28 January 2007

Mormon Mentality and Global Warming

For a while now I've been planning some sort of post on latent environmental messages in the Book of Mormon. I realize that many of the readers of this blog are not LDS, so it would have been written for a more general audience. However, last night I came across this post at Mormon Mentality (a blog I had never visited before). In it the original writer, having just seen An Inconvenient Truth, asks why church leaders are so silent on the issue of global warming (and on environmental issues in general), why church members seem unconcerned, and what church members should be doing about it. The responses that followed covered a fairly broad spectrum of LDS thought, however most seemed to be arguing their points based on political ideology, showing how well, at least in my opinion, business and media have managed to politicize the issue. The following is the response I left to the post and ensuing discussion written (keep in mind) for an LDS audience, and from a largely scriptural perspective, since that is what seemed to be lacking from the essentially political discussion of the issue.

I’m even later in the discussion, but I read the whole dern thing, so I’ll at least say my bit:

In the Book of Mormon, a text in which I assume we all have some degree faith, or at least appreciation, the issue of human impact on the environment (of which global warming is an example, but not the only one) is treated, somewhat obliquely, through scriptures concerning the land of Desolation. In Helaman 3:5-7 and Alma 22:31 we learn that the land to the north had been severely deforested, to such an extent in fact that the animals inhabiting the area had all moved south in search of food. This “desolation” we will remember was the result of, and a significant factor in the collapse of the Jaredite civilization. The Jaredites were relatively isolated from the rest of the world. Even if we are so naive as to imagine that they occupied the whole of the North American continent (not very likely) their collapse had little if any effect on the world as a whole, other than open up land for occupation by the Nephites. They had no political, no economic ties with any countries on the other side of the globe. Their energy resources did not depend on the political stability of nations thousands of miles away. They had only the land the were given, the wisdom of their leaders, and the righteousness of their people.

We are told that the Book of Mormon is a message for our day. In it we read of the collapses of two civilizations. In both cases their prophets pleaded with them until the very end, but the people were too “wicked” to listen. As we learn from the example of the Jaredites, one symptom of a wicked people is over exploitation of resources and degradation of the local environment.

I write these words from Thailand (my wife quietly suffering in bed with a rash brought on by air pollution), a country no less cellphone, iPod and SUV obsessed than the USA, despite the current military junta’s desire to “
simplify” and backtrack. The fact that they are poorer does not limit their aspirations, but instead makes them that much grander relatively speaking. We are quickly becoming one civilization (actually, I think we have been for some time), and the actions of one country can have repercussions around the world (the 1997 financial crisis originated right here). At this point in our civilization’s history there is no such thing as a strictly local environment. It’s all local. And just because your own back yard in the Whatever Valley, UT happens to be green and peaceful doesn’t mean that someone else’s desert isn’t blowing sand your way. Did you know that China’s soil (and our own) is being blown onto the Rockies as we speak, darkening the snow and making it melt faster? Do you people know where your water comes from?

I’m sure annegb has moved her defeatism and ignorance to greener digital pastures, but let me just say that I am ashamed to belong to the same church as her, and those that agreed with her in this discussion. If we are told to study the scriptures (BoM in particular) and follow the examples of the prophets, prophets who fought for their people, for their civilization, until the end, how in the world can anyone justify such a stance? I for one will follow the admonitions of our prophets and seek after “anything that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy,” regardless of whether it comes from that “putz” Al Gore. If there are virtues in the environmental movement (virtues like, frugality, conservation, self-sufficiency), and means to more fully magnify those virtues in myself and in my community, then we should embrace them without waiting for church leadership to tell us specifically to “go Green.”

There is a baffling tendency among some members of the LDS church to treat the Republican party line as though it were gospel doctrine and political leaders as though they were church leaders. We are also, as a church, being left behind on environmental issues by evangelicals who are beginning to understand the role of stewardship in a more robust and productive way than we seem to. I would encourage any good Mormon members of the GOP to listen to this talk by Roger Kennedy to broaden their understanding of the US, the history of the land she now occupies, and the diversity of opinions that can be held by a Republican. Also this episode of Speaking of Faith discusses the environmental movement and growing evangelical engagement in a spiritual context.

Here's more:

I’m sorry annegb, but if you think we agree on anything, I’m afraid you misunderstood me somewhere. I don’t think we should live merely decent lives, but rather exemplary ones, meaning radical change. If the rest of the world were to live up to our standards the results would be appalling. In the US we consume 20,030,000 barrels of oil per day. That’s more than China (6,391,000 bbl/day), Japan (5,578,000 bbl/day),Russia (2,800,000 bbl/day), Germany (2,677,000 bbl/day), and India (2,320,000 bbl/day) combined. Those countries are the top five oil consumers after the US, and have a combined population of 2,790,097,000. Nearly half the world’s population. Actually, about 300,000,000 shy of half, which happens to be the US population. As proud citizens of the USA we use, individually, .0667 barrels of oil per day. That doesn’t sound like much, but if our other buddies in the top six were to consume just as much their combined usage alone would top 186,285,476 barrels a day, or 67,994,198,877 bbl/year. And if the rest of the world were to live up to our standard, well, I don’t even want to do the math. The numbers for energy consumption, CO2 production, water consumption, waste accumulation, etc. are just as grim.

Much of the clean living, natural beauty, health, and happiness we enjoy in the US are the result of shipping our problems elsewhere. I happened to serve my mission in one of those places (the Dominican Republic) and I live in one now. On the flip side much of the clean living, natural beauty, health, and leisure we enjoy in the US are the results of work done by wacko environmentalists, labor organizers, and other lefty nutcases endorsing radical change.

That said, I wonder why the second-coming isn’t here yet? Maybe God is giving us a chance to repent and clean up Lake Baikal on our own. After all, the atonement is contingent upon our repentance.

By the way, the people at co2science.org are totally evil, I don’t care what ward they belong to. They take a perfectly good, peer-reviewed study offering corroborating evidence for global warming, like the northward expansion of larch forests on to the tundra (due to the melting of the permafrost), and say that, in their opinion, it’s because CO2 is an excellent atmospheric fertilizer. When you do that to the scriptures it’s called “wresting.”

Wouldn’t ignoring global warming count as “no management” as opposed to “intelligent management?” Or is this just part of a broader plan to get of rid NYC, Holland, Bangladesh, New Orleans, South Florida, and Tuvalu, all of them veritable blights on our globe, and true enemies of freedom. If only Iraq were below sea level.

annegb- “I love to read and lay around and watch TV and eat junk food. I don’t have too many aspirations beyond getting the dishes done and serving dinner to my food-slut husband.”

Sorry if I got the wrong impression. Look, I don’t expect you to go out and become an environmental activist, nor do I think most members of the church should. There is plenty of good that can be done in the world, and I’m sure you’re anxiously engaged in your own area of concern. What I am asking is that those of us who do chose to focus on those particular issues not be antagonized by fellow members of the church. Especially when there is scriptural precedent for concern and action over environmental issues, and plenty of overlap in values between environmentalism (values I listed earlier, like frugality and self-sufficiency) and the church. I don’t think changing out your incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents is extremist. I don’t think recycling is extremist. I don’t think conserving water, electricity, or gasoline is extremist. Nor do I think they are based on feelings of fear or insecurity when they are in accordance with some of our core values as members of the church.

Each of us has been endowed with our own free agency (as you well know), and the world we create emerges from each of those individual actions. I don’t want to limit the good you do in the world, please don’t try to limit the good I do by saying there’s no point.

Thank you for your last comment, I feel I have a better idea where you’re coming from.

One more point, of general interest, on the rest of the world living up to our standards. As cleaner, lighter-weight substitutes for current technologies are deployed in developing nations, I actually think there is at least a (teensy-weensy) chance that they might do better than us. In the US our switching cost is greater since we are tied to our current infrastructure. It’s possible to envision a near future where currently struggling nations far outstrip us in quality of life while we struggle to catch up. Oh, the irony.

Jonathan, am I correct if I summarize your argument thus:
the world is going to heat drastically, it’s the sun’s fault entirely, and there is nothing we can do but embrace the coming apocalypse?

I think scientists who actually work in field of climate change are concerned because in addition to the poorly understood mechanism of global warming caused by the sun (an estimated 0.6˚ in the past 100 years), human beings are generating enormous amounts of gasses (not just CO2) which have a well documented correspondence to higher temperatures here on earth (acounting for the other 0.4˚). In other words, we are making a bad situation worse, since many of these processes are feedback loops–increased CO2 leads to higher temperatures which lead to increased CO2 or CH4 (as previously sequestered sources of methane and CO2 are exposed by melting ice). By focusing on the anthropogenic side of the equation (greenhouse gas) I’d like to think we are merely being pragmatic. But then I’m just an art fag, not a rocket scientist (or does that mean you’re just an engineer and care little for hard science). Are you one of those who think we should launch giant sunshades into outer space?

In Dallas, where I was raised, I used to mark the coming of spring by the blooming of the redbuds. It always happened the week of my birthday without fail. For the past five years they have been blooming earlier and earlier. In Austin (which is suposed to be only two weeks ahead of Dallas) I have seen them bloom in December and January. Also several plant species are are creeping north, ball moss (a bromeliad, related to pineapples), is well established in Dallas now. My parents have coma sprouting in their back yard (it was absent my entire childhood). And Jerusalem thorn (native to south Texas, like coma) is becoming a veritable weed in Austin.

This year’s freaky weather in the US (and probably here in Thailand, where we’ve had record cold) is due to El NiƱo. For signs of long term climate change I’d pay attention to the plants.

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