For many Mormons, ‘environmentalist’ is a dirty word. Stewardship is a concept that we usually limit to financial management. But I believe our religion–both doctrine and culture–support the call for all saints to act as stewards of the earth and its environment. Because terms like “environmental’ and ‘green’ have strong political overtones, in order to have a conversation about the potential for Mormons to recognize their positive role of earth stewardship, we must start at the beginning. To that end, I will simply argue that Mormons do care about the earth. We care about preserving, protecting, and maintaining it. We care about the earth because 1) We love God, 2) We care about other people, and 3) We believe in the intrinsic value of the earth.
1. If we love of God, we will care about the earth
- We believe that God created the heavens and the earth, and declared all that He had created “good” (Genesis 1:31, Moses 2:31).
- We believe that all things were created spiritually before they were created physically (Moses 3:5,7) which indicates two things: divine forethought in creation and the belief that all things have a spiritual as well as a physical component (more about that in #3). It seems to be incredibly disrespectful to be blasé about wastefully destroying something that God put thought and care into creating.
- We believe that God speaks to us in the wild places of this earth–mountaintops (Old Testament patriarchs), wilderness (Christ and John the Baptist), groves of trees (Joseph Smith). God’s people throughout time have sought refuge from the din of society and inspiration in the holy places God himself has provided.
- We believe that we are given the divine responsibility to be stewards of this earth, beginning when God placed Adam in the garden of Eden to dress and keep it (Genesis 2:15).
- Christ taught in the parable of the unjust steward that we must exercise our stewardship wisely, to make our portion more profitable, not for us, but for God, who is the Master (Luke 16). How to best to do this is open for interpretation, but I would propose that any activity that poisons, sterilizes, and otherwise destroys the productivity and viability of the land and makes it an uninhabitable or hostile environment for people, animals, and plants is unrighteous dominion. As stewards, we do not own the earth. We are its caretakers. The earth belongs to God.
- We believe we each received our physical body in order to grow in experience and knowledge through this mortal probation, and the physical world is the stage where we grow. If Alma was right, and all things denote there is a god (Alma 30:44), then this world is His testimony of Himself to us.
2. If we love of humankind, we will care about the earth
- We believe that we have a divinely mandated mission to preach the gospel to all the world, to bring everyone that will unto Christ. We believe that God loves all people, and as we serve others, we come to love them too. But inasmuch as societies, conflicts, and greed have created scarcity out of natural abundance, people are suffering and dying (See the Somalia series). If we are to fulfill our mission to share the hope of the gospel with these people, we need to first address their basic needs for safety, shelter, food, and opportunity to work on both a social and environmental level.
- The land that is ravaged by war, drought, deforestation must be restored so these people can live and have an opportunity to serve God.
- If we our wasteful consumption creates scarcity for other people living on the earth now and in the future, we are in the wrong. Consideration for others is one reason to be modest in our wants and wise in our use of shared and finite resources.
- We believe in the law of consecration, that everything we do and have must be given to the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth. If we can stop looking at our work and property as building up our own means, and see them instead as contributions to building Zion, we will attempt to work cooperatively to improve the world and the conditions of all people who live in it.
3. The earth (including environment, resources, and all living things on the face of it) has intrinsic value
- According to the John Locke, you have a natural right to property once you have mingled your labor with; your field is your property if you have worked it, and therefore, its fruits are also your property. The value is determined by the human labor exerted. This definition carried over into the convention of money. So the idea of economic value was first based on a human capacity for work. Now we have abstracted the idea of money from work and assigned it solely to purchasing power. We still assign economic value to natural resources, but that value is based on the price an end product will fetch. In this paradigm, the earth has value only inasmuch as we can sell it.
- But this narrow view is obviously too limited. It ignores aesthetic value, sentimental value, and intrinsic value. Other than being a beautiful place that has fostered fond memories for us, the earth (and all that is on it) is valuable in its own right, even the parts of it that man has not claimed as his property through his labor and the parts that he has not yet managed to sell. It has a spiritual dimension. It was good as God created it, before we ever began dressing it and shaping it around our needs and desires.
Having established here that we do care about the earth, my next step will be to review the specific counsels and practices we live by that demonstrate our stewardship. But that will have to wait until another day.
Wasn’t it Satan that spoke to Christ in the wilderness? Not to contradict your main point, but ‘wilderness’ seems a bad thing in the Bible generally, at least that’s my impression.
Satan attacked Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove, so obviously Adam Greenwood is on to something. (Snark).
and if I recall, Satan took Jesus up on a high mountain to show him the kingdoms of the world.
Also the natural man is an enemy to God.
Wow, who knew strip mining was so sanctified?
Rachel, I love this piece. My own shift toward environmentalism is slow and ongoing. As a kid I loved exploring the undeveloped fields, hills, and forests near my home. It wasn’t until more recently that I made the connection between enjoyment of nature and my role as a steward of the earth. I’m not great at it now, but at least I’m more conscious of it.
The JST of Matt 4:1 says “Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be with God.” Also in Luke 5:16, Christ “withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.”
A bad impression of wilderness could come from the fact that the children of Israel wandered there for 40 years, but they were sustained directly by the hand of God during that time–what was a punishment was also an opportunity to realize that God will provide for us even when we are undeserving or our own efforts fail.
Also, the wilderness of Judea isn’t the “wilderness” of the Sierra Nevadas. There may be rattlesnakes and the occasional mountain lion, but really it’s a safe, recreational area. The biblical wilderness represents uncultivated wasteland, a place where thirst and starvation were real possibilities, not to mention confrontations with hostile raiders. The “wilderness” near my home isn’t really a wilderness in that sense. It’s more of a widely extended garden. I think that “wilderness” in the biblical sense isn’t so much about untouched nature as it is about being indomitable, challenging, inaccessible land. America’s untouched land is just a garden in the sense that there’s nowhere you can go that isn’t relatively easily accessible by land and air vehicles. That isn’t to play down the fact that accidents and deaths occur, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
I think almost all of what you say in this piece is rock solid Restored Gospel.
The one statement that may extend beyond that foundation is the one about “our wasteful consumption” creating scarcity for other people. The primary example of this that I can thing of is the diversion of corn into making alcohol based fuels. That has driven up the price of corn significantly, and decreased the supply of food, with adverse effects on the affordability of food. When one significant part of the food supply becomes scarce, it pushes up demand and thus price for other food sources. Some articles I have read suggest that the “Arab Spring” was prompted as much as anything by food price rises and food shortages caused directly by the artificial, government subsidized demand for bio-fuels. These kinds of direct impacts on poorer populations are much more dire than any long term predicted, but not certain, effects from global warming decades from now.
Our consumption of oil is not impoverishing the people of the Persian Gulf. The lack of benefit to the people of Nigeria of the oil produced in that nation is not due to US purchase of the product, but the internal arrangements by which the income realized is not fairly distributed. Our consumption of manufactured goods produced in China is making its people richer, not poorer. The people of Norway are richer than otherwise due to oil production.
For most of us, our consumption of any good is limited by our total income, our actual physical needs, and the competing attractiveness of other goods and services, including the need to save and invest for our retirement, and our desire to contribute to the Church and other worthwhile causes.
I am suspicious of efforts by government to control and constrain our ability to make our own choices about how to convert our income into goods and services, since government programs are just too lacking in full information and intelligence to make wise judgments involving tradeoffs among competing interests and values. Such government interference is at its worst in China’s One Child policy, that punishes partents for having more than one child, and has resulted in a demographic time bomb of millions of permanent bachelors.
If government needs to intervene in free choices in order to protect important public interests, one principle shold be that it must be the smallest intervention possible, rather than the largest (which is the orientation of cap-and-trade proposals to force us to decrease CO2 emissions). If global warming ever becomes real (it has stabilized during the last decade, even without government intervention), the simplest and most direct and cheapest method of countering it is to loft sulfur oxide particulates into the stratosphere (see Superfreakonomics).
Easy and cheap solutions are not favored by many in the traditional environmentalist lobby because they would allow us to continue using fossil fuels and save our money for retirement rather than spend more money for less energy. I do not see virtue in forcing everyone to live like Mahatma Gandhi. While we consume more, we also produce more, and the net result is an ability to feed not only the US but also millions of other people around the world with only a small percent of our population employed in agriculture.
I have never found the Church as very “Green”. I hear talk, but see little action.
Some of the greatest‘environmentalists’ of the West, who had first name ties to the FP and GAs___were blown off by them time and time again ( Wallace Stegner and the Udalls).
Dominion over the Earth is the Chruch’s default__not Stewardship.
What a wonderful discussion — a sort of Mormon environmentalist manifesto. They go rather well together, don’t they?
Thank you, Raymond. I agree that the idea of overconsumption by some resulting in scarcity for others is more a function of observation and politics, and not strictly gospel doctrine. That is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about it, and pass those concerns to our politicians, but it is outside of the strick purview of a gospel only discussion. Thanks for the correction.
Dane-I love thinking of our American wilderness areas as large gardens. Michael Pollen addresses the issue of preserving wildness untouched versus a more cultivated landscape in his first book about gardening (Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education).
Raymond, I agree with your points. Thank you for a clear and reasoned comment. Rachel, once again a really nice article. It used to be that part of the purpose of girl’s camp was to teach us to conserve and appreciate what our Heavenly Father has given us. The program changed some years ago and I think, not for the better.
Bob-The condemnation of Christianity for dominion and exploitation of the earth resulting in an ecological crisis was an argument made by Lynn White in 1967 (Lynn Townsend White, Jr, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”, Science, Vol 155 (Number 3767), March 10, 1967, pp 1203–1207).
He raised several good points, two of these being that Christians were taught to despise this world as fallen and corrupt and to look forward to the day of its destruction and renewal as paradise, and the dominion of man over the earth was emphasized over his stewardship responsibilities.
Because the restored gospel has a different understanding of key principles such as the creation, the fall, the purpose of our mortal probation, and the idea that we must work to bring to pass Zion, Mormon theology avoids the criticisms White made against Christianity.
Of course, practice is often different from principle. I plan to go into that more in the next post.
Please note I have all of Michael Pollen’s books__so I can’t be all bad.
The problem isn’t dominion, it is using it for destruction. We should use our dominion for protection and cultivation. Adam was kicked out of the garden of Eden and went about trying to do what he could to return, to make the world a garden again, not a parking lot, strip mall, or strip mine. When Adam was made Lord over the earth he understood that the “lord” wasn’t necessarily just the one who was in charge and got what he wanted, it meant he was the one responsible for the protection and care of the rest. If we would use our dominion wisely, and return to being the proper type of lords, then we will truly be closer to living our religion to its fullest.
A wonderful post Rachel. Thanks!
I wonder if one of your enviromental posts will address the GA statements about the bloodthirsty desire of the saints to kill/hunt without need.
Bob, I don’t think you’re bad at all. There is certainly room to criticize the LDS church and culture on this front, but until we recognize what we do well and embrace those doctrines and practices that are positive, we won’t make any progress toward addressing those criticisms.
I’ll consider the hunting issue. I know that hunters are among the best stewards we have in our nation, and I have friends who stock their freezers for the winter with game they have killed and dressed themselves. Of course, that is quite different from an bloodthirsty desire to kill/or hunt without need.
If Mormons truly cared about the Earth, we would stop overbuilding church parking lots (which encourage driving and which turn into unsightly dead zones during the week) and we would see bishops bicycling to church on Sunday.
I am in favor of conservation but I think it should be done for the good of humans, both living and future, not for conservation sake alone.
Derek- I think you will find that the way Mormon churches and stake centers are built (specifically parking lots) have alot more to do with the requirements of local zoning than any desire to promote a car centered lifestyle. In Ecuador, very rarely did any church building have any more parking than street parking. Some jurisdiction(s) in CA recently took the actions to encourage a less auto-centric building code. Instead of forbidding parking lots at businesses they just legislatively removed the previous requirements of businesses to provide parking to their patrons. (a great example of freemarket solutions).
Back when I was a Finno-Ugricist, it was interesting to learn about different cultures’ attitudes towards wilderness, particularly forests. Some tell scary stories about what’s lurking in the woods, and others see forests as places of refuge. Because of where these attitudes are recorded (e.g. nursery stories), they hang on almost indefinitely.
In Springville, Utah, people will regularly drive less than a block to church.
This posts reminds me of how The New York Times was quoted at least twice in conference. Take that, ultraconservative loonies!
“If Mormons truly cared about the Earth, we would stop overbuilding church parking lots (which encourage driving and which turn into unsightly dead zones during the week) and we would see bishops bicycling to church on Sunday.”
I doubt you would see bishops bicycling, because most of us are probably not up at 6:30 a.m. to see them on their way to get ready for the pre-meeting meetings.
I do ride a bicycle or walk to church in order to set a good example to my Primary kids. But it wasn’t real practical when we had four children to cart around.
And no way do I expect the bishop to get up even earlier to ride a bicycle.
“I know that hunters are among the best stewards we have in our nation..”
I agree completely. For many years I was an avid hunter. Hunters and environmentalists have joined forces many times in an effort to preserve land and keep it viable for wildlife.
I don’t hunt much any more because I lack the passion I once had for it (although I am not against hunting at all). Now I am more inclined to shoot wildlife with a Nikon as opposed to a Browning.
You’ve been dipping into that Hugh Nibley sauce again … it will get you drunk on doctrine that many just are not ready for …
I regularly see our bishop bicycling around the neighborhood and many people in our ward walk to church.
My husband walks to his 6:30 a.m. meetings, I walk to the 7:30 meeting, walk back home to make sure the kids have eaten and put on presentable clothes, then walk back to church with them. I’m so thankful we live close enough to be able to walk to church. Where I grew up in Texas, it was a 20 minute drive to the meetinghouse, so the whole family had to be there early and stay late for the extra meetings that were tacked on to either side of the standard three-hour block. In New York, where we lived 3 miles from the church, we walked if the weather was between 45-90 and not raining hard. It was a luxury to be able to drive if it was extremely hot or cold–a luxury that not all members of our branch shared.
@ Stephen M (Ethesis)-I’ve been thinking about Nibley a lot this week. The house he lived in just south of BYU campus has was just torn down. We lived around the corner from him when we were young married undergrads, and would occasionally see him walking through the neighborhood and up to campus.
Bicycling?! Think bigger folks. Think of the Church and it’s part in the Transcontinental Rairoad, mining, the building of Hoover Dam, etc.
Vin, do you take your name from Mistborn?
Rachel, love the post and the agree with you in a brotherly, pluralistic sort of way – but either I’m a lot more radical than you or else you’re better than me at crafting the message for a general audience (those two might go together, eh?).
It’s simply that case that there is no other religion that I’m aware of whose doctrine and history are more conducive to environmentalism than ours. Culturally we’re simply in apostasy. At least in the U.S. There’s really no other way to look at it. It’s another of those unfortunate examples where a dysfunctional political culture keeps us from living how our clearly religion clearly teaches that we ought. That said, I’m very much an optimist on the issue (the issue of the church and environmentalism) and thrilled to see you posting here about it.
Quick note: John Locke’s not helping your case, even in a narrow sense. Aside from the fact that this view has historically contributed to the raping of the earth’s resources and a very pernicious notion of stewardship, it’s flatly incoherent. I don’t know of a philosopher today who accepts it without significant caveats and back-bending.
That said, I’m thrilled to see you attributing intrinsic value to the earth – something that some of our best Mormon environmentalists have so far vehemently rejected (e.g., George Handley). But you’ll need to get ready for the barrage of criticism that this position invites (well, I suspect you’re already prepared and were just trying to avoid a defensive tone in the post).
Very much looking forward to all you have to say on the matter.
Great post Rachel. We really appreciate you sharing these things.
I think most stewardship sensitive members’ beef with environmentalism as a contemporary popular movement has a few substantive points, that of course do not diminish the true and doctrinal stewardship we acknowledge. It may have become a dirty word to us because we are saddened by its misuse.
1 – The exploitation of public policies under the guise of environmentalism promoted for the accumulation of increasingly centralized power. The politicalization of the scientific community and complete rejection of continuing scientific development, eg ‘the debate is over.’
2 – The danger of putting the stewardship over the steward, and being overzealous in limiting productive activities that builds healthy emotional and spiritual bonds between individuals
3 – The complementary misnomer of overpopulation, which contradicts the commandment and doctrine that human souls are what ‘replenish the earth’ and thus, her ultimate natural resource. This also begets inherent hostility to larger vehicles, when in fact large families carpooling in an internal combustion minivan is much better environmentally than singles and couples driving around in hybrids. Ironically, the decline in morality and increased ‘standard of living’ begets a population decline due to fewer children, and the ‘problem’ seems to be solving itself.
I don’t want to detail these nice comments. I just felt that your highlighting of the positive aspects of popular environmentalism we should embrace should be complemented by some elements where we can respectfully explain the inconsistencies there are within the movement today.
I also appreciate the church’s stance on gardens. I think one thing many members are coming back to as prompted by the Spirit in the last few years, and I find it very appealing that such a simple thing can have such a duality of positive effects (learning about creation, nature, the law of the harvest, saving money, etc).
One more point. I think most members are doing better than they get credit for, it’s just that we find it easy to ‘over-correct’ in our zeal when we see mis-application of stewardship principles.
I believe a more apt title might be “Mormons Should Care About The Earth.” There are too many trends within our faith that are anti-Earth, if you will.
1. There is a strong anti-global warming contingent in our midst. The recent near orgasmic reaction on the bloggernacle by some to the discredited and misinterpreted cloud studies by some is an extreme example of this.
2 If the Mormon fascination with the libertarian and/or Paulista belief that governmental regulation or prohibitions are bad become the majority doctrine of our country, there will be nothing to stand in the way of polluters and despoilers.
3. There is a movement in fundamentalist Protestantism called Dominionism that stresses the biblical exhortation to dominate and take control of the earth. In its milder from you see an emphasis on doing nothing to stop the exploiting of the Earth for capitalist gain. One of its more virulent strains proposes that we degrade and destroy the environment in order to speed the return of Christ. This movement is starting to wend its way into contemporary conservative religious thought and coming our way, especially with the Glenn Beck-David Barton connection.
4. There are a number of people who believe that the end is near, so why care
5. We have the “if Al gore believes it, then I do not” crowd.
The Church is starting to take baby steps toward environmentalism: recycling, the new green church buildings, occassional exhortations to be stewards of the Earth. The quetion is will the Church and its green members be enough to counteract our internal forces that either do not care or who put the buck before taking care of our planet.
Raymond (7), I believe your comment completely misses Rachel’s point and swings the conversation toward a discussion of government. Nothing in the op talks about government’s role in any of this!! It would be wise to first agree on principles before we talk about what, if anything, government should do.
A vital part of Rachel’s point, when she says
is about shifting costs to others. If our generation or our nation by using more than others causes a shortage for another group, be it in Somalia or be it 50 years in the future, isn’t that shifting costs to them? How is that fair?
It seems to me that ignoring the long-term costs of actions is bad economics. We can’t ignore in our economic calculations things like the cost of cleaning up environmental pollution and the the cost of scarcity on others.
“I regularly see our bishop bicycling around the neighborhood and many people in our ward walk to church.”
That’s lovely, but since our bishop’s “neighborhood” covers 30 miles, it doesn’t work for everyone.
And Derek, I apologize if I came off as snarky in my earlier response. I didn’t intend to dismiss your observation out of hand (which I admit is how it came out), but only to say that it isn’t as simple as it looks at first glance.
This does come back to the OP’s 2, bullet 4. A lot of times serving in the kingdom can require taking steps that are less environmentally friendly, such as driving a car when one would rather walk or cycle. There are ways to mitigate some of that environmental impact; we bought our Prius when my husband was assigned as high councilor to a ward that was 45 miles away.
But when my husband was called as bishop, he had to give up cycling to work because at least twice a week he needed to respond promptly when someone died or needed assistance, and without a car it took longer from his workplace and may have been out of range. And not only is having to drive every day not great for the environment, but he was of an age when the knees start to go, and cycling is the best remedy. And having a car at church on Sunday helps when people call asking for rides, or visits need to be made right after.
Also, our personal choices are not made in a vacuum. We chose not to ever own a minivan, but to have at most two smaller fuel-efficient cars and rent a minivan for family camping vacations. But when it came to youth temple trips or conferences, that meant we either relied on others with minivans, or took more cars to transport the same number of kids.
Cars are tools given to us for the building of the kingdom, so I don’t begrudge the use in the least. In the balance between stewardship of the earth and stewardship of the people, I think people win most times.
James Olsen-Locke is problematic. I included him because I happen to be reading him right now and he *was* influential, although his logical flaws have been recognized. He is an example of one of the many lines of thought that have led people to reject the intrinsic value of anything not used by man, though I don’t think he ever put it in those terms. It is useful to consider where some of our ideas and assumptions came from, because the effects of them linger in the public long after they have been discredited and modified by those in the field.
Cameron-I agree with most of your comments. I believe that we can make a good case for the efficiencies of larger families, and plan to follow up on that in more detail. I do take some issue with the second half of your first point
Even as a general consensus is reached regarding certain environmental issues, scientific research continues to add knowledge and refine positions. Scientific inquiry does not stop, nor does the possibility that our understanding will have to be modified by new findings.
Stan Beale-We do have some cultural obstacles to overcome. We do care, but because of political divisiness, we refuse to acknowledge our own values when we think they align with our perceived enemies. I want us to own these values, to declare that we are true stewards of the earth, and allow our humble, everyday actions, guided by our faith, to prove that we care more about the earth and humanity than any high profile environmental activist. The church’s baby steps are a hopeful sign to me, that as the institution embraces some of these efficient practices (mostly for financial reasons, although they do their best to make the most out of the good PR these generate), true blue members will feel inspired to adopt some of these practices and technologies within their own families.
In defense of me and/or Rachel, I have nothing against her ideas of people doing the small things they can and should to make things better. Nor am I not aware that big things need to be build on an Earth with billions of people to care for. Somehow we need to find the balance.
I agree we must be wise stewards of our earth. We are to use its resources with prudence and wisdom (D&C 89).
That said, we need to also realize that stewardship means getting the best return on investment in restoring/preserving environment. Spending trillions of dollars on global warming initiatives that computer models show will give negligible results, is not being a wise steward.
I would also note with Adam that we find Satan in the temple endowment, also. With the logic he used, the temple isn’t a good place, either?
“Wilderness” can be good or bad, depending on who is using it. Like a gun on the table is neither good nor bad, but is just potential energy to be used, so is wilderness. For Lehi, wilderness was a place to escape to, away from the condemned Jerusalem. For Christ, it was in the wilderness he sought to fast and pray prior to beginning his ministry. It just so happens that Satan wandered by as Christ was there.
I agree that doctrinally, we should be predisposed to protect the earth and the environment. It’s certainly a refreshing change from arguing with some members in my local ward who believe that heck, the second coming should be here in a few dozen years at most, use everything up! That being said, I wonder what cultural impact there still is from a lot of the church membership having a mining heritage. I know at least that a lot of immigrants from Scotland were coal miners, and Utah in that same era (and to a decent degree today) depended a lot on mining. I wonder if we absorbed the inclination to subdue the earth over protecting it through our parents over the generations because heritage.
Naismith wrote: “That’s lovely, but since our bishop’s ‘neighborhood’ covers 30 miles, it doesn’t work for everyone.”
30 miles is about 2 hours by bike, end to end.
How do bishops deal when the ward boundaries are 2 hours by car, end to end? Is it something that could apply to your ward, with a bicycling bishop?
How our heritage plays into our current beliefs is an interesting question. In addition to miners, we have a strong heritage of farmers and ranchers–all people who make their living directly off the land, and so are rightfully suspicious of more urbanized outsiders who presume to tell them how to live and maintain the land they are intimately connected with. As the popupation of our church, like that of the rest of America, has left the farm, we have lost that knowledge of place and that particular kind of stweardship, even while keeping a strong mistrust of those who have a polical, romantic, or recreational relationship to the earth rather than a practical one.
Fantastic post. I’ll keep it for future use. We have a small “study group” going in our area, and we recently talked about environmentalism. One member of our group said that if he can be convinced that environmentalism is scriptural, then he will be on board. I think that he already is on board, but this will help.
A random comment: I think that it is truly sad (Is that the right word?) that global warming, or climate change, was so strongly addressed by a political figure. (V.P. Gore.) Although Gore had a long long history of environmental interest before his “inconvenient truth,” his prominent position as a politician resulted in a polarizing of the debate along political rather than along scientific lines. Both sides, apparently, attack the other side of not being scientific. I have my own strong opinion. But rather than state or defend that, let me simply mourn the fact that the debate shouldn’t be political.
Another random comment: Derek, are you saying that a ward that is only “30 miles” end to end is bikable? Remember that a ward that is 30 miles by 30 miles would cover 900 square miles. (This isn’t an unusual dimension in the rural Northeast, for example.) Factor in the extremely short days in the winter, the icy roads, and cold, etc, etc, and it appears to me to be insane to suggest that one could bike across the ward in “only two hours.” Not to mention the sweaty bishop trying to do that in a suit.
Bicycling appears to me to be appropriate in Provo or SLC where wards can also be walked across. Where stakes can be walked as well (as was my case decades ago when I lived in SLC.) I don’t think that it is very reasonable to suggest biking anywhere else.
I am sure that I am mis-understanding you, or over-reacting.
Stephen, the average distance between two points in an area that is 30 miles end to end is 15 miles. That’s perfectly bikeable in about an hour. And there’s no need to do that in a suit. You can pack your suit, and take a shower or a “rocket shower” at your destination, then change into your clothes. Or ride an electric bike.
And cold doesn’t stop many bicyclists: http://www.icebike.com/
So yes, I think you’re overreacting. :-)
And Naismith, you can fit a couple of toddlers in a bakfiets.
The math is more complicated than you suggest. In a circle, the distance between two random points is, I believe, 2r/3 (ergo, 20 miles if r = 15 miles). (And what if the ward boundaries aren’t circular?) Perhaps a real mathematician can comment.
Threadjack aside, I think you might be overestimating the average person’s (or, perhaps, average American’s) willingness and fitness/preparation to ride such distances on a regular basis. I’m a biking enthusiast, and I live in an urban area (DC) where biking is relatively convenient, but I recognize that it simply can’t be the solution for all transportation needs in all areas. There are many valid reasons that individuals choose to drive; it’s not simply laziness or apathy about the environment.
James (#27), I’m curious to hear why you think that Mormonism has a history and doctrine that are perhaps uniquely “conducive to environmentalism.” I don’t disagree, but I’m interested to hear more. (I haven’t read “Home Waters” yet, so I’m not sure how it approaches the question.) Most of the evidence that Rachel brings up in the OP is from the biblical tradition. What does the LDS canon (or LDS history) add?
So, when my bishop drops by to visit me, after only biking for about an hour and a half, I should let him shower before he talks to me? Also, many bikers are not able to maintain 15 mph. Also, roads are not straight, unless you’re from Utah, where wards are tiny anyway. So, 15 miles as the crow flies, is more like 23 miles in actual biking distance.
I hadn’t known the word “bakfiets” before, but I think they’re cool. We got a bike trailer so we can haul kids, groceries, and other things around town.
And while adding an hour bike commute to church may be reasonable for some people, I can see how that can be a hardship on the bishop’s family, who would lose another 2 hours with him.
My #41 above was in response to #40 (not #39). The comment numbering somehow changed as I was composing.
And, as expected, my math was off. 2r/3 would be 10 miles if r = 15. Last time I pretend to any expertise at math, I promise.
Robert Ricks, thanks for the math. 10 miles is better than 15!
Yes, bicycling is impractical for a few people. But that shouldn’t be an excuse for everyone.
Stephen Hardy, hopefully the Bishop will visit others in your area at the same time. Wouldn’t one of you let him freshen up?
You brought up an interesting point about how “as the crow flies” distances are different from actual traveling distances. The street layout in your neighborhood can significantly reduce mobility, driving up the environmental cost of travel. If you live in a neighborhood with cul-de-sacs, you’re making it harder for yourself to be a good steward of the Earth: http://www.humantransit.org/2010/05/culdesac-hell-and-the-radius-of-demand.html
“And Naismith, you can fit a couple of toddlers in a bakfiets.”
Yes, I had a bike trailer when they were little and took them to school that way through first grade. I actually commute to my paid job by bicycle most days (10 miles round trip), so I do have a sense of how far I can ride in a given amount of time, factoring in hills. Taking toddlers to church would be no problem; my bigger concern with forcing kids to cycle or walk to church would be with the eye-rolling teenagers. I can just see them complaining to Ask Mormon Girl:)
We’ve lived on other continents where most members do not have a car. People manage, but it is a huge time sink. Most folks who get called to leadership happen to have a vehicle. And adding a longer sabbath commute does mean more hours away from the bishop’s family, as Rachel noted. Hard to justify when we do have a fuel-efficient car sitting in the driveway.
Robert Ricks, have you ever ridden the C & O or GAP trails? We hope to spend a week there, sometime.
But really, I didn’t mean to threadjack, only say that it is not always as simple as it seems. When my husband got called as bishop, we had no idea that would mean him needing a car every day of the week.
Anyone want to talk about foam plates and plastic silverware at ward activities?
Bishops already spend 20-40 hours a week working in their calling. Do we really want to ask them to spend an extra hour or two per day away from family? That’s unrealistic and really does not amount to helping the environment much. There are much better ways to help the environment and get a good ROI. Again, this falls on the same scale as spending trillions of dollars to get negligible payback regarding global warming.
Environmentalism has to be based on sound and wise principles. Otherwise, it is just some stupid political extremist’s wet dream. And that does not save the planet.
If you want to help bishops, let’s have every ward purchase an electric car for their bishop to drive to their church responsibilities. It saves him time and money, and helps the environment.
Naismith, I’ve been on the C&O trail lots of times, but mostly the stretch nearest to DC. (To be honest, I do more running on it than I do biking.) The trailhead is right by Georgetown. If you come out here, the Mount Vernon trail is a great ride for the whole family.
To add my own $0.02 to the “if we really cared about the environment” meme: we should all be out advocating for a gas tax and a cap-and-trade carbon regime. But these suggestions are too nakedly political for this thread (not to mention politically unfeasible at the moment). My apologies for the threadjack, Rachel.
Rather than ask Bishops to spend an extra hour or two away from their families, we could reduce their workloads by making the wards smaller.
Derek, you seem to never have been in a bishopric, nor been outside the state of Utah before.
I’ve lived in wards with only 100 active members, and it stretched for 40 miles in all directions. Just how would you make such a ward smaller?
And with additional wards comes other environmental issues: leaving buildings open longer for additional meetings (more electricity, etc), more paperwork needed for maintaining more wards, more people working in major callings requires more people to attend leadership meetings, etc.
Let’s face it. You bicycle idea works in Salt Lake and Provo, and virtually no where else.
In Derek’s defense, biking and the use of public transportation also works fairly well in Chicago. We have a half dozen or more members who bike to church on a fairly regular basis; in fact, only two or three families in the ward have more than one car, while several have no cars. We get by on carpooling, buses, and bikes.
That may not work so well for a more rural area, but here—even outside the Provo/Salt Lake area—it can work fine.
(What’s more, when I lived in Manhattan, our ward boundaries were probably less than two miles in any given direction, and I walked for all home teaching and other church responsibilities.)
Rameumptom wrote: “I’ve lived in wards with only 100 active members, and it stretched for 40 miles in all directions. Just how would you make such a ward smaller?”
I once lived in a branch with 50 active members, covering over 500 square miles.
Rameumptom wrote: “And with additional wards comes other environmental issues: leaving buildings open longer for additional meetings (more electricity, etc)…”
While the chapel is being used by one ward, another ward can be using other rooms in the same building.
Or, rather than having one large building, there could be multiple smaller buildings closer to where people live, similar to the new, smaller temples.
Sure, the Church is made of money. Let’s just have it building little white chapels all over the place. Just ignore the fact that you are now talking about heating/cooling/running more buildings. Let’s get serious, Derek, shall we?
Yes, there are some places with good public transportation. And there are a few areas with small ward boundaries. But generally that is not the case outside of Utah.
Let’s do real and serious things to fix the environment, and not silly suggestions that distract from a great message, such as the one given here by Rachel.
I’m enjoying all of your comments everyone. You all are generous and thoughtful, and make this conversation worth having.
Naismith–our ward has started encouraging people to bring their own plates and utensils to ward picnics. Not everyone does, so we still have disposable things as backup, but several families have gotten on board. I’m trying to make the case that we should use the vast amounts of dishes and cutlery stored in the kitchen for our ward Christmas dinner–it would look nicer, but I have to get people willing to scrape off the leftovers and wash the dishes with me. I’m no huge fan of washing dishes, but I’ve always enjoyed working alongside and chatting with the other women in the ward. I welcome men to join us in the kitchen as well.
Rameumptom wrote: “Let’s just have [the Church] building little white chapels all over the place.”
Obviously it’s a good idea or the Church wouldn’t be building little white temples all over the place.
It probably costs around $200 in electricity to light and cool the typical LDS meetinghouse on Sunday. That’s about 50 gallons of gasoline. If 200 cars visit that meetinghouse on Sunday, that’s 1/4 gallon per car. A 24-mpg car will go 6 miles on 1/4 gallon.
Therefore, if the average distance to church is more than 3 miles, it makes sense to have two smaller churches instead.
So with your branch of 50 active members across 500 square miles there should be a church for every 36 square miles. Which is 13.8 churches we’ll round up to 14. Which would bring attendance to 3.5 members per branch. Each building would only have one branch so you couldn’t have multiple wards meet there because then they would have to drive the distance.
Let’s say the church decided to build small house size churches averaging $150,000. That’s $2.1 million. (Not to mention all the trees you kill to build each house. And the gas to power all the tractors). Then say the utility bills are only $50 / month because the houses are dormant for most the month. That’s $8400.
I don’t know what the value of the damage to the environment would be with the extra trees and resources to do that. I’m looking forward to my 3.5 member (Poor Billy just hasn’t been his full self since that accident.) sacrament meetings. I love giving talks!
My US branch is 2 hours in car from end to end. We line at one and and are a good 30 minutes from the nearest member and 8 miles from town. Does my family of 7.5 get their own building in town and drive the 8 miles, do we get one built on our land, or do we have to meet in our home? This is just complicated.
Bryan Stiles write: “So with your branch of 50 active members across 500 square miles there should be a church for every 36 square miles.”
How can 50 active members drive 200 cars to church? (See my most recent comment.)
The location of meetinghouses and members’ transportation to those meetinghouses are two separate but related issues. As I understand it, the church builds or rents buildings to make meetings accessible to the greatest number of members possible. Some wards and branches cover very large geographic areas because member density is low, and there must be a critical mass of members to make a viable congregation. I’ve lived in a small ward and a small branch. A few strong families carry a heavy burden to keep the congregation functioning. It is wonderful to be able to serve, to be useful, but it is also very draining.
Our branch in Long Island was located in rented office space upstairs from a satellite branch of the public library. It was a rough area–one Sunday men were shot and killed at the 7-11 across the street. Some of our members traveled 30 minutes by car to attend meetings. But the branch was housed there because that poor, rough part of town was where the humble working people lived who were the most receptive to the missionaries message. If they couldn’t walk to church, they couldn’t go. So the church was located to accomodate the needs of the people who needed the gospel the most.
The choice of transportation to church, like transportation choices in general, depends on availability of public transportation, distance to destination, physical ability of the person or family, and access to private vehicles. Many members in the United States outside of urban centers and Mormon dense areas have no choice but to drive to church. For many, that itself is a hardship and enduring that is a sign of their dedication to living their faith. For many people in the world, driving a personal vehicle is not an option. They walk, bike, and ride buses out of necessity.
I don’t like the call that bishops should ride bikes to church. I’m not sure why, but it feels mean spirited to me. (It feels like we’re picking on them because they have such a highly visible calling. But it is a huge sacrifice, for themselves personally and their families, and I don’t like the idea of taking potshots at that entire of class of people.) I would prefer that all saints who are reasonably able walk to church. While there are valid justifications for some people to drive a block to church in Springville, it is likely that most people who do so could have walked had that been a priority.
In Derek’s defense, I understand that this approach of small branches was at least pilot tested in an urban area where public transportation on Sundays was inadequate. Detroit, perhaps? They were in a larger ward, with a bishop doing the bishop functions, but they met most Sundays in small branches.
In lots of places, weeknight activities are held at 5:30 or 6 p.m., so that folks can go there right from work or school, before making the longer commute home.
Rachel, if it’s mean-spirited to ask that the Bishop set an example for the ward, then all is lost.
Thanks, Naismith. It’s rare to find someone who can make a case for both sides of the issue.
Derek, it is stoopid to expect a bishop to lead by example in all things environmental, when his calling is to deal with other things. Why would we want to distract him from his important responsibility with expectations to bicycle everywhere, just to satisfy your extreme sense of environmental entitlement?
My bishop sets an example by keeping the commandments, serving, and loving his congregation. I would consider him a fool if he were to try biking all over the place to visit families, because it would be a vast waste of energy and time. He is not paid to be the bishop. He is asked to serve as judge of Israel, president of the Aaronic Priesthood, presiding high priest in the ward, and care for the poor and needy.
Nowhere in that list do I see it required that he also satisfy environmental standards. If that were the case, most of us would just quit doing the many things we do in Church, because we would not have the energy to visit members, do service, etc.
You obviously have never had a major calling in the Church, OR you live in an area where wards are only 2 city blocks square. Reality does not seem to be working with you. Had your idea been a good one, the Church would have adopted it a long time ago.
Rameumptom wrote: “it is stoopid to expect a bishop to lead by example…when his calling is to deal with other things.”
I see. Does anyone else agree that the Bishop should not lead by example in all things we are commanded?
Rameumptom wrote: “I would consider him a fool if he were to try biking all over the place to visit families, because it would be a vast waste of energy and time.”
False. Bicycling, at approximately 43 calories per mile, is almost two orders of magnitude more energy efficient than driving: http://preview.tinyurl.com/4y7ec2v
And bicycling is good exercise, even though it takes time. Should the Bishop be released from the commandment to take care of his own body?
Any economist will tell you that there’s a point where the benefits of bicycling outweigh the costs, especially with the current price of gasoline. Do you feel the missionaries are fools for biking all over the place to visit investigators?
Hail, Rameumptom! Great comment!
We Mormons do not belong to an environmentalist-program-based-church; we don’t make any covenants to protect and defend the environment until our very last breath. We need not concern ourselves with what OTHERS are doing to save the environment, we just need to be conscious of what WE are doing to protect the dominion God has given us.
Don’t worry about what others are doing; just do it yourself. If you want someone to set the example, you set it first and leave the choice up to them.
Great post Rachel. Way to raise level-headed awareness without sounding like a crazy person. I enjoyed it and it got me thinking about what I might do to take care of our little world. Thanks for the insight!
“Do you feel the missionaries are fools for biking all over the place to visit investigators?”
Actually, I do. Walking (combined with some public transit) is more efficient and less messy.
That’s how we did it on my mission, John! I would’ve preferred cars, though!
Does the Church become a micro-manager over a bishop’s time and life? Or is it your job? Last I looked, the Church gives to bishops a couple small manuals to run the ward, and encourages them to follow the Spirit for everything else. Well, if the Spirit were to guide a bishop in doing so, then fine.
However, there is no commandment to exercise. There are guidances to keep our bodies the temple of God, but those focus more on spiritual matters and the things we take into our body.
Bishops are not required to “lead by example” in all things, especially not in things that really are not commanded. You are setting up a straw man, then knocking it down. If such were commanded, don’t you think every stake president would be checking up on bishops to ensure they are doing everything YOU expect them to do? Think about it. It just is not high on the importance scale, if on it at all.
You are looking at efficiency in the way of fuel use. I am looking at efficiency in something even more important to God: how we use the little time we have.
With your logic, we could have the bishop just pumping a stationary bicycle all day long in order to run the chapel’s electricity. But again, that is NOT his responsibility nor calling.
Rameumpton, you go, brother.
This statement can only be directed at those who are climate or global warming or other mother earth cause du jour skeptics. Given that I am one, by most definitions, I’d like to speak to it.
While I’m sure they exist, I’ve never met someone in “my camp” who promotes, for example, creating as much pollution as possible, consuming wastefully, littering, contaminating water at will, boycotting walking, etc. (In fact, I wouldn’t put them in “my camp” at all.)
Rather, those I know tend to reject undefined demands and uncertain criteria. I asked this on the last post, but it still applies. What is “wasteful consumption”? Do even self-proclaimed environmentalists agree on what that is? What does a “good environmentalist” look like? Does the environmental philosophy trump all other principles when we have competing values? If so, why? If not, when?
If by being a good steward, you mean “being aware of how what we do affects the environment and taking reasonable steps to reduce the negative impact,” then I don’t know anyone who isn’t (at least theoretically) on board.
If you mean just about anything else, then I’d have to know what the “anything else” is before I can tell you if I think it’s sensible.
Hollywood folks, for example, tend to be huge environmental proponents — in theory. But what’s the carbon foot print of every award show? Of every film? Of their homes? Of their vacations? Of their regular purchases?
So why aren’t ALL these unessentials being cut to “save the planet”? Why does the call to bike to church and work only apply to bishops and people living paycheck to paycheck, but the elite can fly around the world multiple times every year and live high consumption lifestyles and spend limitless resources to create frivolous entertainment without redress?
My lifetime of drives to church (because it was a 20 minute drive, I had six kids, I had bags of stuff to carry for YW — and I had HEELS), won’t ever touch the carbon footprint of Al Gore’s private jet use in one year. If it’s really about “saving the planet,” then the reasonable solution is to target those behaviors that actually contribute the most.
My “problem” isn’t that I’m conservative/libertarian and that mostly progressives push environmentalism. It’s that “environmentalism” is a moving target that is used to gain power. Other than that, I see almost no consistency in the movement. Give me something concrete to look at and we can talk. :)
Alison-I love your comment.
I think that our American culture does promote consuming wastefully. Perhaps there are no individuals who go around proclaiming that we must use disposable goods, but there are certainly corporations whose advertising departments promote just that. Our culture has made it socially unacceptable just litter casually, but even though there is not a pro-litter spokesperson, it clearly still occurs.
Thank you for a good working definition of stewardship. (I would also like to add a sense of cultivation and care for property and resources, but that is beside the point.) The problem, as I see it, is that it is very difficult to know “how what we do affects the environment.” So many of the environmental and social costs for any given product are externalized to the point that it takes an investigative journalist to piece together what is going on. It is very easy to be ignorant of our effects of our actions, and to therefore not take responsibility for them.
I agree that there are serious problems with the environmental movement, especially when it is about politics and power rather than the earth. But I’m a very pessimistic person with very little faith in the government. I prefer to lay my hopes on individuals who struggle to live with integrity in all the decisions of their lives, event the small ones. As being a responsible steward is counter to our popular culture, but supported by our LDS doctrine, I hope to find encouragement in my efforts from a community of saints who share the same values.
And your accusations of hypocrisy against the Hollywood environmental proponent type is right on. Amen, sister.
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “My ‘problem’ [is] that ‘environmentalism’ is a moving target that is used to gain power.
Rachel wrote: “I agree that there are serious problems with the environmental movement, especially when it is about politics and power rather than the earth.”
As you can see, that’s a fairly common argument people use to rationalize not paying for the environmental harm they cause. But to your credit, you’re both ahead of the people who deny that they are doing any damage.
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “Why does the call to bike to church and work only apply to bishops and people living paycheck to paycheck, but the elite can fly around the world multiple times every year and live high consumption lifestyles and spend limitless resources to create frivolous entertainment without redress?”
Is that a good reason not to be a good steward of the things Heavenly Father has given us?
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “If it’s really about ‘saving the planet,’ then the reasonable solution is to target those behaviors that actually contribute the most.”
In the USA, over twice as much energy produced every year is spent on transportation than used in the home. So using your suggestion, let’s start with transportation.
Alison, you rock!
Derek is a perfect example of a moving target. Now, to be a “good steward” a bishop must ride his bicycle everywhere, and the Church must build its buildings just a couple miles apart, even if there are just 2 people living in the area.
It isn’t an issue of energy use, but of pollution produced. Yes, we use a lot of energy in transportation and in our cities. Yet, we have the cleanest large cities in the world. London today is much cleaner than London of a century ago. And if you really want to see pollution, check out the big cities of China, Russia and India. Our vehicles have catalytic converters and other technology to reduce pollution. One car in China without such environmental controls makes more pollution than a dozen of our cars here.
And, as was mentioned, Al Gore has a much bigger footprint than all of us combined on this blog post.
That PETA compares the eating of a fish or chicken on the same level as murdering one’s parents is another example of extremism that ends up distracting from truly important messages. I was a member of Greenpeace and the Sierra club in the 1970s and 80s. Since they’ve gone extreme and political for power, I haven’t joined.
As with Alison, I’m a conservative libertarian and believe in market solutions. Sadly, while my generation invented Earth Day, and I proudly went out and cleaned parks every year. However, today’s generation has no feeling for the environment. Why? Because the messages are so extreme that they are tuned out. They are “beyond feeling.” In my neighborhood, I’ve chewed out kids twice for throwing things into the river next to my house (shopping cart and a 10 speed bicycle). When I discussed environment with them, most just rolled their eyes and didn’t care that they were ruining the environment. That is what the extremism has done.
Rameumptom, where did I say that “a bishop must ride his bicycle everywhere”? Please paste the quote verbatim.
It’s a very unlikely scenario that the total cost of two people traveling to church could exceed the cost of the building. Even if it did, what’s the point in having a meetinghouse if there are no meetings? (Because it takes two people to have a meeting.) So you’ve set up quite the straw man there.
The statements “One car in China without such environmental controls makes more pollution than a dozen of our cars here” and “Al Gore has a much bigger footprint than all of us combined” are both “two wrongs make a right” arguments, so there’s no need to discuss them.
My mistake. You would have the bishop ride his bike to meetings and visit members.
As it is, you were the one that suggested we build buildings closer to the people, even as we do temples. Others were showing how ridiculous that statement could become, as the Church already is building as many as it wisely can.
As for the cars in China and Al Gore, it has nothing to do with 2 wrongs versus one right. It has everything to do with balance. You would have bishops expending time and energy riding a bike to save the world, with little real impact on energy or pollution, versus bigger ROI we could get by focusing on real issues and real polluters (such as China and Al Gore). So, while the rest of us do need to focus on what we can wisely do to save the planet, we should not waste time and energy on silly concepts that make almost no mark – such as the trillions Al Gore would like us to spend on global warming (re: Kyoto Accords, etc), which have minimal results and give a pass to China and India’s polluting.
27 James – when you say, “Culturally we’re simply in apostasy.”
I’d probably amend that and say it seems like we’re approaching apostasy (on this and other issues).
But what I’d really like to know is what is your solution? Forced environ-repentance to demonstrate we’re no longer in apostasy? Do that, and you’ll be approaching apostasy from a different direction.
If your solution is anything less (or greater as it may be) than persuasion and long-suffering, I’ll see your accusation of apostasy and raise you an accusation of one who lacks faith in God and in the eternal perspective.
Rameumptom, if you’re saying that Bishops being an example will have “little real impact,” then the world is already lost.
You bring up China and Al Gore. What are you personally doing about them, and how does what you are doing about them prevent you from doing other things to reduce your impact on the environment? I think you’re just using them as an excuse not to do your part. But I welcome you to prove me wrong.
Well, I think we all agree that if we could baptize more of our neighbors, the density would justify more chapels, and everyone would have a shorter commute. Happy ending!
Also, Derek, as you will find out when you or your spouse gets called to the bishopric or high council, not only are the bishops themselves to be an example, but the spouse is to be an example as well. Ditto for high council, for whom being an example is at the top of their job description. Which is one reason that (at least in many stakes), spouses also have to be interviewed by the stake president himself, not a counselor, for a temple recommend.
So a leader having a spouse who cycles/walks to church is not quite the same, but is not nothing, either.
Rameumptom (and maybe Alison and Rachel),
I have to disagree with some things:
1) Al Gore is not a villain. He is helping the environment, not hurting it. His ‘footprint’ is a 1,000s times more to the good than riding a bicycle.
2) It is the government, not the ‘free market’ that is saving the environment. The ‘free market’ would eat every bit of our environment if it were left unchecked.
Good point, Bob. Al Gore’s carbon footprint can be regarded as an investment. Sometimes you have to spend a little to earn a little.
I would probably agree with you on this in general. But I think it will help if we figure out what that means. I realize that lines are hard to draw because they are imperfect and require defense. But without them, we will talk in circles.
I agree 100%.
Even with the investigation, I’m afraid there are so many unknowns as to make such decisions very problematic. Even seemingly common-sense solutions can cause more problems than they solve. And often the “common-sense” solution isn’t all that environmentally friendly after all. But that doesn’t mean anyone will listen. Since the answer is “obvious.”
I like this approach. The problem with implementation goes back to my questions. What is integrity with regard to “earth stewardship”? What is a “responsible steward” of the earth in an LDS context? What are the shared values we are talking about?
If it’s just “be careful,” that’s fine, but doesn’t live much for discussion or measurement. But if it gets much beyond that, we start to run into problems.
Derek, it’s not an argument to rationalize not “paying” for anything. It’s an argument against TRUSTING the source that is passing laws that have more to do with enriching themselves and buying votes, than saving anything. (Can you say “Solyndra”?)
It’s a good reason to stop haranguing the man who already spends hours away from his family in service to others by demanding he ride his bike for hours a day and start haranguing hypocritical people whose collective behavior makes a huge impact.
This isn’t about an INDIVIDUAL making his own decisions. This is about people pointing fingers and demanding behavioral changes of OTHERS. If you’re going to make demands of a group, Hollywood would be a much more effective place to start than LDS bishops.
Yup, he’s pretty much my hero.
In other words, Al Gore is too important to conserve. And I’m sure that applies to anyone who speaks out about how the world is about to collapse in a pile of sheep dung. As long as they preach the party line, they get a pass on their behavior because of all the “good” they do. A rather convenient truth to allow those profiting from the environmental movement to be exempt from their own demands.
But could you explain how it helps the environment to buy “carbon credits” from Gore’s company? Or why Gore needs to have multiple homes, many times the size of the national average, to spread the eco-gospel? What’s the “investment” doing for the cause?
P.S. Someone send Gore a white paper about telecommuting!!!
Rachel and Alison:
Shirt.woot has a shirt for you today.
Alison-Ooh, cloth diapers. I did cloth diapers, the same ones for all three kids. Because we didn’t have a washer and dryer in our apartment, I washed them by hand and hung them to dry. Once a week, I’d run them through the coin-op machine, and line dry. It was a stinky, messy job that I never want to do again. But it did cost us significantly less money than disposable diapers would have (not true if you use the fancy cloth diapers) and I loved not being compelled to go buy diapers every month. The other side of that is that I was compelled to wash diapers every day. While I used them primarily for economic reasons, one side benefit was that the kids potty trained early (perhaps because I was strongly motivated). I’d like to hope that there was some environmental benefit, but it’s probably a wash.
I think that being a responsible steward in an LDS context would include living modestly, practicing thrift, gardening to produce at least some of our own food (even if it’s just a pot of chives in an apartment window). It would mean that I periodically review my finances to see where I’m wasting money and buying wasteful things, and correcting that. And it means working to be as self-sufficient as possible–acquiring the skills, tools, and raw materials necessary to live a good life. All of these are practices that we have been counseled by prophets and general authorities over and over again to adopt so that we will be a strong people, capable of taking care of ourselves and serving others. The fact that there are environmental benefits to such a lifestyle is generally unspoken but exist nonetheless.
I realize that this list is still vague. I can talk about what I do in my life, but even that varies as our family grows and our situation changes. The underlying principles remain sound even as their outward expression looks dramatically different from person to person. For spiritual matters, we believe that we are judged individually by one who can take all of the contributing factors into account; I believe that the judgement on our stewardship will be the same. I plan to spend more time exploring these principles and practices, and the different ways that stewardship is manifested.
As for Al Gore, I don’t think he is a villain, but I do see how the simple fact that he is a political figure has a polarizing effect, to the point that some people cannot see beyond the messenger enough to evaluate his message.
As pessimistic as I am about government, I’m even more pessimistic about the free market. I have no faith in corporations to look beyond immediate profits to the long term future. The ones that do surprise and please me. While the government is deeply flawed, I’m not libertarian enough to reject the role of government in regulating corporations to protect common resources such as air and water. I’d imagine a libertarian system would work well on a small scale (with neither or government nor many of our industries are), or if people behaved rationally and responsibly (which often, they don’t). I definitely do not have any answers on this front. I know people who work within the system to change it, but I don’t have the fortitude to bear that much disappointment. So I work to change myself.
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “In other words, Al Gore is too important to conserve…why Gore needs to have multiple homes, many times the size of the national average, to spread the eco-gospel?”
Before you ask that question, ask yourself: does the answer make any difference about the need to be the best steward you can be?
Rachel wrote: “As pessimistic as I am about government, I’m even more pessimistic about the free market.”
Would you agree that free markets work best when market failures are corrected, such as by internalizing negative externalities? If so, then you would be in favor of a carbon tax.
I guess it’s just impossible for a conversation about the environment to not be political, huh? I worry that by focusing on government, corporate practices, and specific policies like the carbon tax we alienate each other from a potentially constructive dialogue and forget our personal responsibility. In other words, I’m a coward. I don’t want to state my opinion about taxes because I’m afraid that too many people will write me off and forget that we actually agree on the fundamentals stated in the opening post.
Great comment Rachel in #84. Free markets can go bad via bad people, but being directly beholden to popular sentiment for survival is almost always a great way to keep you honest and thrifty.
Solyndra–brought to you by the Bush administration. So difficult to keep one’s enemies straight these days. Also, too, Al Gore has nothing to do with the disturbing scientific consensus behind global warming. Ad hominem: know your logical fallacies! http://www.grist.org/solar-power/2011-09-13-bush-admin-pushed-solyndra-loan-guarantee-for-two-years
Bless your heart. :) I have done both. But once I realized (at least according to that particular day’s “settled science”) there wasn’t a benefit, I went with convenience. Rather than wash diapers, I coded web sites. Paid for the diapers, plus. :)
I like your list. I have a question about gardening that I’d like your thoughts on. This past year we didn’t garden (unless you count our THREE apricots) because we moved into a new house and the garden space isn’t ready to garden. We do have plot and next spring plan to get it moving.
We know HOW to garden to some extent, but don’t really enjoy it. If the past is any predictor of the future, we’ll probably garden some years and not others — depending mostly on preference. Is this a moral, stewardship issue, do you think?
If it matters, we have massive amounts of food storage. (I LOVE the cannery. LOVE.) But I don’t can at home, ever. I know how, but I don’t do it. I did it all growing up and I hate it. I’d rather do something I love to do (like write or code), make money, and buy the food we need for storage and use. (Except for working in the cannery, which has this communal, service aspect that I love.)
Would you see this as a problematic approach? (That’s not a gotcha question or anything. Just wondering how others look at those things.)
I was raised by the most frugal people on the planet, I think. It’s in my DNA. I’m so good at squeezing blood out of a turnip. I don’t ever impulse buy and I’m a bargain hunter to the core.
Still, I buy lots of things that COULD be deemed wasteful. Sometimes we go to movies. Last week we even went to a REGULAR theater, not a dollar theater. (!) We go on vacations. Sometimes to extravagantish places (depending on your travel habits). Sometimes we make cookies. We have a TV. And chairs. And I just bought a rug and a console table. We go skiing. We go to water parks. We play laser tag.
I don’t NEED any of those things. But all of them carry benefits that *I* thought worth the costs. Generally speaking the only time I actually think my spending is wasteful is if:
(1) We buy something we end up not liking/using
(2) We buy something that spoils or is broken
(3) We buy something that we could have purchased for a lower cost
We pay for Boy Scout administrator salaries
Those are the kinds of “wasteful spending” I try to avoid.
I think that’s a key insight.
Honestly, Rachel, I don’t think this has mostly to do with the fact that he’s a political figure. Back in the day (before he was VP) I really liked Gore. Even though we have very different ideology, he seemed to be a man of honor and integrity. (Yes, I think that changed as he moved up the political ladder.) But with regard to his environmental activism, he completely lacks credibility. If he REALLY thinks we’re all going to sink into the ocean, why does he BEHAVE the way he does?
Derek, the question makes a difference with regard to what “earth stewardship” means. So, of course it makes a difference. The political discussion is ABOUT defining (and legislating) what behaviors are acceptable, what behaviors are touted as “saving the planet.” Of course the credibility of one of the most influential alarmists says and does matters.
You gave Gore a pass (#80) for his extravagant travel on the grounds that it’s an “investment” in spreading the gospel of tree hugging. So I asked you if he also gets a pass on his giant carbon footprint that doesn’t involve travel. I also want to know if you justify it because he buys “carbon offsets” from his own company. (And I’d love an explanation of that carbon-neutral fantasy.)
Maybe, just maybe, his little conflict of interest matters. (Gore’s estimated net worth went from around $1 million when he left office to around $100 million today. What’s he been doing the past decade? (Where are all the cries against capitalism?))
small star (#88), your assumption that I am/was a Bush supporter would be wrong. You’ll notice that I didn’t use Solyndra to castigate either Gore or any particular party. I used it as an example of how trusting the government to make sound, untainted environmental decisions probably isn’t a good idea. They are lousy at both logic and ability to withstand corruption.
I’m kind of into logical fallacies. Of course Al Gore’s not a scientist. He, however, has a great deal to do with the movement, as you know. He has been a great influence on legislation. Pointing out that the man who decries driving to work because it will destroy humanity as we know it, but doesn’t meaningfully modify his own lifestyle to align with his claims, isn’t ad hominem, it’s an issue of credibility. Pointing out that Gore asked attendees at the School of Business, Economics, and Law to attend the event using public transportation when he (1) flew to Sweden and (2) left his rental car running during his speech, isn’t ad hominem, it’s an issue of credibility.
He makes claims, rakes in the dough, and doesn’t live as he claims we MUST live in order to save the planet. He doesn’t believe his own claims ENOUGH to change his behavior. Why should we believe them that much?
P.S. I don’t get diet advice from fat people or financial advice from impoverished people, either.
P.P.S. Rachel, I appreciate your input. I’ll back out now in order to refrain from being part of the political threadjack. I look forward to your next, insightful post. :)
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “The political discussion is ABOUT defining (and legislating) what behaviors are acceptable, what behaviors are touted as ‘saving the planet.'”
There’s no need to legislate what behaviors are acceptable. All that needs to be done is to correct the market failures and then give people the freedom to make their own choices.
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “Pointing out that Gore asked attendees at the School of Business, Economics, and Law to attend the event using public transportation when he (1) flew to Sweden and (2) left his rental car running during his speech, isn’t ad hominem, it’s an issue of credibility.”
Sharing a plane with others is morally the same as taking public transportation.
And pointing out hypocrisy is indeed an ad hominem–specifically, it’s an “ad hominem tu quoque.”
But that’s not important. Don’t base your level of belief of what he says on his credibility, because that’s exactly what the alarmists do. Instead, you should carefully weigh the evidence and decide for yourself.
Shoot! I wasn’t going to come back to this post, but saw the response in the dashboard. Last response, I promise. Then Derek et. al. can’t chatter away at themselves. I won’t see it and won’t feel compelled!
Ah, OK. Yea. Go with that…
A. Riding a bus across town isn’t remotely “the same” as taking an intercontinental flight, morally, environmentally, or otherwise
B. You bunked next to Gore on a commercial flight lately? Does “sharing” with your entourage count?
Derek, this is ad hominem tu quoque:
1. Gore claims the earth is going to drop in the toilet if we don’t stop driving cars
2. Gore drives cars
3. Therefore, the earth won’t drop into the toilet if we don’t stop driving cars
Sadly, the above is not my argument. My argument is thus:
1. Gore claims the earth is going to drop in the toilet if we don’t stop driving cars
2. Gore does things many times more “harmful” than driving cars every second of every day
3. Therefore, Gore probably doesn’t really believe driving cars is going to drop the earth into the toilet
3. Therefore, Gore doesn’t care that he’s speeding up the process of the earth dropping into the toilet as long as he’s filthy rich when it happens
As Walter Russel Mead said:
Too paraphrase…um…you, Derek: “If it’s fallacious to ask that Al Gore set an example for those he preaches to, then all is lost.”
P.S. I don’t get diet advice from fat people or financial advice from impoverished people, either.
Well, should you ever wonder why your own impact on the world is so small, you have your answer.
Derek, you’re losing all credibility in this dialogue when you claim that, “There’s no need to legislate what [climate change] behaviors are acceptable.” What is the Kyoto accord? What are the demands in CA that utilities buy an ever increasing percentage of their power from green sources? What are the CAFE standards for automakers? All of them are calls for legislation, actual legislation or governmental regulation that function as legislation. And according to everyone on the side of the aisle that you are arguing from we have not done nearly enough to head off this impending crisis and we must do much, much more. That doing more means more legislation not mere pleadings for bishops to ride a bicycle. You seem to be arguing from a place of fantasy where good people magically change their lifestyles and the world lives in peace. AMS is arguing from the reality of a world where idealists like you want to force this behavior by law.
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “A. Riding a bus across town isn’t remotely ‘the same’ as taking an intercontinental flight, morally, environmentally, or otherwise”
If the issue is not whether he took public transportation but how far he traveled, then he wasn’t being a hypocrite when he asked that others take public transportation.
However, your GotoMeeting idea is even better than traveling at all!
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “Does ‘sharing’ with your entourage count?”
Do you think they should all come in their own private jets?
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “Therefore, Gore probably doesn’t really believe driving cars is going to drop the earth into the toilet”
That one is still an ad hominem.
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “Therefore, Gore doesn’t care that he’s speeding up the process of the earth dropping into the toilet as long as he’s filthy rich when it happens”
This one is an “appeal to spite.” You’re essentially saying we shouldn’t be good stewards because of one good steward who is such an odious person.
Alison Moore Smith wrote: “If it’s fallacious to ask that Al Gore set an example for those he preaches to, then all is lost.”
You can be a good steward now. You don’t have to wait for Gore to lead the way.
KLC, do you believe that (1) free markets work best when market failures are corrected, (2) a negative externality is a type of market failure, (3) internalizing a negative externality does not amount to legislating behavior, (4) air pollution is an example of a negative externality, and (5) internalizing the cost of air pollution will reduce air pollution?
Derek, that is not an ad hominem argument against Gore. It is an argument against his hypocrisy. Calling him a global warming idiot, now THAT is ad hominem.
Alison is making a lot of sense. Sadly, you are not. And this is why environmentalism is going down the sink hole. Those “leading” the charge are hypocrites seeking others to do what they will not. Ted Turner wishes the world to shrink to 2 billion inhabitants, yet had a large family of his own. One cannot live by one set of rules, and insist everyone else to live by another. Al Gore can fly commercial, just like the rest of us. He can own one modest home, like most of us. He doesn’t need to drive around in limos. I’ll believe him when he tones down his own foot print.
And when you start riding a bicycle all over town to work, meetings, etc., then I’ll consider your suggestion as valid.
Derek, let’s stay on target here. I responded to your assertion that legislation is not part of the climate change agenda. If by “correcting market failures” you mean legislation then please graciously admit your previous error and move the conversation forward. If “correcting market failures” does not mean legislation then you are willfully ignoring the huge calls for legislation and actual legislation that I listed in my comment and have not responded to what I wrote but merely tried to deflect it.
Rameumptom wrote: “Calling him a global warming idiot, now THAT is ad hominem.”
No, that’s just an insult, not an ad hominem. In fact, it isn’t an argument at all.
Rameumptom wrote: “Ted Turner wishes the world to shrink to 2 billion inhabitants, yet had a large family of his own. One cannot live by one set of rules, and insist everyone else to live by another.”
Exactly what rule is it he wishes the rest of the world would follow and that he should be exempt from? A “one child per family” rule? Please provide more information. And did he come to this conclusion before or after he had his large family?
Rameumptom wrote: “I’ll believe him when he tones down his own foot print.”
So you don’t believe in being a good steward because you feel he isn’t? Why is Gore so important to you?
KLC wrote: “If by ‘correcting market failures’ you mean legislation then please graciously admit your previous error and move the conversation forward.”
It’s legislation, but not legislation of individual behavior.
You misread lots, and sadly it is derailing this good thread.
I said I would believe Gore when he practices what he preaches. As it is, it has nothing to do with my stewardship of the earth, as I feel I do many good things to keep my own footprint small.
That said, I’m going to do what Alison did and bow out of this conversation, because it is ruining Rachel’s great post.
I think I see now what you mean. There is legislation but it is aimed at correcting the system and not at individual behavior? That seems like asserting that changes in the tax code will only be aimed at balancing the federal budget, it’s a worthy and philosophical goal but more of my money is still going to be taken out of my paycheck every week. In other words, legislation that attempts to change the system is still legislation designed to alter individual behavior.
KLC wrote: “In other words, legislation that attempts to change the system is still legislation designed to alter individual behavior.”
It was the market failure that altered individual behavior. Correcting that market failure “unalters” behavior.
One last reply Derek. Your comments here illustrate so much of what I dislike in the climate change debate. You first claim there is no legislation, when called on that you then modify that claim (without admitting you are modifying it) and say that yes, there is legislation, but only the general kind that corrects market failures and not the kind that alters individual behavior. When called on that you then make the specious claim that this legislation doesn’t alter behavior, rather it only unalters behavior. Weasel words with little substance and ducking and weaving when the opposition counters your faith based beliefs isn’t an argument at all.
But I guess that these kind of comments have a place in an LDS blog since Mormons frequently rely on testimony of faith when they can’t explain things with logic and reason. That is not completely out of place in religion but it has no place in making public policy.
KLC wrote: “You first claim there is no legislation…”
When did I say that? Please provide the exact quote.
It is pretty much the consensus nowadays that it is important to have clean air and water, to control pollution, to prevent hazardous materials from getting into our food and drinking water, that the variety of living species is an irreplaceable treasure and that it is worth a lot to Americans (because we are wealthy enough to afford the sacrifice) to suffer a lot of inconvenience in order to preserve endangered species.
The real question is not the overall goal, but the actual magnitude of individual threats to the environment and the value of the sacrifices that are being proposed to ameliorate those alleged threats.
I have worked in the field of environmental regulation since 1983, dealing with issues all over the US of every kind, from nuclear waste ot endangered species. My personal observation is that environmental regulation has greatly improved the cleanliness of our air, water and soils, and that we are as a society making a major investment of our land and treasure to preserve identified endgangered and threatened species. Indeed, we are at the point where requiring additional regulation is approaching a very high marginal cost-to-benefit ratio.
CERCLA, the “Superfund” Act, has cost America many billions of dollars since its enactment in 1980. Some very sober evaluations of the health benefit have calculated that it has cost multiple millions of dollars per potential death from cancer avoided. At a time when we are engaged in a national debate abut the cost of health care, we should contemplate the fact that a small fraction of our society’s investment in Superfund could have significantly improved provision of emergency trauma care to the victims of auto accidents and violence, and prenatal and postnatal care to mothers and children, with many times more lives saved and improved.
There are Superfund sites around the country where we are expending huge amounts of energy to pump and purify groundwater to levels that will ensure no more than one chance in one million of contracting cancer (calculated with deliberate exaggeration as a margin of safety), even though the groundwater is not needed to supply culinary water to anyone. When the electric power is being supplied through burning fossil fuels, those projects contribute directly to the emission of greenhouse gases.
Even the most optimistic estimates of the impact of a US greenhouse gas “cap and trade” law foresee only a small percentage net decrease in CO2 levels, with most of the benefit delayed until 2050 and later. Part of the reason for that is because prematurely replacing existing energy production and infrastructure before its normal retirement age, and investing in major new capital to generate energy from other sources, depends on a major use of energy from EXISTING sources, meaning that conversion to wind farms and solar energy leads to a BUMP in use of fossil fuels and generation of greenhouse gases. Because CO2 persists for years in the atmosphere, we will actually INCREASE CO2 emissions during the decades of fabricating and installing “green” energy projects, and get no net benefit in our own lifetimes. And even then, the benefit will be within the level of error in the calculations.
In the meantime, it is not all that clear that the small amounts of warming predicted for this century will be a net loss for mankind or the environment. The National Geographic has an article this month about the massive sudden warming that occurred 56 million years ago, during the transition from the Paleocene to the Eocene eras. One of the major conclusions by scientists is that this era was a time of major evolutionary innovation, giving rise to primates and other major mammalian groups that are still dominant today. The simple fact is that carbon dioxide is, along with water, the foundation of life on earth. Every single carbon molecule that forms the matrix of the DNA and proteins in your cells started out in a CO2 molecule that was transformed into the body of a plant through photosynthesis, and then into food for animals. That is CO2’s major function; the global warming it contributes is a side benefit. Without that warming, earth would be much colder than it is now.
Some scientists (including one cover story in Scientific American) have proposed that, but for the greenhouse gas warming that mankind has promoted through agriculture and then industry, we would be in the midst of the next, wholly natural Ice Age, based on the variations in received solar radiance (that changes with the earth’s precession and variation in axial tilt) that have caused a regular succession of ice ages over the last million years.
If we are in the midst of warming, I see no evidence that it is causing any of the extreme weather that has been hyped by Mr. Gore. Clearly, Hurricane Katrina was no more a harbinger of more intense hurricane activity than the Galveston storm nearly a century earlier, or Hurricane Camille that hit many of the same Gulf Coast cities back in 1969, in the depths of the last cooling spell.
With respect to Mr. Gore’s character on this issue, the most salient point is that he brought the Kyoto Protocol to Washington in 1997, but he was unable to persuade Bill Clinton to present the treaty to the Senate (over which he resided) for ratification over the last 3 years of their joint administration. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Gore himself did not make global warming an issue when he had the attention of the whole nation. He could have made his election a referendum on the need for drastic measures to counter global warming, but he chose not to do so. It was only when he was firmly ensconced in the comparatively powerless private sector, where he could talk without having to take responsibility for unpopular regulation that would double the price of gasoline (for example), that he called for massive government intervention to combat global warming. Since he was not ignorant of the threat, his inaction from 1997 to January 2001 is manifest of a lack of courage in his convictions.
Raymond (104), the problem with Superfund is that it’s an example of “privatizing profits and socializing losses.” If the polluters knew they were going to have to pay all the cleanup costs, they would probably have polluted less. In any case, the rest of us wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences, Superfund or not. See also Kent Larson (31).
You wrote, “Some scientists…have proposed that, but for the [anthropogenic] greenhouse gas warming…we would be in the midst of the next, wholly natural Ice Age.” But what will happen to global temperatures and humanity when we come out of this ice age if we’ve done nothing to limit CO2 emissions? Your descendents may still be around, but the planet may quickly become inhospitable due to your actions or lack thereof.
I’m very late to the party, so excuse me for my tardiness. But Allison asked an interesting question to which I think I have a decent answer regarding our wasteful culture here in the USA, and perhaps even in the church.
We opted when my daughter was born for the classic Winnie the Pooh crib bedding. When my son was born, bully, cuz green and yellow are gender neutral, no?
I cannot tell you how many people came over to see the baby and just HAD to comment on the green/yellow nursery. I could never do that, people would say. Blue or pink all the way.
We made the same decision with pajamas. Why buy pink pajamas when green ones will do and are reusable? Yet again, the number of people that just couldn’t help but comment on my kids not being in BLUE or PINK floored me. But why buy so many pajamas when they grow out of them so fast?
At the time it was a simple household finance choice to have certain items be shared by all the kids. Babies hardly use the stuff we foist on them anyway, so it makes sense to use it up on multiple babies rather than buy new onesies every time we make a baby. But I think the story also speaks to general consumer waste when babies can no longer wear hand me downs and each newborn simply must have its own fresh, new, gender-specific bed cribbing.
The same can be said for pink car seats, blue strollers, etc. I personally don’t see the point in NOT sharing these items. But apparently a lot of my cohorts think differently. Which is fine. But to me denotes a strongly wasteful consumer society. They may not consider it waste, since the stuff is getting used. But it hardly fits the “wear it out or do without” mentality we sometimes hear from the Brethren.
Chadwick, I agree with you wholeheartedly. On top of that, most of the clothes I bought for my babies (and now buy for my children) are second hand. And when they’ve finished outgrowing them, they get passed down to the next kid or donated to another family or a thrift store. Some things that don’t make it because of wear get used in other ways; rags for cleaning or jeans cut up for quilts.
Bob’s 79, #2 FTW.
“forget our personal responsibility”
“avoid” is a better word choice.