Ponder on the Beauty of an Earth Made Clean Again

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Michigan Republican Representative Tim Walberg said in a town hall meeting last Friday, “I believe there’s climate change . . . I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I believe there are cycles. Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No. . . . Why do I believe that? Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.” This is a sentiment I have heard countless times from members of my wards throughout my life. As a newly returned missionary, even I told my non-religious sister who expressed anxiety about climate change that, “I have faith that God is in charge and that during Christ’s Second Coming, He will heal the earth and make things right.” She frankly and rightly responded: “That is the most despicable thing I have ever heard you say.”

The problem with the “God will take care of it” sentiment is that it is the equivalent of never changing your child’s diaper because you know that God is even more capable of changing that diaper than you are—if it really becomes a problem, God will take care of it. Couldn’t it be, though, that God makes us stewards over our children in the hopes that we will be the ones to “take care of it” and change the diaper out of our love for this creation in our care?

I teach at a university primarily attended by LDS students. Last semester a student of mine gave a research presentation on the controversy of over-population, in which the young man determined from his research that unless the world’s population changes our diets and consumption rates, there is not enough arable land available on the planet to feed all of the hungry and impoverished people alive today. As you can probably imagine, this presentation ruffled the feathers of many students in the class, so we opened up the room to discussion and questions. Students were quick to point to the scriptural decree God gave to Adam and Eve that they should “multiply and replenish the earth,” to which the student pointed out that “replenish” is an ambiguous term and not a good enough justification to ignore problems of over-population. Besides, he added, the argument presented to the class wasn’t to stop having babies but to change patterns of consumption, specifically to reduce the amount of meat Americans in particular consume (a claim the student supported with the Word of Wisdom’s caution to eat meat “sparingly,” to be consumed “only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine”).

At this point, the conversation in the class took an interesting turn. The comments that came in quick succession by multiple students in the class were so fascinating and alarming to me (because of the religious hubris accompanying these sentiments) that I wrote them down as well as I could after the class had ended:

“Only those who lack faith in God would fear over-population or climate change.”

“Scientists might think they have all the answers, but they don’t—only God does.”

“It’s important for students at this school to remember that just because they read something in a scholarly journal doesn’t mean that it fits in God’s plan for us.”

And, for me, the kicker:

“If the earth really starts to run low on food, God will bless us with manna from heaven.”

It was this comment that haunts me, and I told the class as much (carefully, so as not to ostracize or embarrass the student who made the comment). We looked at pictures of actual starving children on the planet, people who cannot just drop by Taco Time on the way home from school, or walk into their apartment and get hot water out of their tap. I asked the class if they felt they could go to these families and say to them, “If God really wanted you to eat, he would send manna.”

Couldn’t it be, I asked the class, that what God really intends is for us to be the providers of manna? What if we are instruments that God can use to feed the hungry, educate the poor, change systems of consumption and market trends in order to share resources and, in turn, benefit from the lives and minds of the people saved?

I realize the issues are much more complicated than this, and that just sending food or money is not the most effective fix (indeed, I think my student was onto something when he suggested we eat less meat, which would also mitigate ethical problems associated with factory farming and pollution).

But the notion that God is going to sweep up any real messes and take charge if we are truly reckless at the wheel is not only irresponsible but ungrateful. God is not a helicopter parent. God is, however, a trusting parent—a Being who has given mankind stewardship over a complex system of creations of which mankind is only a one species.

Donald Trump has said that he is pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord because he is putting “America first.” But this is not what God would stand for. America is only one small part of His living creations on earth today. We shouldn’t say, “America first”; we should be saying, “Earth first.”

Trump argues that the Paris climate agreement “disadvantages the United States.” We disadvantage the world when Americans—5 percent of the world population—consume “one third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper” (Scientific American).  The changes in policies and industry only seem “draconian” because America is currently so bacchanalian in our production of waste, useless products, and unnecessary energy squandering. The first time I walked into a Wal-Mart after I came home from serving an LDS mission in Japan, I literally started to weep from shame over the massive amounts of junk we peddle, purchase, and toss. We disadvantage the world in our lack of stewardship and our apathy toward God’s creations.

Our goal here should not be to protect industries that are outdated and environmentally unjustifiable to continue; our goal should be provide new jobs for people that are in line with technological advances that would make coal obsolete before we run out of this non-renewable energy source entirely.

The “great, phenomenal wealth” Trump says are found in fossil fuels, mining, drilling, and non-renewable energy sources are short-term solutions that directly impact the climate change that threaten our coastal cities and ecosystems. It is a greediness that is reminiscent of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us” (2 Nephi 28:7). This sentiment of “wealth” has no thought of eventual resource depletion or of the consequences of retaining our rates of energy consumption and the accompanying environmental pollution that places not an economic burden on our children and grandchildren but an environmental burden that threatens our food sources, our wildernesses, clean water, clean air, and our survival as a species.

God wouldn’t say, “America first.”

But God did say, in D&C 104:13–15:

“For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures. I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and build the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine. . . . Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.”

And here is something else God said, in D&C 49:19–21:

“For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance. But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.”

It isn’t that I criticize my student’s faith in God, when he believed that God would send manna from heaven. It’s that I think that faith is misplaced. We need to have faith in ourselves, that we can be instruments of God and make a change for good. We need to have faith that the environment can be helped, that people’s hearts can be changed, and that God will help us in our endeavors to replace fossil fuel energy with the renewable energy sources that we have the technology to accomplish. We need to have faith that we can make things right, and we need to have faith that God will guide us in these endeavors.

Comments

  1. Jason K. says:

    This is a sobering read, Grover, but an important one.

  2. Nicely put. I’m as appalled by that sentiment as you are, but I would probably have been one of those students when I was a freshman in college. Your response may have made a difference.

  3. smorgan1967 says:

    Yes. Yes. And. Nice writing–love the examples and stats. “Deplete resources” is exactly where I think Trump is headed. I listened to his (rambling) speech twice. And I feel afraid. Your “eat, drink, & be merry” nails his mindset. He has no vision. He does not have a set of values, no honor, no integrity. And I still wonder how did this happen?

  4. jaxjensen says:

    The points on the consumption and waste are spot on. Same with the accountability and stewardship. Bravo.

    However you, like every other person I’ve heard/read, has failed to connect consumption/waste/greed with global warming/climate change. I’m not elderly yet, but been around long enough to see the goal posts moved, repeatedly. If we don’t act by 2000 we’re all doomed… if we don’t do something by 2005 then it will be irreversible… all the ice caps will be gone by 2014… If we don’t ________ by 20** then the world will end.

    The catastrophes never happen, the temperatures don’t rise, the world keeps spinning, and so they move the supposed “point of no return” date and start manufacturing hysteria all over again. It’s just like those idiots who say that Christ will return on (enter any date) and then the world will end… only Christ doesn’t come and they are ridiculed and forgotten. I can only hope that soon the climate catastrophists will soon be forgotten as well, because you’re all surely worthy of ridicule.

    We are immoral and selfish to an astounding degree and we should fix that. But the world isn’t about to end because of it.

  5. jaxjensen, have you researched yourself the evidences and ongoing consequences of climate change? Here would be a good place to start an education on the evidence we have for a warming planet, rising sea levels, melting ice caps, and the consequences already seen in coastal areas and elsewhere: https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

  6. Reminds me of the parable about the person who dies in a flood because God will save him, so who needs a rescue boat or helicopter?

  7. Anon for this says:

    I live in the Arctic and I regularly spend time with Native elders who are amazed that anyone could be as unaware of the world they live in to not see the huge changes to the climate throughout the world. It is obvious to those elders, whose survival is, and slways has been, tied to the environment in which they live. For the most part, that is not something that Western culture asks of us. The ability to not rely on local conditions is a huge part of that disconnect. Worldwide changes to overall temperature, sea level rise and the changes in the interactions between animals, plants and water in local areas are obvious if you rely on them.

  8. Anon 7:09,

    I think a big reason that there’s so much more awareness of climate change in Europe than in the US is that, most of Europe being at higher latitudes, climate change has been a lot more noticeable there than in the US. Paris always has been kinda gross in the summer, but heat waves that kill thousands of elderly people are not something they’re used to. The brutally cold winters of my wife’s childhood in the Baltic States are now a distant memory. In the lower latitudes, by contrast–especially in inland areas that aren’t as affected by changes in ocean temperatures–there’s been relatively little change…except for changes in the jet stream that have made winters colder for much of the country.

    There have been changes in the Earth’s climate before, but never as fast as in the past hundred years. The paleobotanical and geological records are quite clear on that.

  9. In response to the OP:

    I had a climate change denialist for housemate–an otherwise intelligent and intellectually curious young man who argued that God would never let mankind so damage the Earth. I responded, “What about the hydrogen bomb?” He had no response.

  10. Anon for this says:

    I didn’t grow up in the Mormon Corridor, but given what I was taught in church, seminary, etc. I would have said that Mormon theology would be firmly in the “we are all responsible to God, each other and future generations to keep the world as healthy and beautiful as possible.” I also was taught that we are to share resources with those who have the least and to be as frugal with our own use of resources as we can. I am constantly amazed when people go to “doctrine” to explain why consumerism and waste are okay. I was taught over and over that Mormon theology was better than Christian fundamentalists because we believed in science as a divine gift in understanding God’s plan, rather than turning our backs on what science teaches that seems to contradict scripture.

    I’m still floored as I reread the thoughts from the students. I can’t imagine my seminary teachers or youth leaders letting something like that go unchallenged. Even in Primary I can’t see it being accepted that God wouldn’t give us the consequences of trashing the planet.

  11. Anon, I think a lot of it has to do with the politicization of climate science that happened around the time of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which did a lot to raise awareness of climate change problems while simultaneously marketing this issue as a democratic, liberal issue. Mormonism for so many of these students has been intrinsically linked to conservatism; ergo, if a liberal voice or a scientist is saying something that makes them uncomfortable, they can just write it off as secularism.

    Also, I think it’s a problem that environmental issues aren’t emphasized in General Conference like pornography or religious freedom is. Students say if it’s really a problem, the prophet would be talking about it. I am grateful for Pope Francis leading Christians toward environmentalism and I wish we were joining Catholics in this lead.

  12. Clark Goble says:

    I believe in human caused climate change but also think the catastrophe is a tad overhyped. People tend to latch on to the high end of predictions. That said, we clearly have a responsibility to deal with our environment. I just think that we could have done that much better had we embraced nuclear power back in the 90’s. Now we more or less are pinning our hopes on solar power becoming cheap — which it is doing. Those technological changes probably matter more than all the hang wringing that doesn’t actually change behavior. I often bemoan that those who cry about such things are unwilling to really make necessary changes. Signaling happens far more than effective change.

  13. Anon for this says:

    Yeah, my ward growing up was pretty evenly split between republicans and democrats as active members. With the Stake President a Democrat who ran for school board right before he was called and throughout his tenure as SP, and a Mormon republican senator, party affiliation/loyalty to the Republican party was definitely not something that was assumed.

  14. Grover: it goes back much earlier than that. For a very long time Utah’s economy was based almost entirely around extractive industry, which pretty much guaranteed hostility to environmentalism. Add in the fact that many pioneering environmental advocates had been counterculture figures in the ’60s and early ’70s, and you can see how a generation raised on paranoid Skousenite claptrap would be hostile to anything environmentalist.

  15. There will always be hurricanes, there will always be floods. These aren’t increasing at an alarming rate. Their intensity is not worse.

    The counter argument to GW bad, is GW is actually good. There was more life on the planet when it was warmer. Things grow better. The Sahara desert was once tropical mere thousands of years ago. Rain patterns shifted north. We don’t know why that happened. Where is this natural variability accounted for in any of the models? Is it already assumed that naturally in 5000 years the South America will dry up and the South West will become a jungle? Why not if this is what happens naturally (or vice versa)? To go from jungle to desert in a large area over such a short period of time (geologically) means that in a multigenerational life span, great rivers were turning to smaller rivers and others still were turning to streams at the margins and so on. When we point to the evidences of co2 being a pollutant that causes this here and now, where do we factor in this naturally extreme variability?

    The argument has been that those changes were gradual and not a shock induced from CO2 dumping all at once, so to speak. Except we aren’t having these extreme patterns predicted, and the solutions, even if I concede​ the question of predicability, will not actually make any measurable difference. We claim a measured difference now but we won’t be able to measure it then and our calculations on such a palentary scale (induced heavily by competing financial interests) will be wrong.

    Dump a bunch of co2 in the air now to comparatively low output windmills, ignoring the required replacements and co2 “costs” of maintenance and replacement and diffuse power grid connectivity, etc. The math doesn’t make sense financially, I have a strong assumption the co2 savings are ginned up to support the policy when the total activity is concerned. And my issue isn’t windmills, but just the natural tendency to assume away all the costs as we dream up new ideas. It’s common in the world of business, religion, and there’s no way our green politicians aren’t doing this as they chase their preferred solutions.

    Go buy a new refrigerator that’s 50% more efficient than the current working one or wait till that old one dies and replace it instead of fixing a miscellaneous part and pat yourself on the back for being more efficient. Except the new one required a factory, electronics production, trucking and shipping across the globe, your trucking and shipping the old and new, etc. The balance of savings is never so clear cut, but we sure do paint the picture that it is with tax credits and policy prescriptions to help the fridge guys sell more new stuff. That’s carbon credits and most green energy in a nutshell. One group making money and promises, and the actual savings and benefits not really being realized while actually front loading a lot of environmental activity in the process of this new stuff.

    If we institute the most draconian solutions, the climate will still change unexpectedly. It could be equally said that we waited too long, or now the climate is just behaving “naturally”, or we saved the day and it would have been worse.

    The suggested actions to heal the climate (whatever that means) are unfalsifiable, unprovable.

    I’m not opposed to clean energy solutions that reduce particulate matter in the air and prevent dumping in our water. I’m opposed to pushing extremely low impact, but very costly solutions on the world at the point of the financial bayonet when it’s not clear it will have any effect.

    When I was younger we were taught the conifers and glaciers were naturally retreating and will be gone some day. Now my kids are taught they are retreating because of the pollutant co2.

    It’s true they could be advancing that retreat sightly faster. But no one knows how or why it if we can even do anything about it.

    A true parable: environmental supporters opposed logging for it’s effect on the environment and got what was actually a sustainable 20yr cycle of selective logging shut down. People lost their jobs and families suffered. Economic​ depression that still hasn’t recovered. The forests were saved, so to some it was deemed worth it.

    The next year lighting struck, a fire started and burned the whole thing down, the scars of which​ remained for years.

    We don’t adequately judge natural extreme variability into our climate when it comes to our solutions (or diagnosing what’s “wrong” now) and even worse we rhetorically minimize the human costs of our actions (job loss and everything more expensive is minimized rhetorically) while assuming the worst of our inaction (thousands will drown, crops will fail).

    And yet it’s not true that thousands more are drowning now than predicted and food output is up.

    I have more confidence in our ability to find innovative solutions to the inevitable changing climate as long as we don’t impoverish ourselves unnecessarily buying the carbon credit equivalent of sack cloth and ashes.

    It’s widely recognized that the financial problems of the the USA is an issue of flat growth. Reducing the production of extremely cost effective energy reduces growth. And yet for decades we’ve been instituting various standards (environmental and regulatory) that have had the downside of reducing growth.

    No one blames the financial malaise on regulatory burden of one nature or another, but in a complex economic system it carries a tremendous downward effect. Those costs are real and devastating and no matter how much you assume them away, the climate will still change, storms will rage and seas ebb and flow; and the only thing that will mitigate those effects is the wealth of nations being able to respond tactically to the situation (canals, damns, air conditioning, desalination, etc etc).

    The Obama administration invested half a billion dollars into Solyndra claiming it will help. It both failed financially and the carbon output was actually greater as a result of that activity. Had that money been spent on a sound investment into say several dams or refineries or nuclear plants, we’d be making a return, becoming richer people, generating all kinds of ancillary jobs.and industry and better able to help when disasters strikes.

    No one talks about this. We just want the policy equivalent of an antibiotic prescription every time we go to the legislative doctor. Except those antibiotics are not only having less of an impact but they may be laying the groundwork for an inability to respond to a really sever outbreak.

  16. Well it was only a matter of time before someone left a wholly scientifically ignorant “rebuttal”.

    Grover, I do think it’s a notable failure in our church to address such a critical issue (or even environmentalism in general). Being conservation minded seen as a “liberal” thing, for some reason.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  17. Not ignorant, just not blind faith in climate panacea.

  18. Regarding the “God will provide” approach, I’ve heard it for years but more from the evangelical Christian pop than Mormon. I’m actually depressingly intrigued to hear it from a Mormon source. I wonder whether it isn’t really denialism in disguise? Mormon doctrine and teaching seems to me to lean toward responsibility, stewardship, shoulder to the wheel kinds of thinking. So when I hear the fatalist ‘God will provide’ it resonates as an I don’t want to think about it more than a serious doctrinal statement.

    Regarding the Paris agreement and environmental stewardship, I’m all for it except that (oddly to me) I probably stand with Nicaragua in the “not enough” camp. But in a country where the voters and the president will make sure us rich folk don’t pay for it, we also need to assure the more than 40 million Americans who live with food insecurity that they won’t bear the brunt of the costs. And it isn’t enough to say that they will bear much of the cost anyway, if we don’t.

  19. Regarding the “God will provide” approach, I’ve heard it for years but more from the evangelical Christian pop than Mormon.

    More evil fruits of our devil’s deal with evangelical Christians. Thank you, anti-gay movement. The YECs are coming back out of the woodwork, too, even outside the Morridor where we had them damped down for some years. It depresses me, too; I suspect it’s less actual denialism and more intellectual and lifestyle laziness. It would require difficult changes.

    Thank you, Grover, for once more reminding us that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. I had never looked on the phrase “multiply and replenish” in quite that way before – as two separate charges, one to “multiply” (we seem to have no trouble there) and the other to “replenish the earth.” (No need to be replenishing the human population; it’s in no danger of extinction.) That second one is where we’re falling down, and as you and many commenters have pointed out, rather than face it and take up the charge, we’re actually trying to make a virtue out of our vice.

    If the Savior made nothing else clear, he made clear our responsibility to care for our fellow humans. By extension, that includes caring for our common home; we have no place to which we can retreat.

  20. Left Field says:

    I say that if illegal immigration is a problem, then we should have enough faith to know that God will stop people from crossing the border. Does Mr. Walberg think we have to build a wall along the Rio Grande to do what should be left to God?

  21. Shorter Tira:

    Fortunately, Trump’s idiotic decision (redundant, I know) is also irrelevant–it is far too late to stop the oncoming catastrophe. I am glad I don’t have children, the world they would inherit will be in ruins thanks to selfish idiots.

  22. Oops, the brackets dropped my comment.

    Shorter Tira: dogsittinginburninghousesaying’thisisfine’.jpg

  23. This is marvelous Grover. Really wonderful. This is so important. Those who think this isn’t big deal are just not paying attention. As an ecologist watching the unprecedented shifts in ecosystems worldwide has me scared. A new report just this week notes that the Great Barrier Reef is dying due to warming and ocean acidification. Every ecosystem we look at see we see signs of stress. A report in Science noted that insects are disappearing in forests everywhere, because the shifts in seasons is happening too fast for evolution to keep up. Lizards in drylands from the US to Spain are laying their eggs at the wrong time causing population collapses in multiple species. All this is being documented by long term studies. People think that Climate Change evidence is just some time series graphs of warming trends, but the story on the ground in nature is shocking. Long-term changes in the areas I work in Senegal mean growing crops and raising cattle are harder. We really do need to wake up and as you point out Mormons have the best scriptural mandate to care about this planet than any other religion. Ironically, the Heartland Institute, one of the main anti-science propaganda sources actually spends more on information disinformation (several 100 million dollars) than the National Science Foundation spends on Climate Change research. No wonder people are confused when there is a well-funded attempt to keep those who ignore reading the science themselves (it’s readily available) from realizing the depth and seriousness of the problem. People who don’t see what’s happening are like the people of Noah’s time saying, “What? A little rain never hurt anyone.” Grover thank you for this, the warning cry needs to be said, and your clarity and passion here was beautiful and necessary.

  24. mikerharris says:

    Off topic (a tad) but interested in people’s thoughts–So, according to D&C 49 can I enjoy meat in abundance just as long as I share? How do you reconcile D&C 49:19 with D&C 89:12? Eat meat in abundance or sparingly? Which?

  25. Thanks Tira for your comment.

    I agree that the idea of “if there were a problem, God would take care of it” is problematic. That said, humans are very good at handling slow-moving disasters as long as governments don’t get in the way of technology. For example, the overpopulation “problem” has largely not materialized due to improvements in farming technology. The problem of hunger would also be mitigated greatly if farming science and technology wasn’t being held up by environmentalists and governments (e.g. GMOs), especially in the developing world.

    The very basic principles underlying the CO2 link to climate change are very sound. However, the theories required to link CO2 to catastrophic climate change and an unstable climate system are not. Nearly all models of anthropogenic climate change are based on these unproven theories and that is why they’ve nearly all been wrong so far. Furthermore, the “costs” of climate change are entirely based entirely on economic models. Anyone know of any economic models that have been accurate? Anyone?

    So what we end up with is a disaster that may not happen (at least due to humans’ fault), and if it does, it will probably be slowly moving enough that we could come up with technology to adapt to any changes. Furthermore, the actual “disaster” aspect of this event that may or may not happen and that we may or may not even be causing is based entirely on (economic) models which have rarely been right and when they have it’s almost entirely been due to accident. This doesn’t sound like a premise worth killing the economy over.

    I’m all for conservation. We should be pursuing methods that produce less pollution. I am encouraged by recent advances in solar technology. I also recently saw an article saying that moving to fleets of self-driving cars may reduce emissions more than anything else (most cars would be electric in this system). But conservation is very different from preservation, which is what’s largely being proposed by environmentalists and those who are really pushing anthropogenic climate change.

    So I guess I’m saying “if there is a problem, technology will take care of it.” Meanwhile, let’s keep working on improving the technology to be more environmentally friendly. No need to subjugate ourselves to meaningless agreements that would actually be catastrophic if they were followed.

  26. As for the “multiply and replenish the Earth| argument, that commandment was given to Adam and Eve, who were (perhaps) the only 2 humans on the pristine Earth. What did Adam and Eve need to replenish, exactly?

    In my opinion, the syntax of the commandment is important. God knew that through multiplying we would strain the resources of the Earth, and we would need to replenish our resources. If He had meant that the act of multiplying would replenish the Earth He would have cammanded us to “replenish the Earth and multiply.”

    As an aside, if we do all of these things that scientists say will slow climate change, and they don’t work, but they don’t hurt the Earth either, then at least we will have done all that we can do with the knowledge we have. God will not hold us accountable if we try to fix it, but I truly think he will hold us accountable if we willfully ignore evidence and counsel from people who have more knowledge than we do.

  27. I like Robert Kirby’s timely approach in today’s Salt Lake Tribune. If you’re looking for God to fix it, you need to remember the last time he came up with a global fix–Noah’s flood–almost everyone died.

  28. the other Marie says:

    In an excellent blog post from 2014 George Handley takes apart some of the ways Mormons use theology to deny climate change.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/homewaters/2014/08/the-theology-of-climate-change-denial.html

    Also relevant to the conversation is Brigham Young’s assertion about the renewal of the earth when it attains its paradisiacal glory—from Nibley’s essay on Brigham Young’s view of the environment–he felt that we’d have to clean up the mess ourselves.

    “We believe . . . that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” (Tenth Article of Faith). That, however, according to the same Article of Faith, will be the last step of five in the rehabilitation of the earth, and, according to Brigham Young, it was to be a long hard pull: “Not many generations will pass away before the days of man will again return. But it will take generations to entirely eradicate the influences of deleterious substances. This must be done before we can attain our paradisaical [sic] state.”

  29. The other Marie, thanks so much for the link to Handley’s excellent article as well as for the Brigham Young quotation—I had never read that quotation before now, and it is excellent.

    Jenny, your reading of the “multiply and replenish” phrasing resonates with me—I hadn’t considered that the order of the verbs would effect the interpretation of them, and I appreciate your argument there. Definitely food for thought.

    mikerharris, D&C 49 makes it pretty clear that “abundance” means not possessing “that which is above another.” I think it’s clear that Americans have an over-abundance and a squandering of meat, because we absolutely consume more than others on the planet have access to, something God repeatedly describes as a worldwide issue and a thing that will bring damnation to us. My take on it is that if we are to have an “abundance” of anything, it is *only* because we have consumed “sparingly.”

  30. Cath, as I read that post I thought of the old parable of the guy stuck on the cliff who kept waiting for God to save him as well. I strongly believe there is global warming although I also simultaneously think it is often hyped by the press in odd ways. The upper limit of predictions usually get hyped as do agreements (like Paris) that don’t actually do much. There’s a lot of sound and fury with a lot more sound than action even by believers. I opposed Trump pulling out of Paris but not because it’ll make much difference to warming (it won’t) but because I think we need to show we’ll maintain our word in diplomatic matters.

    The reality is that if people really wanted to make significant cuts in CO2 levels they could have made a massive shift to nuclear power in the 90’s. That no one wanted to do that shows where proponents really put the value. Likewise when Democrats controlled the house, senate and presidency I believe they could easily have gotten carbon taxes passed had it been tied to offsetting cuts in corporate taxes that Republicans have long wanted. That these sorts of tradeoffs aren’t really pushed significantly tends to make me think warming is to liberals what opposition to Obamacare is to conservatives. They love the idea in abstract but when it comes to actually voting for bills they get very uncomfortable. Some clearly will vote no matter what. But by and large there’s not the real support in the broad base that you’d think the rhetoric would suggest.

    This is just as true in Europe despite the much higher support for CO2 cuts. Germany after Fukishima shut down a lot of nuclear power despite the obvious costs to warming of higher emissions. Admittedly they have admittedly been willing to take higher energy prices with the switch to alternative sources. And of course cheating, such as in diesel emission figures, was common. Meanwhile the US had drops despite not typically having the same level of concern for warming. (Obviously many, including myself, fully accept the danger of warming and want change)

    By and large people don’t want to act when it costs and just differ by how they excuse their actions. The appeal to “God will fix it all” might be more theologically horrific but it’s really just the same old way of excusing inaction that nearly everyone does.

  31. K, I’m not sure that we will be “saved by technology” so long as we are politically championing coal and non-renewable energy sources and defunding universities and other sources of technological advances. An anti-scientific sentiment will lead to a slowing of technological advances, not an increase.

    Tira, I appreciate your thoughtful alternative perspective to ways that we might alleviate some of the burdens of climate change not by trying to stop it but by trying to adapt to it. While I don’t agree with all of your conclusions, I respect the details of your argument. You say, “the climate will still change, storms will rage and seas ebb and flow; and the only thing that will mitigate those effects is the wealth of nations being able to respond tactically to the situation (canals, damns, air conditioning, desalination, etc etc).” However, Trump seems to be denying that climate change is a problem at all. And certainly you can’t support his decision increase coal mining, because even if you feel that co2 levels are not a concern, no one can deny that this is a limited resource that we must eventually leave for renewable energy sources. Solyndra was unfortunate, I agree, but does that mean that we never try again? That we can’t learn from this pioneering into solar energy and walk back in with revised plans and better technology? Does that mean we walk away from renewable energy sources for good? I’m trying to understand what your argument for environmental conservation is if working with other nations is not your ideal situation—does flying solo with coal mines constitute the best course of action, in your opinion?

  32. Grover, technology will succeed because of cost. Coal just costs too much. I’ll admit to not understanding the appeal of politicians towards coal jobs given that there are so few. I suspect it’s more political signaling rather than effectiveness. But the reality is natural gas is already considerably cheaper than coal and solar is basically there or nearly there as well. And solar is only getting cheaper.

    Trump is clueless about nearly everything so pointing to his cluelessness about climate doesn’t mean much. I think his pulling out of Paris is more a political move where he hopes Democrats overreact helping his popularity in the base (which has been dropping significantly).

  33. PassTheChips says:

    I work in the utilities industry in Arizona. Coal is extremely expensive (and dirty). At one utility, it does its best to never fire up the coal stations due to the cost. Fortunately, Arizona has a neighbor in California that has a glut of cheap solar energy. So when demand exceeds the supply of its gas, solar, and nuclear plants, this utility looks at what California has and buys its excess, which it always has, solar energy. Energy trading is here to stay and with plentiful and cheap gas, solar, and wind energy (nuclear is still expensive, but the investment required isn’t something easily written off or divested), coal just isn’t going to be competitive. Utilities across the U.S. are looking to exit the coal generation business as quickly as they can.

    Great for the environment and great for consumers.

    So when Trump talks about saving the coal industry, I’m not sure who he is saving it for.

  34. PassTheChips, I work for one of your neighbor utilities to the west in California. We’re always happy to actually export power rather than import it; it’s definitely a break with the past, oh, 70 years or so. It’d be nice if the West had a fully integrated regional market like PJM or MISO rather than just the Energy Imbalance Market we have now, but I sympathize with other states’ worries about California pushing everyone else around.

    Yesterday I read an interview with the CEO of Consumers Energy, one of Michigan’s two big electric utilities, which has retired most of its coal capacity in the last few years and plans to retire all of it within a decade. Her point about the labor needs for coal vs. gas vs. wind is really, really salient: a mid-sized (say, 500-megawatt) coal-fired plant, even of the most modern design, needs at least 100 and probably more like 200 people working for it to fix all the mechanical things that can go wrong with steam generators, coal handlers, scrubbers, etc. A gas-fired plant needs a tenth that many; a wind farm, half as many as the gas plant. Most utility technicians are unionized and have pretty generous benefits packages; the average annual cost to a utility for each of those guys is at least $100k. Even before you start going into issues of availability (many coal-fired units are on maintenance or unplanned outage more than 20% of the year) and fuel costs (it always will be more expensive to move coal by rail or even barge than to move gas in a pipeline), you can see why coal is less and less attractive in a world where generating a megawatt-hour of energy with gas routinely costs less than $20.

    Plus, the modularity of wind farms means that a complete mechanical failure in one turbine–out of, say, 200–only means the loss of that one turbine’s output; if any component of a fossil fuel generating unit fails, the whole thing’s down, and the grid operator has to reallocate. For generators in organized electric markets, unplanned unit outages can be financially disastrous–and we haven’t even started to talk about their capacity payments.

    BTW, I guarantee that neither DJT nor Steve Bannon knows anything about any of what I just wrote.

  35. Tira hurricane frequency is up but not the intensity. It’s possible there will be some pluses to global warming. The main problem is the rapidity which makes it hard for many animals to adapt leading to extinctions. There are also many worries about what happens to societies when climate changes rapidly leading to economic distress especially in areas already poor and often overpopulated for their economy. I think the economic hardship to the industrialized rich west will be far less than predicted, simply because we can adjust and our economies are free enough to make those adjustments through trade. I don’t think that entails there won’t be large costs over time.

  36. I bet Russia will be delighted to have all of the Africans and Southeast Asians whose agriculture is disrupted badly by climate change (not so much from changes in temperatures as from changes in precipitation patterns) move to the parts of Siberia and northern Russia that will be comparatively balmy with higher global temperatures. We all know how wonderfully racially and culturally tolerant Russia is, right?

  37. It is interesting how active members will read scriptures about stewardship of the earth, use that as motivation for maintaining an immaculate yard\garden\orchard, but that motivation ends hard at their property line. They might be okay with paying taxes for government maintained parks and trails; but tax funded initiatives to encourage the reduction of consumption, and have a positive effect on sustainability, is somehow the core tenant of Satan’s plan.
    We don’t have the attitude that God will prevent us from making other mistakes; why do we have this attitude with the environment?

  38. I always thought the earth served only one purpose; supporting mankind as they worked their way towards exaltation. If one believes the fundamental doctrine of the Gospel, there really isn’t another purpose. In fact, we should use it up in pursuit of that goal. Just a thought.

  39. BCC conscience et says:

    Coal may be more expensive now, but it certainly hasn’t always been more expensive, and is likely to not always be more expensive…

    The current cost is coal factors in our technology for cleaning it post burning… But there are orders of magnitude more coal in the world than oil or natural gas. Eventually, the most abundant thing becomes the cheapest, especially once the technology catches up.

    Solar remains, and will remain as pipe dream for the next 200 years. I like the idea of wind, and think the Rich areas of NY and Connecticut, where all the liberals live, should have to have the most… Mostly so that they can pick up the carcasses if the dead 🐦 slides up by them… In fact every Democrat court should have to have windmills on their homes and yards… Every building in NYC topped by these monstrosities…

  40. I am of the view that the voices crying out about the climate are simply crying wolf and seeking funding.

    I am unable to delink lefty politics and “climate science”. I will believe its a real threat when its proponents leave their mansions cars and private planes.

  41. Aussie Mormon says:

    Bbell: “I am of the view that the voices crying out about the climate are simply crying wolf and seeking funding.”
    Tell that to the people on the island of Tuvulu.

  42. Cleek’s Law–“Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.”

    Mene mene tekel upharsin. Alas, Babylon.

  43. SD thinks we should use up the earth in pursuit of exaltation. Never mind their descendants.

    BBC conscience thinks only democrats support the ‘monstrosities’ of windmills. He/she should look at the midwest conservatives state that are supporting it. Also, some people think windmills are beautiful. Also, what all the other dead animals that are dying because our use of fossils fuels?

    Bell doesn’t believe in science doesn’t that doesn’t align with his/her thinking. Maybe we should only believe conservatives on their issues of personal charity over government ‘handouts’ when they all finally give up their own goods and sell everything they have for the poor.

    Bottom line: none of these arguments help convince me to entertain general conservative viewpoints because the logical and emotional arguments are so poor. If these people really cared about conservatism, maybe they should actually engage what is going on and not just spill out a bunch pf simplistic platitudes.

  44. Anon for this says:

    Thanks for tackling a response Brian. I have found much of this conversation demoralizing. I have always known that those kinds of arguments existed, *out there* in some Mormon circles. I haven’t been to a Mormon church, except when I am home visiting my parents, and discussions like this convince me that I am unlikely to find people who I would find the ability to have honest and deep conversations, since the area I live in is so conservative.

  45. Anon, having lived in Iowa, West Virginia, West Texas, and currently, Arkansas one thing I’ve learned is that on climate change, there are many, many conservatives who are concerned. A lot of people I know (not all of them, of course,) who are tied to the land, (farmers, hunters) can see that things are changing and they are concerned. They may not agree on what the cause it, but when other people just shout out that nothing should be done or that nothing is even happening, I’m frankly shocked.

  46. it's a series of tubes says:

    Solar remains, and will remain as pipe dream for the next 200 years.

    Have a look at the following trends: $ / kW of solar capacity over the last ~20 years, and % efficiency of silicon solar PV over the last ~20 years, and it becomes very tough to argue with the cold, hard, dispassionate math that proves you wrong.

    Sincerely,
    A former PV engineer

  47. Lee R. Skabelund says:

    D&C 59:20 is one of a number of touchstones for me related to this topic.
    The word “extortion” is used three times in the scriptures. Each time it is used in conjunction with ideas related to abuse, usury, and/or excess.
    The Savior (as quoted in Matthew 23:25 and referenced by Ezekiel and Joseph Smith, Jr.) is very clear about why this is a concern.

  48. If BCC conscience were any more full of it, it’d be coming out his ears.

    Nobody is building new coal-fired power plants anymore, existing ones are closing left and right because their operating costs are too high, and cheap solar and wind are even making baseload gas-fired power plants uneconomical in warmer parts of the country (Texas, California). Gas has the flexibility to follow load that coal and nuclear don’t; that’s a big deal. Even if you took away the preferential tax treatment for wind and solar–which only exists because we don’t have a carbon tax–coal would be dying pretty much everywhere. China has stopped building new coal plants and the few that it’s completed in recent years are light-years beyond the US fleet in terms of efficiency.

    BTW coal apologists like to say that the ability of coal-fired power plants to store large amounts of fuel on site helps to preserve system reliability in the event of something like the Polar Vortex of 2014, in which a bunch of gas-fired plants went offline because they didn’t have firm gas supply contracts. The problem is that coal-fired power plants won’t run when it’s too cold: the coal handling machinery freezes up, so that mountain of coal sitting outside of them is about as useful as a keg of beer at Stake Conference. Gas turbines, on the other hand, can run year-round. (So, for that matter, can hydroelectric dams, of which Quebec has gigawatts and gigawatts in spare capacity currently used for the very low-added-value activity of smelting aluminum; all of that Hydro-Quebec capacity would have made the Polar Vortex completely irrelevant.)

  49. Although I personally agree with the statements disparaging recent decisions by the POTUS, I fear this makes the flavor too political for my taste and off-putting to some who would otherwise be receptive to the cogent reasoning in the OP that we should see ourselves as stewards of God’s creations instead of simply being exploiters of His largesse. I think we should have more of a stewardship mentality than we do, both in terms of the environment and also in terms of using other material resources for the good of God’s children. I include myself in that.

    On a separate note, about 15 years ago I was visiting my grandfather and he unwrapped a candy and literally just dropped the wrapper in the parking lot where we were. I asked him why he did that instead of taking the trouble to put in in a trash can and the gist of his reply was that the second coming was on its way and that the earth would be renewed (referring to the 10th Article of Faith). I countered that if the earth would be renewed we would be the ones doing it and so we may as well start now.

  50. Kristine N says:

    Thanks Grover. Loved this. It pains me when people use the Lord as justification for ignoring our responsibility to care for those things over which we have stewardship. I always think of the story of Alma the elder, who converted and repented, but still had to endure the consequence Abinidi promised King Noah’s people when he was burned to death. The Lord does not save us from the consequences of our decisions.

    I will point out to those of you who have claimed that we’ve never seen warming this rapid before–actually we have. At the end of the last interglacial temperatures jumped up and down a couple of degrees over the period of less than a century. It’s notable that while humans have been smart enough to have agriculture and stable civilizations for 50,000 years we’ve only actually had agriculture for 8,000 years. The rest of that period the climate was likely not stable enough for agriculture to be established.

    Not to suggest a value judgement here, just some observations.

  51. Kristine N: It was a lot easier for humanity 8,000 years ago to pull up roots and return to a nomadic lifestyle in the event of climate change, though. It likely happened routinely in the Western Hemisphere until the arrival of Europeans.

    Much smaller episodes of climate change like the Little Ice Age had massively disruptive effects on human civilization at a time when there were a tenth as many people on the planet. Antibiotics and proper sanitation ironically mean that humanity walks a much tighter rope now than we did even 100 years ago, in terms of food security.

  52. Clark Goble says:

    Kristin while there was rapid warming after the last major ice age (which also was driven by C02) everything I’ve read puts current warming as faster.

  53. Kristine N says:

    APM–that would be my point! The little ice age was a much smaller temperature fluctuation than we’ve created and it caused a huge disruption for populations in northern Europe.

    Clark–it’s close, and probably regionally variable. The end of the last ice age saw temperature jumps of at least 1 degree over a period of less than a century. The warming we’ve experienced so far is slower than that by about 50%, though warming in the next century will almost certainly be faster.

    Just to nit pick–the warming at the end of the last ice age was driven by orbital cycles and consequent changes in insolation. CO2 actually lagged warming by a few years, though yes, there’s a positive feedback involved.

  54. Mike H. says:

    “Had that money been spent on a sound investment into say several dams or refineries or nuclear plants, we’d be making a return”

    Refineries? Oil companies are notorious for cutting corners on refinery maintenance, look at the US Chemical Safety Board reports online sometime. Nuclear plants? Trying to deal with waste long term is an issue. Solyndra? The US underwrites, or subsidizes, a lot of fossil fuel areas. Dams? Where?

    I also remember in the Book of Mormon, where they had to adjust to not making buildings out of wood, due to a lack of timber. Nothing about trees being touched by a miracle, just for the comfort of that society.