. It's a great read. I'll have to go over it a few more time to let it all soak in.

I find it fascinating how little inventions, such as the larger more efficient plow the author referred to, can change the perception of how one sees themselves with nature and how it can cause some sort of disconnection. I've heard this same idea with American agriculture in the midwest... with the invention of the steel plow by John Deer in the early 1900s, it totally changed the scale and ease of agriculture production. The midwest was literally "drained" through the use of tile-drains (underground perforated pipe networks) and channelization of natural streams. Now we are reaping the rewards of lots of Corn and Soy beans. yum!! I love that High fructose corn syrup in everything I eat. And hearing the corn ethanol is going to save our energy crisis... I can't believe it when I hear politicians advocating for corn ethanol.

Anyway... That "History Roots..." article was on a Unv. of Vermont page. I would suggest you research John Todd. I believe he currently teaches there. I've heard him speak in person about sustainability and he knows his stuff. Check out his Eco Machine that he invented. Its a small scale water treatment system that you can put in your home. He's got some great ideas.

Mellifera said...

In the vein of books that help clarify Mormon environmental history... Leonard Arrington's Great Basin Kingdom is a wonderful read. I too agreed with the "Mo's hate the environment because they settled the West with rugged individualism" until reading this book.

But really... the Law of Consecration is somewhat antithetical to Rugged Individualism. The LDS pattern of land settlement was pretty conservation-minded in its own way... at least, Brigham Young kept telling people not to overgraze and overtimber (of course, he had to keep telling people not to do it. : ) Keep in mind that this book was written in the 1950s, and Arrington's occasional forays into good environmental stewardship were not in fulfillment of any zeitgeist of his own times. He's sort of a "hostile witness" to pioneer environmentalism.

My favorite part of the book is how the *rest* of the West was settled by rugged individualists, who couldn't stand the Mormons because they played by an alternate set of rules that didn't go in their favor. These rugged individualists eventually got the government to come in and essentially dismantle the church so that they could auction off the spoils. Very interesting commentary on US economic/foreign policy, and also that the Saints were definitely not from the mold of Western settler that we've come to believe. Contemporaneous with the gold miners doth not a gold miner make.

CTRmommee said...

You're not alone. I've been considering the same questions quite a bit recently. My questions go further than just the environment though-though it is an important part of my concerns. I worry that we're living too fast for our environment, for our families, for ourselves. I'm a special education teacher, and I feel as if we're pushing students faster and faster-supposedly holding them to higher standards while teaching them less and less. I feel like a worksheet pusher rather than a teacher, because I have to be able to "prove" that my student have mastered the standards. Worksheet pushers are definitely a danger to the environment. ;).

I also see the damage it is doing to my children who are enjoying less and less time in the natural world. A great book on that topic is "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv.

I just finished reading "Simple Prosperity" by David Wann, and I am really motivated by it. I'd like to see more eco-friendly communities where it's easier to bike or walk to the things we need (or even want). Whatever happened to walking to school? I tell you one thing, though I only live five miles from where I teach and my children go to school, we sure wouldn't ride our bikes. We'd be run over by logging trucks and many other industrial forms of transportation.

Okay, I could "wax poetic" forever, when all I really intended to do was say hello and that you're not alone.


CTRmommee said...

By the way, I think sustainability should go hand and hand with being prepared. As green mormon architect points out, there are many convincing reasons that lds members should be very concerned with living in a sustainable fashion.


Catriona said...

it would be easy for me to say too much; I am in my 50s and an "old Mormon--closet--hippie"--

I didn't "buy" the entire movement (how is that for a slip?)--
but . . .
I live differently from many of my fellow saints; we organic garden and have a "green" house--
I buy based upon whether or not it's fair--and exploitation of humans in "third world countries" is a big concern of mine--
I have been troubled by the mind set of WalMart/save a dollar that seems quite powerful in the LDS culture--
Mormons, by their own admission, are often "cheap", but they like to look "wealthy"--*sigh*

gotta love us--
even among those who have much more $ than I do--

I just don't do that; I don't live like that; I eat better, and I have a higher quality of life, but I feel (I know; I have been told) that I am "looked down on" for my naivete--
and for trying to live sustainably--
hard to find topics of conversation with some people who are conspicuous consumers--

I like the idea of prosperity being not so much connected with money, because *I* feel very prosperous, and we are quite economically challenged--

but we have a peaceful, cozy, HEALTHY home--

I am enjoying what I am reading; don't take me too seriously--

I have been around a lot of blocks; I know a lot about alternative energy and building, etc.--

and I have MCS--

Catriona said...

oh, I should have mentioned that I do live in the midwest--

we were invited to eat at the home of a ward member when we first moved here--

I made a stupid comment about composting; I should have known better--

I had been told that the city had a composting program (gave out compost bins); I had moved my own composting bin, but I was curious--

and the brother said, flippantly, "there is a big composting bin out east of town; it's the landfill; it works fine for us!"--

ouch . . .

big mistake--

I am a midwesterner by culture; he was from Utah--

I was "coming home" to move here from the west; he is an expatriate from Utah, living here under duress--

I guess . . .

*feeling slightly giddy to have said this*