Morrison on the Environment

Immediately below, Adam inquires about a Mormon perspective on the environment. Andrew B. Morrison addressed this issue in 1971 (see “Our Deteriorating Environment,” Ensign 64 (Aug. 1971)), one year after the first Earth Day:

I believe that pollution and environmental deterioration are primarily moral and spiritual problems, rather than problems of technology. Technology is mindless—a double-edged sword that will either produce or reduce pollution as man wills it. The prevalence of pollution stems from a lack of proper knowledge and understanding of the real purpose of life and of man’s place in the eternal plan provided by a loving Father in heaven. Some of the reasons for this statement are:

1. Many of our environmental problems arise from the fact that our society has become obsessed with materialism. Paul spoke an eternal truth when he said that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” [1 Tim. 6:10] We must come to realize that there are higher motives for human existence than technological advancement and the acquisition of material gain. This is not to dispute the great and continuing importance of science and technology to our society.

Not only is science an intellectual exercise of the highest order, and thus worthy of support for its own sake, but from a practical point of view, its application has literally transformed the world. Yet a never-ending search for more material prosperity cannot be the major factor in our lives. The society that looks no further than its gross national product is doomed to ultimate decay and destruction. Man’s true purposes are spiritual, not material.

2. For the past several hundreds of years, Western society has been dominated by a belief in scientific rationalism—a belief that science alone provides the key to man’s advancement, progression, and happiness. Older ideas about the need and place of beauty in life and the importance of the spiritual side of man’s nature have been superseded by an obsession with objective facts. Science is very much a creation of man’s intellect; it is amoral—neither good nor bad. Those who worship science, and there are many, worship the wrong god, for it alone will not bring happiness.

3. The reason we are in trouble ecologically is because of our inability to see ourselves as a part of nature. We have not seen ourselves for what we are: part of the web of life and part of the biological community; a portion of an incredibly complex ecological system; and intimately a part of the total environment. Our ability to acquire and apply technical information has far outstripped our biological ability to adapt to the changes technology has brought.

One of the most eminent of modern-day bacteriologists, Dr. René Dubos, has suggested that one of the reasons the modern environment is dangerous is because it changes so rapidly that we cannot make the necessary adaptive responses to it quickly enough. Whether or not this is so, it is apparent that we have largely failed, up until very recently, at least, to react properly and in a planned way to our environment. We have behaved as though we have some sort of divinely provided right to despoil the physical world. In a very real sense I believe this reflects a misinterpretation by conventional Judeo-Christian philosophers of God’s injunction to Adam about subduing the earth.

4. In addition, too often we fail to see ourselves as part of a human continuum. We think only of our own generation as though it exists alone, with no obligations to the future and without any heritage from the past.

I believe that the answers to all of these problems can be found in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. And my reasons are simple. They include the following:

The gospel teaches us that this world is our home, created for us under the direction of a loving Father in heaven, whose sons and daughters we are. In a celestialized state, it will be our eternal home. As such, it must not be misused or looted, for we are stewards entrusted with its care.

The gospel teaches us there are purposes to life that transcend the acquisition of material things. We are, literally, our brother’s keeper, with responsibilities toward others. Mortal existence is part of an eternal plan designed to return us to the presence of our Creator. Its purposes are primarily spiritual and center on development of the divine potential for growth and advancement that we all have.

The gospel teaches us that we are part of the continuum of human life. We do not stand alone in our generation. We are part of a great eternal patriarchal family. We draw from the past and are obligated to give to the future. We have an obligation, therefore, to others yet unborn—an obligation to present to them a world with beauties that they too can enjoy.

The serious ecological problems which face us have as their basis a disordered spirituality; they can be cured and prevented only by a reorientation toward the proper purpose of life. The gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by his church in these latter days can provide full answers to these problems.

While much has improved in the United States since 1971, this article still could have been written today. In my experience, spirituality and environmental sensitivity are directly correlated. Unfortunately, this fact does not reveal much about how to improve the environment through legal regulation. It also does not reveal how to weight the various tradeoffs required to produce environmental gain.

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