Thursday, March 18, 2010

Environmentalism and Mormonism

Excerpts of  Highlights from BYU Studies 50th Anniversary Symposium,  Meridian Magazine

God's Machinery: Brigham Young and the Formation of Latter-day Saint Environmental Thought by Bryan V. Wallis

Bryan Wallis seeks to show how Mormonism differs from Judeo-Christian views of nature and the world, which are complex and often contradictory, suggesting, for instance, that human beings "must cultivate enough detachment from the world to understand that they [have] no permanent habitation on earth." Joseph Smith, by contrast, conceived of a much more amicable relationship between humans and the earth, teaching, among other things, that this earth will be glorified and become the celestial kingdom for those who gain exaltation. Brigham Young drew much of his philosophy about humanity and nature from Smith. Young taught, for instance, that the spirit world, where the spirits of men and women go when they die, is right here on the earth. Young spoke in terms of love for the world: "Let me love the world as He loves it, to make it beautiful, and glorify the name of my Father in heaven."

In an effort to articulate a uniquely Mormon environmental ethic, says Wallis, various Latter-day Saint thinkers have appealed to the teaching of Brigham Young. The first to do so was Hugh Nibley. Nibley quoted Young on a variety of subjects "ranging from clean air, the role of the earth in the plan of salvation, reverence for God's creations, nature aesthetics, use of the earth's gifts, denouncing the myth of the west as a place of inexhaustible resources, and the sin of waste."

The Science and Ethics of Climate Change: An LDS Perspective
Richard Gill

Richard Gill provides a scientific perspective on climate change. Moses, after seeing the earth in vision, exclaimed that now he knew that man is nothing, something he never supposed. Mormon scripture suggests a metaphor of interconnection for the earth and its systems. He uses the term biogeochemistry, which he defines as the study of how power is preserved or lost within various systems. Only in the last 30 years have scientists understood how global systems are interconnected. Throughout an 800,000-year period recorded in glacial ice, we see evidence of cycles between glacial and interglacial eras. One would expect the transitions between these eras to be smooth and gradual. But the record suggests abrupt transitions, suggesting that changes in one system spill over into other systems, effecting rapid and dramatic change. The various earth systems are very responsive to each other. Changes chemical, biological, and physical systems affect each other.

The 800,000-year high for carbon dioxide of 240 parts per million has been exceeded by current levels of well over 300 parts per million. This is human caused. The earth itself has not been capable of such an increase. Changes in the atmospheric system affects all other systems.

Environmental issues lie at the most fundamental levels of gospel understanding. \We are commanded to love our neighbors, but we cannot love others if we do not support actions that will preserve a healthy environment for them.

George Handley

George Handley provides an ethical perspective on climate change from an LDS perspective. He suggests that ethical values are missing from our discussions on environmental issues. Global climate change is an issue of great complexity, which is a cause of confusion for many. Since 2008, those who believe in human-caused climate change have dropped from 71 percent to 54 percent. This is not because the science has changed, but because of political and ideological reasons. There is more scientific evidence than ever for human-caused climate change and 97 percent of scientists accept this position, but there is also more disagreement among the populace than ever.

Because of the overload of information in our modern society, there is a tendency for people to be confused by the sheer amount of information. They would rather quote a sound bite than read a graph. Passive trust in the market, that the market will take care of the greatest number of people, has led many people to ignore its effects on certain portions of society or the environment. The market is inherently amoral, but for some reason society has turned the market's amorality into a moral good. What defines a good society? Is a good society merely one with the fewest restraints? Climate change is so complex because it suggests that society must be more morally good than the market can facilitate.

Mormonism has yet to produce an official stance on environmental issues. The fact that most Mormons do not consider climate change a moral issue is evidence of a moral failing. Our theology of stewardship over the earth is at odds with the political ideology we espouse that promotes economic growth with little concern for its environmental impact.

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