Monday, January 19, 2009

The Sin of Driving an SUV?

As the Salt Lake Valley fills with air pollution due to the inversion to the point that you can't see any of the mountains that surround it, and these are nine and ten thousand foot peaks, I can't help but think of Moroni.

An inversion, by the way, is where cold air gets trapped closer to the ground by a cap of warm air. As a result, all of the pollution and smog gets trapped, in Salt Lake's case, in the valley. This can lead to serious health risks and a major deterioration of visibility, as well as being ugly to the point of depression. As you go up the canyons not only does it get warmer, paradoxically, but when you get above the inversion you can look down on a smog filled valley which looks like a bowl filled with the milk left over from Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. So, in one way at least, I was kind of happy to take the scouts out on winter camp last weekend. And I will say this about the inversion, it makes for beautiful sunrises. Just before dawn the whole valley is this thick, eerie blue, like in deep water where the sun just barely makes it through. Then, just as the sun rises, the whole valley turns bright yellow. Unfortunately, this lasts just a few minutes, then the haze unmasks itself and becomes whitish-brown and disgusting.

There is something vaguely just, however, about an inversion. Usually we create all this air pollution and it just gets swept away by the prevailing winds and we never have to deal with it, but during an inversion we are forced to live with it as it accumulates and we get to see just how much we pollute the air. In business speak I believe this is referred to as internalizing an externality. Here is a nice picture of it:

Anyway . . . Moroni was, of course, the last prophet of the Nephites, and the last living Nephite. He prophesied that the Book of Mormon would come forth in a pretty crappy time in Earth's history, which he described in great detail. Some examples of what would be going on when the Book of Mormon was revealed are that churches will seek for monetary gain instead of spiritual enlightenment, wars, earthquakes, pride, murder, stealing, lying, justification of sin, secret combinations, and you get the point. Here's another one Moroni snuck in there:

"Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be great pollutions upon the face of the earth."

I will leave it to the prophets to declare what is a sin and what isn't (and the title is obviously a joke), but it appears that polluting is frowned upon at the very least. Which makes sense when we consider that we were given this beautiful world and put in dominion over it. Polluting the earth seems like a poor performance of our stewardship when we know that there are plenty of alternatives in order to pollute less.

Keeping this short because I have a problem being concise, I just feel like if we believe that the earth was created for us, purposely made to be both functional and beautiful, we, as members of the church, and as always I implicate myself as well, need to make those hard choices which set an example of good environmental stewardship. If you are interesting in reading a little more about Mormonism and environmentalism, and I think you should, here are a few links:

Hugh Nibley:
Brigham Young and the Environment
Man's Dominion, or Subduing the Earth
Stewardship of the Air

Professor George B. Handley from BYU:
LDS Belief and the Environment

Here's a hodgepodge (that's right, hodgepodge) of references:
Mormon Environmental Ethic

The Church has no specific stance on modern-day environmentalism, as Prof. Handley notes. These links are not purported doctrine, or suggestions to the First Presidency or Twelve Apostles. What I want to propose is that a modern-day environmentalism is perfectly compatible with church doctrine and, in my mind, a good fit. The culture of the West, including Utah, has traditionally been one of extraction of natural resources and taming the wild, which makes sense given the history of its settlement. But we are at a time now where we need to make more long term decisions about how we protect the environment, and I think the Gospel lends a solid foundation.

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