Monday, April 28, 2008

Commentary: Gospel, Consumption, and Algebra

If you haven’t seen Saturday’s Warrior, don’t. If you have, you know all about “Zero-Population.” Rather than learning about the Mormon tenet of “multiply and replenish” from a cheesy Mormon musical, how about using algebra?

Let ‘R’ equal average consumption per person.
Let ‘P’ equal the total population.
Let ‘C’ equal total capacity for consumption.

R x P < C

For those who understand numbers better than letters, let's say that we have 50 apples and 10 people. Using a little algebra and little division, we can conclude that each person gets an average of no more than 5 apples:

50 apples / 10 people > 5 apples per person

Taking this equation (or “inequality” to the math guru -but let's just call it an equation) to a global scale, we can multiply the average individual consumption by the total world population to find the total resources consumed. However ‘R x P’ must not be larger than ‘C’, because we cannot surpass the Earth’s capacity to sustain life.

The Restored Gospel teaches us about each term in the equation. We learn about ‘C’ from Doctrine and Covenants 104:17. This scripture teaches that the Earth has enough capacity ‘C’ for everyone:

"For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves."

We learn about ‘P’ from (among other places) “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” This document says that for now, we (at least the Latter-day Saints) are commanded to multiply and replenish (increase ‘P’):

“We declare that God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.”

Considering that the Earth’s resources (‘C’) are "enough," but finite, and that population (‘P’) is to continue growing, the equation demands that our rate of consumption (‘R’) be limited. The gospel also demands that we limit our rate of consumption. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, referencing the Doctrine and Covenants 104:17 said this:

“The resources so necessary to sustain human life are so generously provided on this particular planet; unless they are mismanaged, we are told that there is ‘enough and to spare’.”

Using the language of the equation, we can restate Elder Maxwell’s statement in this way: ‘C’ is so generously provided on this planet, that unless ‘R’ is mismanaged, we are told that there is enough and to spare for all of ‘P’.

I am convinced that our current rate of consumption is taking a serious toll on God’s Earth. I pray we can all enjoy God’s creation, but not in excess (see Doctrine and Covenants 59:18-20).


Matthew Petty said...

I think you've made an interpretive mistake here.

To me, "multiply and replenish" means that we should make sure to procreate in order to replenish the deaths of the elderly.

The zero-population-growth people would agree that replenishing deaths is necessary and a "good thing".

Moderation is important for all things, even the number of children we create and the amount of resources we use.

Latter-Day Sustainablist said...


Thanks for sharing. You have highlighted a big assumption in my math.

It all comes down to the meaning of "multiply and replenish." My post was based on the common (at least it is common in my corner of the world) interpretation that “multiply” means have children thereby increasing population. Although I my post was based on this interpetation, I confess that I am still pondering my position on the issue. I plan to write a post exploring this in the near future.

Here are a couple of links that discuss multiply and replenish in an LDS context. I am intrigued by the idea that “replenish” applies to the world (environment) in general, not just to population.

Matthew Petty said...

Yes, I am intrigued by that, too.

Many members still don't understand that they have an important effect on the environment by the example of their lives...

My main concern in this is the number of children LDS members seem to have. Even if the resources of this Earth are managed in accordance with the Spirit, that birth rate is not sustainable.

In other words, "multiply" should NOT be interpreted as "multiply as much as possible."

Nitesh said...

Love your blog! I think you would enjoy, has the most incredible LDS site I have ever seen! If you love art and music, enjoy!
Email me if you think it is cool, maybe I just don’t get out much.

Phil said...

I'm sorry, but I have to have to disagree with some of the commentors here. I am of the school of thought that says that LDS families should multiply as much as they possibly can (dependant on both ability and revelation for themselves and their families). Steven Covey once told me that the nuclear family was a Satanic principle. I'd have to agree. It is not, nor will it ever be a selfish thing to have as many children as you can and raise them in righteousness. We need more good people on the earth, NOT LESS.
Now as for mismanagement, yes there is mismanagement of a lot of resources. I'm sickened by the decisions of many environmentalists that restrict the exploration of oil and other fuels for their own political ends. As a country, we have given so much of our substance to the poor, but because of corrupt governments that maintain control over their subjects, the supplies never reach the poorest among these countries (see Myanmar, Darfur, etc.) There is "to spare", but it will never stop being mismanaged until we change our hearts through the gospel. Changing (or forcing) public policy that will ultimately make our society less free is not the answer.

Matthew Petty said...

We do all have the freedom to choose the wrong things.

The handouts we give to Myanmar or Darfur often remind me giving fish instead of fishing lessons. I don't think you can place 100% of the blame on their government's reaction to our gift horses.

I have to agree, that having children is not selfish. Ignorant maybe (excepting cases where revelation plays a part), but not selfish.

Nitesh said...

I always like your posts, keep up the great work!

Latter-Day Sustainablist said...

I am always glad when someone -besides me- likes my posts. I think it takes a certain amount of ego to write a blog. Nitesh, your comment fuels my spouse will be so happy.