By Blake H. Thomas & Peter G. Robertson
In a 2013 Web posting, the LDS Church reminded its members that environmental stewardship is part of the ambitious Restoration: “The earth and all things on it should be used responsibly to sustain the human family.”1 If we are to save souls, we must do it in the ark of this earth.
Why this reminder from the Church? Climate change, deforestation, and overpopulation are just a few of the threats that could affect species extinction and ecosystem collapse in the near future. We have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet.2 The task before us will test whether we believe in a religion of mere words, or if we truly believe that Mormonism, as a prophetic religion, is still capable of grand rescue and Restoration.
Are Church members ready for a call to action from Church headquarters? A recent survey seems to suggest that they are. An unpublished study from the Utah State University department of sociology offers a current picture of Mormon awareness of and attitude toward the environment.3 Of 304 Utah-based Mormon respondents, just under 60% said that global warming is a serious problem (see Table 1). Fifty-three percent of respondents who identified as LDS said they somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement “humans are severely abusing the environment.” Further, 51% of Mormon respondents view the balance of nature as being delicate and easily upset (see Table 2). This research indicates that a narrow majority of LDS Church members would likely approve of an environmental stewardship component being added to Church curriculum.
In 2000, Richard Foltz concluded: “The words and actions of ecologically-minded Mormons increasingly demonstrate that such an ethic does exist—though whether this ethic is with or against the current of formal LDS teaching is less clear.”4 In other words, there is not an absence of ecologically-minded Mormons, but the congruity of their worldview with LDS orthodoxy can be uncertain. A 2005 study, building off of Foltz’s article, stated that “Mormons tended to express greater levels of environmental concern, [but] they were less likely to have undertaken specific behaviors reflective of such concern.”5
One way to translate Mormon environmental concern into action would be for the Church hierarchy to articulate a more formal stance on environmental stewardship. The prophet and other leaders of the Church are uniquely positioned to inspire LDS communities to act and live more sustainably as official LDS policy tends to influence regional culture. “The high percentage of Mormon communities in Utah facilitates a great deal of regional self-identity, as well as political domination that influences a wide range of policies and attitudes.”6
To isolate the influences of the Mormon religion alone, a study was conducted in 2006 that examined environmental attitudes within the Mormon Culture Region. The study discovered that “Mormon faith and culture are meaningful predictors of environmental concern. Specifically, the more an issue relates to community identity or health, the greater support it will garner from Mormons.”7
To make an environmental stewardship component feasible for Church curriculum, it must have deep roots in Mormon doctrine and theology, and it must be seen as central to the Restoration. As Brigham Young put it when dismissing general conference to immediately travel to and save the dying handcart pioneers in Wyoming: “That is my religion; that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess. It is to save the people.”8
1. “Environmental Stewardship and Conservation,” http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/environmental-stewardship-conservation (accessed 3 October 2014).
2. Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows, Limits to Growth: The 30-year Update, (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004).
3. Richard Krannich and Peter Robertson, [Utah Attitudes toward Renewable Energy,] unpublished raw data from the authors.
4. Richard Foltz, “Mormon Values and the Utah Environment,” Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture & Ecology 4 no. 1, 1–19.
5. Lori Hunter and Michael Toney, “Religion and Attitudes toward the Environment: A Comparison of Mormons and the General U.S. Population,” The Social Science Journal 42 no. 1, 25–38.
6. Joan Brehm and Brian Eisenhauer, “Environmental concern in the Mormon Culture Region,” Society and Natural Resources 19, 393–410.
8. LeRoy Hafen and Ann Hafen, Handcarts to Zion: The Story of a Unique Western Migration, 1856–1860 (Spokane, WA: Bison Books, 1992), 123.