Wednesday, March 09, 2005

If Our Doctrine is Green, Why Isn't Our Culture?

Having grown up in a conservative Mormon home, my perspective on the environment was as follows: don't smoke, don't litter, global warming is a left-wing conspiracy, and there is plenty on this earth to spare. Whenever anyone suggested that our generation is depleting the ozone or that we were using up the earth's resources, I'd smugly laugh it off and think, "They don't know God's feelings on it. He says that there is plenty to spare (D&C 104:17) and that everything on the earth is made for my benefit (D&C 59:18-19)." Silly, silly liberals, don't they read the scriptures?

(I didn't know it then, but I was playing that great religion game Quoting-Only-The-Scriptures-That-Support-My-Argument. It's a Bloggernacle favorite!)

So, after years of being smarter than everyone else, I continued reading:

"Thou shalt be diligent in preserving what thou hast, that thou mayest be a wise steward; for it is the free gift of the Lord thy God, and thou art his steward." (D&C 136:27)

"For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures." (D&C 104:13)

"And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion" (D&C 59:20)

Okay now, let me get this straight, God gave us this earth, BUT WE HAVE TO BE RESPONSIBLE WITH IT!!!! Whatever! If God didn't want me to drill for oil, He wouldn't have put it there! Sure, DDT was bad, but these new chemicals are much safer, the company said so! Factory farming? Great! That means cheaper Cheetos!

Please tell me that these are not our best solutions. Please tell me there are no Mormons working at Monsanto, whose very business is excess and extortion. Please tell me Bush knows that the acronym EPA has the word "Protection" in it. Please tell me that saving fifty cents on milk is not paramount.

It seems our doctrine regarding the environment is quite progressive, yet our cultural interpretation is lacking. Hugh Nibley opined, "We have taught our children by precept and example that every living thing exists to be converted into cash, and that whatever would not yield a return should be quickly exterminated to make way for creatures that do."

A phrase which tends to pop up in these conversations is "fill the measure of its creation, that it may have joy therein." Are we assisting God in this effort? Are we enabling the animals and plants to fill the measure of their creation? Is it even possible to do this AND take what we need from the earth? I can't imagine a better way to do this than through the principles of sustainability.

Why are there not more Mormons embracing these principles? This is not a Luddite mentality I'm talking about. Sustainability is a cradle to cradle, eco-effective model of thinking about how we make things, how we consume things, how we use these resources our Heavenly Father has given us. It's also a fine way to make money. Two amazing books about these principles are Cradle to Cradle and Natural Capitalism. Best money you'll spend this month. Disappointingly, these books should have been written by Mormons.

The Church owns the 205,000-acre Deseret ranch on the Utah/Wyoming border. A few years ago they purchased the desert land (right next to identical government land) and gave two directives: make a profit, improve the resource. They began implementing sustainable land management principles. I've since visited the ranch and it changed my life. It changed my perception and understanding of this earth and our relationship with it. The land is green (while the neighboring land is still brown). It's now Utah's largest bird sanctuary (that means it has a healthy ecosystem). The water level is rising. The cows graze naturally (being the major catalyst in the improvement of the ecosystem) and is considered some of the best beef in the world. Oh, and it's quite profitable.

Since I originally wrote this post I found out that the Church has given a new directive for the ranch: within a certain timeframe figure out how to run the ranch sans fossil fuels and implement those changes. Hmmm... now why would the Church want to figure out how to do that?

In our little Mormon blogging community, we don't discuss this very much (the last time Times and Seasons blogged about environmentalism was in 2003). Why? And why is our Church culture not adopting these principles that our doctrine seems to embrace?