I wrote this essay for a class last semester. The professor of the class often told us to go home and kill our neighbors to reduce the world’s population. What was that specific advice he always gave us? Something like, “Buy less [crap], have fewer kids, use less fossil fuels.” At first his uber-biased attitude bothered me, but after a few weeks I realized I actually enjoyed hearing a different opinion than the ones I’ve heard all my life. Plus, he was pretty hilarious. I slanted this essay toward his views of Utah being a backwards state because, sue me, I wanted an A, but for the most part it accurately depicts my views on global warming and the like.
I Will, Then, Be a Toad
It is common knowledge that Utah is dense with Mormons—in 2012, LDS people made up 62.2 percent of the population. This prevalent religion in the state is bound to have an effect on the overall population’s culture, habits, and belief. Of course, everyone should be allowed freedom of religion; indeed, in our Constitution it reads that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While this is true, perhaps our Forefathers didn’t realize that religion that doesn’t take environmental issues seriously, while maintaining the conviction of millions of followers, can cause devastating problems for our earth.
Utahans fail to see that their actions directly affect the world around them. For a people who claim to treasure family, both past and future generations, they sure do a good job at ruining the world for their progenitors. The situation drips with irony. Utah moms drive around most of the day taking their kids to school, sports activities, friends’ houses, doctor appointments, and the like in order to make their children’s future lives better—and yet, in this very act, they are poisoning the air and teaching poor habits to the next generation. The cycle cannot end because there is no way to get it in people’s heads that they are the problem.
I went to the LDS church’s website to try and find any evidence of earth-loving in its teachings. The top result when I searched for “global warming” was a webpage with a chapter from their religious book “Doctrine and Covenants.” As we read in the chapter heading, this chapter prophesies of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Part of the chapter heading reads, “[verses] 1–6, The Saints are commanded to prepare for the Second Coming; …41–51, The Lord will come down in vengeance upon the wicked; … 57–74, The gospel is to be sent forth to save the Saints and for the destruction of the wicked.” Of course it is all well and good to be hopeful for the future of humanity; however, I am disturbed that this is what came up when researching global warming. Why are there no scriptures or talks related to the preservation of this beautiful world? I decided to keep looking.
At first glance, the results were not pretty. The church (and ergo most Utahans) seems more concerned with the deterioration of the moral environment than the physical one. One article with the hopeful title, “Rearing Children in a Polluted Environment,” started out with the words, “Not long ago, I had an impromptu conversation with a group of young parents who exhibited a great deal of anxiety about rearing their children in our morally polluted environment…” You can imagine the rest. The topic of children also came up concerning overpopulation. As the LDS article put it, “We have been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth that we may have joy and rejoicing in our posterity… Latter-day Saints, or for that matter all thinking persons, should not be panicked into any movement that would curtail or penalize the right to bring God’s spirit children into this world.”
There’s a political agenda going on in Utah as well. I was horrified to read that people still think that global warming is a conspiracy. I read that “in the past, the legislature has refused to formally recognize the science behind climate change,” although “the American Geophysical Union has done a study that maintains 97.4 percent of scientists who study the Earth’s climate agree that the climate is changing.” One woman of the Utah Eagle Forum “said she had done a study of climate change on the Internet and found that ‘everybody disagrees’ about it being a serious risk.” To quote City Weekly, “that mindset has nothing to do with the litany of solid research to the contrary and everything to do with individual’s psychological processes.”
Of course, not everyone believes that global warming is a conspiracy. One website described two activists with Utah Tar Sands Resistance giving Governor Gary Herbert the award “Polluter of the Year,” nicknaming him “Dirty Herby.” “After all, they argued, Herbert is working to grab more than 30 million acres of federal public lands in order to open them up to private fossil fuel development, which includes the first tar sands strip mine in the U.S.” This type of nonviolent resistance against pollution and environmental damage may seem small, but every bit makes a positive difference.
To my pleasant surprise, the LDS church site also offered a few articles in the way of helping the environment and fighting the disease of “affluenza.” The church’s Second Counselor in the First Presidency, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, said, “There is a beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions… Leonardo da Vinci is quoted as saying that ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’” Another church leader once said, “Albert Einstein once told the students at the California Institute of Technology that he doubted whether present-day Americans were any happier than the Indians who were inhabiting the continent when the white man first came.” These statements support being content with what we already have and realizing that happiness can’t be bought in a store.
One talk in particular stood out to me as incredibly wise concerning the sacredness of the earth. A Mormon by the name of G. Michael Alder was able to combine his religious beliefs with his passion for the earth in this article:
In Doctrine and Covenants 104:17, the Lord said, “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.” [D&C 104:17] My impression on reading those words is that the Lord is an ample provider—but he did not plan that we waste the gifts he has given us… These matters are vital. Apart from the fact that our personal safety is being increasingly endangered by the deterioration of our environment, we need to recognize that someday we will be asked to account for how we have managed our resources. What will our answer be when the Lord asks how we treated the earth—this gift he gave us gladly and which he asks us to use with gladness?
This article made me hopeful for the future of the world. I know this seems melodramatic, but as I surfed the LDS church’s website, I began to wonder if my culture—my religion, and really my life—cared enough about the future of our planet to actually consider being accountable before God. Without that attitude of owning up to their human footprint, a God-fearing people would have no reason to care what happened to the earth.
Of all these articles, my favorite one was the most diplomatic. In response to a question in a 1971 Q&A article about the supposed selfishness of people who bring more than two children into the world, an Associate Professor of Sociology in Washington State University wrote, “Stephen Crane once wrote a poem with a line to the effect, ‘Think as I think … or you are a toad.’ The response was, ‘I will, then, be a toad.’ In dealing with ethnocentric persons whose favorite cause has become overpopulation, people who have higher priorities had better resign themselves to being labeled toads.” Although I am passionate about the well-being of our planet and the future generations of all earth’s species, I feel that not everyone shares, or will share, my beliefs. I am relieved that I do not have to be right in everything. And although I live in a state that is backwards in many of its opinions about its place in the world, I am glad that I get the opportunity to inform my family, friends, and acquaintances of global warming before we have to account for our poor management of resources.