Laudato Si — — Chapter 1: Mormon Lectionary Project

In the current climate crisis there are two aspects—a physical, scientific dimension and a spiritual one hiding embedded in the interstitial spaces of the unfolding ecological upheaval. The first is conditioned on facts, measurements and data. It is supported by evidence so strong that to ignore it is unethical, and additionally suggests that science is not a way to learn things about the world. The second is framed by the realization that our spirituality imposes on us normative demands that come from the values that we embrace informed by what it means to live in a God-created universe. It means that our spirituality demands we attended to the needs of other humans, many perceived to be different than us, and to care for the other inhabitants of this world and their necessary ecosystems.

In Pope France’s recent encyclical Laudato Si on ‘Care for Our Common Home’ he lays out both of these stories. I think there is a Mormon perspective on the spiritual side that adds an interesting facet to this because we see the earth not only as our current home, but our future one as well, if we manage to be graced with the highest degree of glory.

In the first chapter of his wonderful document, the Pope lays out the science side of this crisis with hints and pointers to the spiritual facets of climate change. The science story is very clear. After a decade hiatus (the warming is stair-stepped with periods of stability then increases as energy disputes into strange storm patterns, moving arctic vortexes around, and such large-scale changes in climate structure) the last year was the warmest since humans started taking records and this year looks to top it. We see it in rising oceans, melting glaciers, thinning ice, major ocean currents shifting, and many other changes. But there is evidence beyond  the measurements of the physical aspects, ecologists, such as myself, see it in the effects of species redistribution, in how lizards at certain latitudes are going extinct because of shifts in the timing of spring, patterns of precipitation effecting lizards and frogs, collapse of oceanic fisheries, how pine beetles are destroying great swaths of forest because of warmer winters, penguins affected by climate induced changes in their food supply, and of the loss of coral reefs worldwide. These are just a few examples of thousands of scientific studies showing how the changing climate is affecting species and ecosystems worldwide.

The Pope in the first chapter reminds us that thus far it has been the poor of the earth who have suffered the most devastating effects. We see it in the unprecedented drought that destroyed Syria’s agricultural base. As droughts, floods, and new climate regimes enter the world, it is likely that, as the Pope points out, the poor will be those who bear the brunt of the effects.

It is in relation to the poor that Zion is defined. Care for the poor is foundational in what it means to be a Zion people. Latter-day Saints will not be surprised that anthropogenic climate change is a manifestation of the greed of the world, for the prophets have long foretold that because of the wickedness of humankind the seas would heave themselves beyond their bounds and the elements of the earth would be found in commotion. And we of all people know that in our day because of the ‘evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days’ (See D&C 89:4) that the greed and averse of these purveyors of will try to bury the scientific story that uncovers our role in the current ecological collapse[1]. Because we know this, let’s rise up as a force for good. Recognizing our vital role in building Zion. And our responsibility to do so.

Today in church we sang the hymn, “Bless Our Fast, We Pray,” 

We’ve shared our bread with those in need,
the suff’ring poor.
The stranger we have welcomed in–
Wilt thou impart thy store?

May it be so.

mormon_lectionary-100x100px-rgbaMormon Lectionary Project

Pope Franciscus 2015 Laudato si, Chapter 1

Deuteronomy 15:11 (NRSV), Job 37:14-18 (NRSV) , Psalms 8:3-4 (NRSV), Isaiah 45:18-19 (NRSV), D&C 88:87-90, D&C 49:20, D&C 104:16-18

Collect: Beloved Father, Creator, who has reminded us through our brother Pope Franciscus of the glory your creation that we have forgotten the poor and, that as the prophets have foretold, through sin and avarice the climate of the earth has begun to reel to and fro like a drunken man: help us not forget those who, by an accident of birth suffer the more by our role in nature’s pains: in order that we may better bring Zion as you have requested: Fill our hearts with compassion for all your children and all creation as we have been taught and exemplified by the life of Jesus Christ or Savior. Amen.


[1] For a view of how it was the same organizations and people that ran the campaigns for the tobacco companies’s obfuscation of the harms of cigarettes are the same as those involved in denying the scientific story, see historians of sciences, Oreskies and Conways, book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. In a Frontline documentary showed very clearly the enormous money that goes into the disinformation campaign to deny the reality of climate change. No wonder people are confused.


  1. Oh, Steve, I am so happy that you’re doing this!

  2. Jon Bilbadaro says:

    Glaciers were already melting, coniferous forests have been receding for thousands of years. Like the last bits of water circling the drain, you’d expect the natural process to accelerate near the end in a “warming spiral”.

    That being said, if we have a measurable impact on this already destined to occur (let that sink in) warming spiral, it’s most certainly not unethical to “ignore it”. Christ ignored many things in his teachings focused on life and salvation and he’s not unethical.

    Besides, increasing the price of food for a low income family to accomplish marginally nothing, while enriching others who trade and sell offset credits (or build “green power” and get rich in the process as they disrupt cheaper competitors force of law and regulation) and likely exacerbate the emissions to begin with… that’s unethical.

    Let’s see the cost trade off while we discuss ethics:
    -Professors, researchers, etc given millions in funding
    -Politicians use the issue to divide acquire (more) power, while marginalizing dissenters
    -New financial interests given unfair advantage as competitors that offer services at a price consumers prefer are driven out of business
    – tens thousands of profitable, net tax paying jobs lost
    -for the benefit of thousands of tax subsidized jobs created
    -Prices go up on everything from heating bills to food, effecting the poorest the hardest
    -Economies burdened with dead weight loss, reducing growth, and increasing unemployment as valuable capital is extended on less productive resources
    -higher taxes to cause more of the above
    -some possibility of various groups of people suffering as hurricanes and natural disasters allegedly increase (they haven’t, but we are assured they will and told so every time nature takes its course) – plus the fact that hurricanes, flooded, etc have always caused problems and if we want to protect against them we know what to do
    – sea levels may rise, but nevermind the fact that they always were, or else the Dutch wouldn’t have already built so many dikes, and various islands have always had flood problems

    It’s not political for me. It’s an assessment of tradeoffs and the realities which are not being honestly discussed.

    Global warming is what keeps this planet from being an ice block. It’s changed much of this planet into paradise instead of covered in ice.

    You can tell me it’s a little too much too fast, and I’ll say I’d rather take the resources you prefer to spend to admittedly accomplish nothing due to collective action issues (and assuming you could do something would most likely be abused like many green companies have enriched themselves at others expense), and instead I’ll use those resources to enrich my family, invest in my future, and further the economic growth of my community.

    Thus when calamities strike in the future, as they always will, with likely the same probabilities whether we “do something!” or not, then we will have a richer society to help solve those issues.

    Who is better equipped to help in the time of disaster in the unforseen future – A society that’s 5 trillion poorer than today or 10 trillion richer?

    Indeed, it would be unethical to impoverish ourselves now, and then be worse off to deal with the calamities of the future. It used to be said you shouldn’t eat your seed corn because while it may add to the feast today, it will make you worse off in the future. Now we aren’t even being given then benefit of the (unwise) but immediate feast and told to sacrifice now and at the “benefit of being worse prepared in the future.

    What ever your knowledge of the science, the debate is far from over. And definitely not in the self righteous stage. Seriously… how do you respond when that guy in your ward calls liberal Mormons immoral… and you just did the same self-congratulatory thing (for you and likeminded types) from the left perspective. You’re that guy.

  3. Jon, The flaw in the reasoning above is the idea that economies can exist without ecological infrastructure. Without forests, water to process goods, resources not being diverted to mitigate coastal cities lost in storm surges, (or snow removal). The use of resources is a debate that needs to happen, but it cannot until the reality of the change is acknowledged by all sides so that solutions in light of the facts can be considered.

    And your implication that this was natural progression is wrong and dangerous for those of us who live in the real world. Imagine what you will without facts to support them but the riches you are obsessed with and you think will save the world, fly in the face of the scriptures we’ve been given about care for the poor. Read the ones I linked above.

  4. I know it’s a running joke on this site, but really, what I thought when I read this was, “defend the family!” Thank you SteveP for this piece and so clearly articulating the interconnectedness of earth stewardship, families, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Jon, I am guessing you are LDS but sometimes it’s hard to tell in these conversations. If you are, you might be interested in this quote from Elder Ballard given in a General Conference talk in 1996: “And there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matt. 24:5–7). Some of these things seem to be occurring with ever-increasing regularity. If we measured the natural disasters that have occurred in the world during the past 10 years and plotted that year by year, we would see an acceleration. The earth is rumbling, and earthquakes are occurring in “divers places.” Human nature being what it is, we don’t normally pay much attention to these natural phenomena until they happen close to where we are living. But when we contemplate what has happened during the past decade, not only with earthquakes but also with regard to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, and the like, we see an accelerating pattern.” This was spoken nearly twenty years ago, and things have not improved since, especially for the poor directly affected by these disasters.

    After working with subsistence-level smallholder farm families throughout the world (many of whom are members of the LDS church), I can tell you that there are serious, real, and immediate consequences for them as a result of these accelerating natural disasters and attendant crop failure: under or malnourishment (especially for children), stunted growth, lowered intellectual capacity, and increased infant mortality, not to mention the scourges of hopelessness and despair. I can also tell you that many of these smallholder farm families operate almost entirely outside the formal economy, so any of the riches you describe being able to attain now and use for the future will simply never reach their hands in the present, and leave them with even less (hard to imagine) in the days and years to come.

  5. Erika, thank you for the quote. I have had a few conversations with LDS people on this topic where that quote from Elder Ballard would have come in very handy.

  6. Thank you so much for doing this Steve. Laudato si’ deserves as wide a readership as possible, both because it reminds us so forcefully of our responsibilities to God’s creation and because it does such a good job of shifting the debate from the sort of Western recreational environmentalism that has so often dominated it to a real concern for the world’s poor, most of whom live in overpopulated areas that are hypersensitive to environmental shifts. The current refugee crisis in Syria, as you so ably point out, traces directly to the effects of climate change–as will far more crises in the future.

    Pope Francis speaks prophetically and calls us to action. So does this wonderful post.

  7. I’ve seen some good reasoning for the argument that adding CO2 to the atmosphere increases forestation. Previous warm periods have actually been good overall for poor people, increasing food supplies, reducing disease, and allowing expansion of territory (Norse to Iceland and Greenland, for example). Yes, some areas may be negatively affected due to climate change, but others may improve. Perhaps we need a study to determine which is better overall – warmer or cooler climates. Then we need to determine the best ways to act, not the most expensive. We can lower earth’s temperature by sending particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight at a fraction of the cost of some of the actions certain groups want us to do. I can only imagine why someone would want to devastate economies, when there are simpler and cheaper solutions: they are looking to make a buck and gain power.

  8. Gerald, Those options have been carefully examined by agronomists, ecologists, climatologists, and economists and found unviable and naive. The climate is changing too fast for ecological adjustment so this is not good unless you see as somehow beneficial, increased forest fires, melting ice caps, collapses of fisheries, droughts in great swaths of the agricultural bread basket, lost of costal cities, the marine food base in coral reefs, and not to mention the resource conflicts over things like water (see what the impending crisis due the loss of Himalayan glaciers is going to do to India and China for example).

    The suggestions about putting particles into the air is untried and messing with highly chaotic systems like the global climate can be just as dangerous.

    Moving people to areas of better agriculture viability due to the differential warming as you suggest is not going well for people of Syria or Africa as you may be aware. Moving people to new areas where they can grow crops where people already live usually does not go well for anyone. You may be curious why the entire San Joaquin as not moved to Oregon due to the massive drought in California, but there are both social and economic reasons that make it more difficult than your suggestion above that people can just move to better areas to grow crops supposes. Or do you support the massive social engineering that such movement of people worldwide would involve?

    That more C02 is better for plants is silly. It’s true, as has been demonstrated in growth chamber experiments, but the offsets by drought and heat stress as is seen in upper latitudes (increasing insect attacks and fires) and the Northern Borel forests offset any supposed advantage.

    These suggestions by scientific skeptics that the enormous complications of climate change is a good thing, in the face of extremely clear data that it is not, and that we’ll be saved by dashing out a few untried armchair suggestions is frankly nonsense.

  9. Just read an article about a Greek city that’s been submerged for thousands of years. Built on a bay and the sea levels rose and consumed it. What’s the explanation, quantum flux time shifting of man induced global warming, or naturally occurring melting of ice and rising of seas?

    Maybe we are familiar with a certain famine Joseph in Egypt prophesied about? Also caused by man?

    History is replete with examples. Btw, when you share that Elder Ballard quote, make sure you offer the real solution of repentance from sin and not more taxation and regulation.

  10. Jon B, you are going to have to look at the science to see what we are talking about. No one is claiming that this is the first flood, or first sea level rise. It’s all about changes in the the rate and intensity of these things against what is natural.

  11. SteveP, who are you going to believe, thousands of top scientists, or some guy on the Internet who read an article? I mean, come on, scientists? What do they know? Besides, they are all in the pocket of Al Gore, and besides, they aren’t real Christians. Real Christians know that God will save us if we wreck the planet.

    Though, sarcasm aside, we better hope He does, because its probably too late to actually fix the problem. Global warming is accelerating even faster than predicted, and the methane in the ice caps and deep sea zones is going to make it even more disastrous.

  12. And Nepos, you know what the most galling thing is? Here I am spending all this time trying to send out the good word on Climate Change and I haven’t received any money for it. Where are the big bucks I’m supposed to be getting? I’m supposed to be rolling in the dough for this and you know what? I’ve gotten nothing. It’s an outrage. I’ve written several times to the Secret Society of Evil Scientists (SSES) and I’ve gotten only evasion and excuses. They complain that funding is down because of competition from other evil cabals, like the Illuminati, and the Rosicrucian, and the Knights Templer. But I’m not buying it. I can tell you one thing, when all the scientists gather this year at ‘The Island’ to discuss what hoax we are going to perpetrate on the American People for the coming year, I’m going to give them a piece of my mind.

  13. SteveP–climate scientists, vaccine experts, and Jews, all wondering where their checks are.
    (Actually, I’m pretty sure those are all one group, as far as some of the denialists are concerned.)

    Meanwhile, “scientists” who argue against anthropogenic climate change are generally VERY well paid, which I’m sure just makes the whole thing even more frustrating. You have my sympathies.

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