Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.  Moses 6:63

The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.  Alma 30:44

If all creation testifies of God, then perhaps we can utilize Earth Day as a sort of testimony meeting.  A chance to look around and remember that not only was the Earth created for the temporal benefit of man and woman but also for man and woman to gain a testimony of the Supreme Creator.  I think that this balance has been skewed far to the former at the expense of the latter, and Earth Day is a chance to try to reset our way of valuing creation.

As an example of this conflict, consider the sage grouse.  This little fella makes his home in, if you can believe it, sagebrush habitat.  It just so happens that much of the United States' sagebrush habitat is also oilman habitat, and the more oil wells we sink the less habitat the sage grouse can call home, and the more threatened it becomes.  The Interior Department was petitioned to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act and recently made its dissonant decision: the sage grouse deserves protection, but we aren't giving it.  Jason Chaffetz showed his lack of imagination in reaction to this decision--"The only good place for a sage grouse to be listed is on the menu of a French bistro"--a variation on a common theme among the anti-environmentalism crowd.  (Why would the French eat a bird native to the American West?  How about: "I get enough grouse at home from my wife and kids, I don't need it in my oil production facilities," or something?)

So anyway, is the sage grouse just an annoyance to brush aside in our thirst for more fossil fuels, or is it possible that this quirky bird that attracts potential mates by making a rubber-ball-bouncing sound with its chest is something to be valued as bearing record of a Creator?  Is it fundamentally ridiculous to put so much emphasis on any single species, such as quirky bird which, seriously, attracts potential mates by making a rubber-ball-bouncing sound with its chest, which is, let's be honest, bizarre and a little gross?

First of all, let me state that the choice between humans and the environment is a false one.  Humans can live in happiness and prosperity while at the same time protecting the environment.  We would certainly have to live differently than we do now, we'd have to make some changes, but it is not either-or.  We would have to dramatically reduce our consumption of just about everything and shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, which would increase costs, at least at first.  We would have to decide as a society that just because some thing that we want, be it a huge SUV or a sprawling McMansion or a private jet or bananas from South America off season or big piece of beef for every meal, is theoretically available and a potential market exists to provide that thing, doesn't mean that we should sate that desire.  It's called self-control and it's something we are not good at.

But we, as Mormons, profess self-control all over the place, and the goal is to elevate the spiritual over the temporal because true happiness, eternal happiness, comes with the spiritual.  We forgo intoxicants which many people seem to really enjoy, we channel our sexual appetites in a way that the world finds increasingly quaint, we fast once a month, we give ten percent of our income to tithing, we generally give up a little of the temporal, what the scriptures call denying the flesh, to fully develop our spiritual selves.

We should transfer this way of thinking to the environment.  If we truly believe that all things were created spiritually before physically and that all units of creation, from the universe itself to the disgustingly-chested sage grouse, are testaments to a divine Creator, then we should be willing to make sacrifices to protect them.  All of them, no matter how weird or inconsequential or remote they seem.  And who knows, maybe we will find more happiness in a simpler way of life, find more pleasure in the clean and biologically diverse world around us, and increase the number of people who believe in God.

So we should start making those decisions now, and Earth Day is as good a day as any to think through what are some practical first steps, or next steps, to achieve a goal of harmony and balance with creation.


Daniel H said...

This makes me think of the temple - and God's very first exhortation to Adam and Eve.

It doesn't matter where you stand politically - we are meant to take care of the Earth. Certainly we are meant to use it for our benefit, but I don't think the "raping and pillaging" as so many of a conservative leaning would advocate falls under the intention of God's instructions to us.

Josh said...

Raping and pillaging???? Have you ever been to the gasfields? Have you ever even left the crowded, polluted hell-hole that is every big city? Give me a break!!! Raping a pillaging? Wow!
I have news for you folks. The sage grouse was having issues adapting long before the horrible oil companies started their destruction of the earth. Also, the sage grouse is having trouble surviving in areas with no conservative-minded environmental raping. This is a species of bird that routinely die from flying into barbed wire fences. It is a beautiful animal, and we should do what we can to save it, I agree. I seriously doubt, though, that any of you citified folks have ever even seen one in the wild, much less do anywhere near what the oil companies do for it's conservation.

GreatWhiteHope said...

Nor have you liberals ever visited the mines in Peru, where the companies go to every effort to minimize their impact to the land, reclamation when they are finished, or what they do for the families of the workers they employ there. Rape and Pillage is a buzzword for people ignorant to reality. Sure there are some conservative hillbilly yokels that chuck their brewskies out their truck windows when they finish them off, but that is far from the conservative norm. You can't spell conservation without the word conservative. You all are as guilty of "vitriol" as any conservative you accuse of the same, don't think you're above it.

Jacob S. said...

Josh, as I recall you and I aren't too far apart on environmental issues, and I know that many conservatives feel that protection of the environment is a good thing, so let's start there. But I also know that you work in the oil and gas industry and I think that is why this post touched a nerve.

I have no problem with the basic idea that we need oil and gas in the short term to continue to power our economy, I was simply highlighting one of the conflicts between development and conservation, one that is close to home. My point was that if we choose to conserve energy and focus on more environmentally friendly energy sources, like solar for instance, we can do a better job of avoiding these conflicts in the long term. That is a choice we can make and I think we should make.

Now, I have seen the sage grouse in the wild and I do spend a lot of time in the wild. In fact, many of the city folk I know spend a lot of time in nature and want to protect our last remaining natural places because they use them to escape city life, recharge, and reconnect with God. And I seriously doubt that the oil companies are doing more than my organization and the dozens of others like it to protect the sage grouse and other wildlife and their habitat. That doesn't mean that I think all oil and gas companies are all evil and just want to "rape and pillage," it just means that they want to develop (and they make a TON of money doing so) and we provide a counter-weight and counter-argument based on conservation and protection.

Josh said...

Jake, I am not completely disagreeing with you. We do have similar veiws regarding conservation, overall. Understand this, though. This land that Daniel says is being raped and pillaged is where I live and work everyday. It isn't an escape that I can run to every now and then. I am familiar with it, you could say. When I say things about the environment, I'm not blowing smoke, I'm speaking from experience. A lot of the money spent to study these animals is donated by these evil oil companies (in fact, Utah and Wyoming both generate a lot of revenue from these companies - as do MANY other states). Where we do tend to disagree is when you talk "environmentally friendly." Solar, wind, and other such "green" generated powers tend to be less efficient, more expensive, and, in many instances, really bad for the environment in their own way. My belief is that we should use every resource that we have, while at the same time try to develop other affordable and efficient means.

I'll ask a question, and then I'm done. In the half a century, or so, that oil and gas companies have been developing the land in Wyoming for production, what species of animal has suffered solely because of that development? The sage grouse, as I pointed out, has problems that extend WAY beyond oil and gas development.

Jacob S. said...

You are right, Josh, that oil and gas development alone has never caused a species to become extinct. But it is one of many stessors and pressures that contribute to declining wildlife. Any one of oil and gas development, motorized recreation, logging, hard-rock mining, air pollution, ground pollution, water pollution, urban sprawl, and the like are usually not going to have a major impact on its own. But when you combine all the stressors you get nature that is no longer so natural. It becomes more synthetic and managed and sterile to the point that many people don't even know what real nature even is anymore.

That's not to say that we should completely end all those practices, but we do need to realize what is happening. In some areas that are particularly sensitive or beautiful or ecologically important I think we should end all those things and let nature just live. In others we can allow more or less, but if we turn a blind eye to what we are doing we are going to lose it all in the name of "progress" and "economics", which would be a huge shame and, I believe, lead to a real loss of spirituality.

The conversation about the environmental impacts of renewable energy is probably best left to another day. Thanks for chiming in.

Daniel H said...

Josh - sorry that you took such immediate umbrage at my comments - they weren't directed at the oil and gas industries (moreover, they don't seem to be anywhere near as bad as coal and other mineral pursuits).

And as for being citified, I've lived most of my life in rural Utah, with much time spent in the Uintahs. I haven't had time to be in Sage Grouse habitat, and certainly there are animals out there that don't have a great deal of gray matter when it comes to survival in the face of changes humanity can bring.

And GWS - I've seen the strip and mountaintop removal mines of West Virginia - good for Peru to be conservationist - but what of the US?

My point is that my comments were more along the lines of what I was thinking of our wasteful society as a whole and the way we as an American society are so focused on consumerism, on rejecting the make-do attitudes of the past. Yes, I think there's some environmental concerns, but I think that those companies that have made changes are doing their best to find the middle road using the goods given to us to manage.

And before GWH tells me I'm as guilty as the next one - I'd like to point out that you don't know me, you don't know the steps I've taken to make my family green, to be less consumerist and more harmonious.