I will be speaking next week at a fireside in a neighboring stake. The topic is “Environmental Stewardship and Mormon Belief.” I have written and spoken about this topic for 14 years. I don’t suppose I can talk about it enough. I believe that the gospel of Christ contains all truth, that all topics are relevant and important to consider. There is almost no topic I am not interested in reading and talking about with others, especially when it concerns the fundamental principles of Christ’s teachings. So despite the fact that I have devoted so much time to the environment in my life, I do in fact think and write about other matters. Nevertheless, I don’t suppose I will stop talking about this topic until our culture changes, until we Mormons have awakened to our stewardship with greater awareness, passion, and interest. Although I have my opinions about policy, I believe that there are many viable solutions, that a variety of approaches will make the greatest difference, and I believe fundamentally in the power of individual inspiration. If Mormons and all people everywhere of good will would allow themselves to truly and deeply listen to what science is telling us about our ailing planet and if we could reach deep into our respective traditions to find the gems of earthly wisdom they contain and begin, even in just small ways, to act on them, we would ignite a kind of passion and commitment and concern that would transform our environmental behavior and perhaps even allow some healing.
So what are the fundamental principles of stewardship, according to LDS belief? This list of five principles is brief and incomplete—and for now I won’t bother including all of the scriptural references—but I intend this to provide at least a primer for how we might begin to define our own stewardship more clearly. Suffice it to say, Mormon belief contains powerful doctrines about stewardship laid out explicitly in modern and restored revelation, and we dishonor these revelations by ignoring their relevance to the problems we face and by belittling the concerns about the health and well-being of the environment.
1) The earth is sacred. It was pronounced “good” when it was created, and it is the future site of the Celestial Kingdom. Our highest ambition, in other words, ought to be to remain put, not to aspire to leave this earth.
2) We played a role—what exactly, we do not know—in the creation of this world before we came to this earth. We were apparently already intimately familiar, in other words, with its workings. We are commanded to learn about the earth and the life systems it supports.
3) All plants and animals, including us, are “living souls.” We all share the common feature of having spiritual and physical bodies. The world is sentient and alive; there is no dead matter.
4) God finds pleasure in biodiversity. He is displeased with us when we fail to notice or take pleasure in his creations. He wants all plants and animals, including us, to flourish, to multiply and replenish, and to find joy in our posterity. This ethic of ensuring the flourishing of all life applies to all humankind, of course, but also to all domestic and wild animals and plants.
5) God is displeased with us when we “waste flesh” without need and when we possess more of the earth’s resources than others. We are to use resources with judgment, thanksgiving, modesty, and with an eye to helping others. God expects us to consecrate and share the resources of the earth, so that there is enough for everyone. As long as some people are rich and some people are poor, the world lies in sin. Environmental degradation and human suffering, in other words, often go together and should be solved together.
So here are ten steps we can take to begin to act on these principles. Again, this is not exhaustive, nor do I intend it to be overly prescriptive. But I hope it inspires a commitment to begin a journey toward more thoughtful and principled stewardship.
Reduce Automobile Use
If you live close to church or to the temple, walk to Sunday and auxiliary meetings and to the temple. It is good for the body and spirit and provides valuable conversation time for relationships to develop. Consider using public transportation or bikes for other travel. Carpool whenever possible. Keeping your speed down and maintaining proper air pressure in your tires helps to improve fuel efficiency. Some Jews don’t drive on the Sabbath. Maybe a new debate for Sabbath Day observance can be how much energy we will save!
Reduce Water Use
Buy water-efficient showerheads. Take shorter showers. And reconsider your landscape design to decrease your dependency on heavy watering. Have your sprinkler system analyzed for its efficiency. Use sprinklers in the early morning or late evening and never in the wind. Avoid watering after rainstorms. Grass needs 30 inches of rain a year to grow, but we only get 15 inches on average in the valley. Some people use as much as 100 inches of water for their lawns, enough to grow rice.
For more information see http://www.hort.usu.edu/html/CWEL/CWELOverview.htm
Purchase reusable bags and take them with you when you shop. Reuse zip-lock bags, sandwich bags, and any reusable plastic packaging. Purchase one set of reusable plastic cutlery, and use it whenever you eat lunch at local restaurants. A reusable bottle for water is an excellent alternative to bottled water and other prepackaged drinks and plastic or paper cups. Consider planning ward and neighborhood activities that will produce minimal paper waste.
Reduce Energy Use In Your Home
Be more modest in your use of heating and air conditioning. Experts recommend keeping heating at least at 68 degrees and air conditioning at 78. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with more efficient florescent bulbs. Turn off your lights and appliances when not in use. Consider that the purchase of a new, energy-efficient appliance may pay for itself in saved energy costs. Reducing energy waste will certainly help your community.
Consider ways to reduce your consumption of goods and services. Make a careful inventory of needs, and begin to make voluntary sacrifices of your wants. Paying a more generous fast offering and other means of giving of our talents help us to curb our appetites, be more generous in sharing resources, and lessen our impact on the earth.
Recycle paper, plastic, and metal at home, work, and at church. This will dramatically reduce your garbage waste. Use the green recycling program for all green waste, and consider composting. Recycle or resell your aluminum cans. We throw away enough aluminum cans in America to make 6000 DC-10 airplanes every year.
Work and Play
Remember the inherent value of work, and enjoy the sweat of your brow! Consider ways to reduce your dependency on labor-saving devices. Mowing your lawn with a push-mower, raking instead of blowing leaves, shoveling instead of blowing snow can all have a considerably positive impact on air quality and the health of our body. One hour of a lawn mower use produces the equivalent pollutants of a 350-mile drive in your automobile! Consider forms of recreation nearby that don’t use electronic or gas-powered machinery.
Pursue Renewable Energies
Explore options for using renewable and clean energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal energies, in your places of work and in your home. Encourage city and state officials to support the development and public use of clean energy and to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.
Reread the Word of Wisdom, and consider growing a garden, supporting local food producers, and canning fruits in the summer. Reducing meat consumption by only 20% will have the equivalent benefit of trading in your car for a hybrid! The average meal in America travels 1300 miles to get to your plate, and the average American consumes 8 ounces of meat a day. Eat lower on the food chain, and avoid food that comes with excess packaging, especially fast food.
Cherish Your Home
Know your neighbors, human and animal alike, and know your neighborhood. Teach children to learn about the local fauna and the names of trees and flowers. Learn about the geology, environmental history, and ecology of our extraordinary mountains, rivers, and our beloved Utah Lake. Explore the neighborhood near and far on foot with family and friends. There is a reason why the prophets sought the mountains, the desert, the forests, and the wild places to call upon God. Learn to love nature as evidence of God’s love.