Earth Day: All Things are Spiritual to God

Earth from a million miles away taken by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC)

The Lord has said:

3Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal…;

D&C 29:34

On Earth Day, it is worth remembering that we are to be wise stewards of the earth, to preserve it for future generations [Environmental Stewardship and Conservation].

A Parable

I will liken the unwise steward to a new employee at the hotel at which my colleague stayed this weekend. I will liken the earth’s resources to the contents of my colleagues purse.

At some point, my colleague went to get her phone. It was missing, as were two other items of worth. When my colleague looked online to locate her phone, she saw that it was traveling around the city where she had stayed. My colleague called the hotel and talked to her friend in management. Within moments, the friend had reviewed the hotel’s surveillance tapes for the estimated time of loss and identified who had taken the items.

The thief was a new employee, one who apparently was unaware that their actions were knowable, one who didn’t realize that the location of an active phone can be detected by the owner.

In like manner, our actions are known to God. When we effectively take that which is needed by our fellows or our future kin, God is aware.

Saving Ourselves

There are times when we think we are modern and enlightened, and that therefore old superstitions need not be heeded.

This Sunday I heard Krista Tippett’s 2006 interview with the late Wangari Maathai, a Catholic environmentalist.

When Maathai was a child, she was told to avoid collecting firewood from certain fig trees which were sacred to the Kikuyu. But in the years that would follow, many Kikuyu converted to Catholicism. The old superstitions were abandoned and the fig trees were cut down so modern homes could be built.

Unfortunately, with the loss of the fig trees, the fundamental properties of the water table changed. Hills that had been stable for centuries of Kikuyu history began to slide.

The same occurred in the early settlements in Utah Valley.

Some of the Church members settling Deseret had come from mountainous homes. As they cut trees from the mountainsides for homes and firewood, they left some trees as had been their practice. It is not clear they understood why they should leave some trees in place.

Other Church members settling Deseret had come from rolling valleys and prairies. When they cut trees from the mountainsides for homes and firewood, they saw no reason to pass over convenient trees. The effectively clearcut the mountainsides near their new homes.

When the rains and snows came, the villagers who had left trees on the mountainside huddled in their homes against the elements. The villagers who had clearcut the mountainsides were faced with floods and mudslides from the naked mountains.

Just as the sacred fig trees of the Kikuyu had preserved the lives (and homes) of God’s children in Kenya, the trees on the mountains of the Utah Valley preserved the lives (and homes) of God’s children in Deseret.

Those who Deny

There are those who loudly proclaim that nothing mankind does could possibly affect the environment.

This is absurd. Of course mankind affects the environment. We build roads and dams. We create lakes where none previously existed. We drain lakes that we find inconvenient. We pump aquifers to water fields that wouldn’t exist if we had not plowed and sown. We sail ships from sea to sea, transporting species far beyond their native habitats. We breed plants and animals to enhance certain features. At times we genetically modify plants and animals to meet our needs.

One can argue whether all this effort to change our world actually creates global and lasting change.

As in all arguments, it is useful to remember the biblical proverb, “O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart.” 1

For more modern folk, it is called the Dunning-Kruger effect. People with a bit of knowledge often overestimate the validity of the small amount they know. They make
dangerously unfortunate choices, but are too incompetent to realize they have erred.

When one pairs insufficient knowledge with short-term self-interest, the damage to long-term well-being can be sobering.

[In this post I am mainly citing insufficiently informed opinions regarding environmental stewardship. But the same principles apply to insufficiently informed social activism regarding family relationships and gender identification.]

This brings us back to the new employee who stole, unaware their actions were captured on tape. In the very short term, they pilfered items of some amount of worth. But in exchange they will lose their job and (if they don’t return all that was stolen) they will be prosecuted for theft.

We who believe in a God ought to heed the advice of James, who suggested that “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” 2 God, who sees all, will hold us accountable for the wrong that we do and the good that we fail to do.

Notes:

  1. Proverbs 8:5
  2. James 1:5
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

21 thoughts on “Earth Day: All Things are Spiritual to God

  1. https://www.briansussman.com/commentary/earth-days-real-history/

    “On April 22, 1970, a trio of radical dreamers established the first Earth Day, an event designed to assault capitalism, free-markets and mankind.

    The initial concept was conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WS). Nelson was Congress’ leading environmentalist activist, a sort of pre-incarnate Senator Barbara Boxer in drag. He was also the mastermind behind those ridiculous teach-ins which were vogue in the Sixties and early Seventies. During the teach-ins, mutinous school instructors would scrap the day’s assigned curriculum, pressure their students to sit cross-legged on the floor, and “rap” about how America was an imperialist nation, and converse about why communism really wasn’t such a bad form of government—it just needed to be implemented properly.”

    Like most Latter-day Saints, I applaud being good stewards of the environment and conserving our natural resources which are God-given. I am not required, however, to celebrate an “Earth Day” that is rooted in Marxist cant and drivel.

    I wish people would look up the origins of these things.

  2. I agree with Michael. I love the earth, but I loathe earth day. For the last 4 years I have worked with others in my community to prevent groups like the Sierra Club from coming in and implementing plastic bans, and othet burdensome regulations. The campaigns of misinformation and lies are astonishing to me. The fact that so many are suckered in is mind boggling. The dubious origns of earth day are also troubling. One of the founders, Ira Einhorn is a convicted murderer as well.

  3. I like to consult Wikipedia, since anyone and everyone can edit Wikipedia articles, typically creating articles that evolve to a level of factuality that slides relatively easily across the minds of those who don’t edit Wikipedia articles for fun.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_Day

    At the end of the day, all things that grow are efffectively rooted in some sort of fecal decay. I don’t feel a need to reject something merely because it has unfortunate associations according to some individual.

    For what it’s worth, I have created a few Wikipedia articles. I have also been known to edit the random Wikipedia article that was offensively incorrect. Along that line, feel free to put in a request for me to edit a Wikipedia article you find offensive.

    For an example of history I have added to Wikipedia, see:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Bennett

  4. “At the end of the day, all things that grow are efffectively rooted in some sort of fecal decay. I don’t feel a need to reject something merely because it has unfortunate associations according to some individual.”

    It’s not just “according to some individual.” But, I understand that you have a viewpoint and an opinion on these matters that is impervious to change. That’s your right and prerogative. So, by all means, celebrate Earth Day to your heart’s content.

    Or are we just celebrating fecal decay?

  5. Since writing the OP, I have speed-ingested The Overstory, which won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Literature on April 15. It so happens that The Overstory was selected by my bookgroup for our mutual consumption. If I recall correctly, we selected April to read the book specifically because of Earth Day.

    There is a “trees are our cousins, mankind will soon be wiped from the earth” vibe in Overstory that I find a bit too smug and heavy-handed.

    Perhaps because of my husband’s interest in games, I tend to think of all human interactions as part of a large freeform game. It is relatively rare that any given activity is inherently wrong. However an action, in relation to what that action causes, could be utterly wrong.

    One interesting thing I was introduced to was how the “green” and “organic” movement builds on the eugenic theories of the 1920s and the Luddite revolt. But that does not mean that we can or should dismiss all environmental activities as anti-progressive.

    That is why I described situations that have nothing to do with ideologies and asked folks to ask God, “who giveth [knowledge] liberally.”

    Like the thief, I am of the opinion that we will each face Truth one day. In that Divine Judgement, I would prefer to find that my actions were (in the main) beneficial to my fellows as well as rooted in reason and logic.

  6. I find very few contemporary “environmental activities” to be rooted in reason and logic. It’s mostly rooted in ignorance, emotion, and in many cases, blatant superstition.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean I pour my used car oil out in the back yard. But at the same time, having spent many years studying the root ideologies that have spawned these modern caricatures of virtue, I know enough to reject foolishness when I see it.

    Yes, be good stewards of the earth. But say no to the accompanying dogmas that tell us that unless we cede our freedoms to a central controlling authority and stop having children, we’re doomed. I reject such poppycock.

  7. Hi Micheal,

    I was not able to browse to the link you provided. I presumed from the url that you were citing the comments of an individual named Brian Sussman.

    With regards to fecal decay, that is just how living things grow (inasmuch as all living things are either plants or consume plants or consume entities that consume plants). Proper decay of fecal matter is actually quite worthy of celebration. But “fecal decay” as a phrase is neither alliterative enough nor sufficiently warm and fuzzy to warrant being the title of a celebration you actually want people to attend.

    Personally, I prefer World Water Day, which occurs on March 22. I also really like World Interfaith Harmony Week (the first week of February).

    Mostly, I like it when the thoughts I am having coalesce around a unifying theme. And that is why I posted on April 22.

  8. Michael,

    I completely agree that we should reject ignorant activism, particularly of the sort that removes personal liberty and effectively advocates for killing unborn children (to follow to the logical conclusion of “I must be able to remain child-free even when I engage in indiscriminant sex”).

    I find it instructive to observe life on isolated islands and sea-going ships. When you are forced to live with the immediate consequences of actions and consumption patterns, civility produces shared behaviors that avoid imposing undue burdens on others. For better or worse, the majority of individuals currently living are substantially isolated from the results of their activities.

  9. No worries. April 22 is also Lenin’s birthday, and April 22, 1970 (the first Earth Day) was on Lenin’s 100th birthday. Chosen by design, not by accident.

    Cheers.

  10. Meg, Wikipedia is an unreliable source …. because everyone can edit it, and put whatever they want on the pages. I would give my students an F on any assignment if they used Wikipedia as a source.

  11. To take this in a different direction, I was once driving with a friend. The friend knew I like to run, and probably knew I had run a marathon.

    It was a pleasant day, and then we drove by some runners. My friend rolled down the window and started yelling at the runners. I don’t recall the exact words, but they were along the lines of “Die you selfish pigs!!!”

    It turned out that in my friend’s town, marathons are usually routed in a particular manner which inevitably strands my friend in their neighborhood for several hours.

    My point was not mainly about the environment (though I used environmental examples). My point was that we are known and we will be held accountable.

    As to consumption of resources, there is no reasonable way to argue that current consumption is sustainable. But consumption is only loosely a function of family size. I agree with Geoff’s 2015 comment that our future will likely involve energy production that isn’t primarily based on combustion of fossil fuels.

    On Wikipedia, one can definitely argue that children ought not get a good grade if citing solely Wikipedia, but it would be foolish to ignore the damage a biased Wikipedia article can inflict. This is why I find value in editing Wikipedia entries that are damning and biased. Though the Jesse Bennett article was just fun and created an entry when previously there was none.

  12. To add my two bits, I don’t like environmentalism as a movement, mostly because those who use it as a bludgeon are woefully ignorant of basic facts. To illustrate my point:
    There was this young woman who moved in next to a dairy farm. She was an animal rights activist, and as soon as she met met the owner she marched right up to the old man and started cussing him out for milking his cows. She ended with, “Why don’t you just buy your milk from the store, like everyone else?”
    True story.
    This is not to say that I don’t think we should be good stewards. I do. However, the way we’re going about it now – from BOTH sides of political discourse – is a failure of both imagination and cultural memory.
    One of God’s first commands was to tend to the earth and its creatures, and I don’t take that lightly. My personal philosophy is to be grateful for what I have, not to waste what I’ve been given, to make the best use of resources, and to make my own small stewardship better every year.
    Our family gardens, and we have a very real appreciation for the law of the harvest. That which you sow, that shall you also reap – for good or bad. It’s good sense to take care of the ground you plant in, especially long-term. Humans obviously affect the environment they live in – for better or worse – depending on their knowledge, skill, and intent.
    Often the problem is that what works in one place does not always translate to another. Inadequate knowledge seemed to be the problem in both of your stories about the trees – and an insufficient spirit of inquiry. Finding out why we do what we do should be the first step to change. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – and if it is, then you’d better figure out how before you start making repairs.

  13. Ah, the old Hegellian Dialectic… Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis.

    Environmentalism as a stalking-horse for Marxism.

    Unintended and unforeseen consequences. Unbridled and un-moderated extraction of resources. Sometimes careless and intentionally negligent disregard for existing and agreed-upon safety regulations. The forgetting of past wisdom. (I like the story of the ancient stone recently rediscovered in Japan that says – paraphrased – “Tsunami water level comes up to HERE. Everything built between here and shore will eventually get wiped out.”

    Dust Bowl. Depletion of the Ogallala aquifer. Passenger pigeon. American buffalo. Depletion of the Aral Sea. Algae bloom feeding off fertilizer dumped into Gulf of Mexico via Mississippi River. Building levees on rivers often just shiftfs the flooding further downstream, and sometimes otherwise prevents aquifers from being recharged by keeping water in rivers that otherwise would eventually be re-absorbed into the aquifer.

    The 1930’s Dust Bowl was eventually “solved” by pumping water from the Ogallala Aquifer. IE, That land is all rich farmland now, but the Ogallala Aquifer has shrunk and the water extraction rate can’t be sustained long term. New and existing wells have to be drilled or re-drilled deeper.

    And if all that is not scary enough, the Yellowstone super-volcano is going to blow some day, and we are going to lose millions of acres of farmland.

    And… so-called “organic” farming is exacerbating the land and water problems because the yield per acre for “organic” crops is only a fraction of normal yield. If ya don’t use chemical fertilizer and pesticides, ya get less edible produce per unit of area when commercial farming. (Home gardening is different if you use local manure and go out and pick off the bugs by hand, but then that ain’t commercial quantities.)

    A generation ago a prophet said “plant your gardens” and we (mostly) didn’t because shopping at the Winn-Dixie was easier. But we’ve now lost the cultural tradition, and our children (Except E.C. and her family) won’t have the tools, tradition, and know-how to plant back yard gardens. Which will likely be needed when the US loses a significant portion of commercial crop land due to the Yellowstone super volcano blowing, and the Ogallala aquifer depleting.

    One year’s supply of food? Go for seven.

  14. I find it instructive to consider that it will take -1000-6000 years to recharge the Ogallala if/when it becomes depleted. And the Ogallala is only one of the 17 of 21 largest aquifers in the world undergoing unsustainable rates of depletion.

    It’s like living off the combination of one’s salary and a trust fund, not asking when the trust fund will be gone.

    For what it’s worth, the book I authored (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Aquaponic Gardening) includes build plans for small-scale backyard systems.

    That said, I am not a rabid chain-myself-to-trees environmentalist any more than I am a attack-reproductive-“planning”-clinic person. I just advocate stepping back from magical thinking and willful ignorance.

  15. There’s plenty of magical thinking and willful ignorance among folks who think we can wean ourselves off fossil fuels anytime in the next 50 years. Ain’t going to happen.

  16. If by “wean” you mean eliminate usage entirely, I can agree.

    But there are some very cool ways to produce energy without the traditional combustion of fossil fuels. Many other countries, including countries we like to consider backwards, are ahead of the United States in this area.

  17. Perhaps these facts will put it into perspective:

    Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute, has produced an excellent report on the Green New Deal, The “New Energy Economy”: An Exercise in Magical Thinking. Here are the highlights:

    Scientists have yet to discover, and entrepreneurs have yet to invent, anything as remarkable as hydrocarbons in terms of the combination of low-cost, high-energy density, stability, safety, and portability. In practical terms, this means that spending $1 million on utility-scale wind turbines, or solar panels will each, over 30 years of operation, produce about 50 million kilowatt-hours (kWh)—while an equivalent $1 million spent on a shale rig produces enough natural gas over 30 years to generate over 300 million kWh.
    Solar technologies have improved greatly and will continue to become cheaper and more efficient. But the era of 10-fold gains is over. The physics boundary for silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells, the Shockley-Queisser Limit, is a maximum conversion of 34% of photons into electrons; the best commercial PV technology today exceeds 26%.
    Wind power technology has also improved greatly, but here, too, no 10-fold gains are left. The physics boundary for a wind turbine, the Betz Limit, is a maximum capture of 60% of kinetic energy in moving air; commercial turbines today exceed 40%.
    The annual output of Tesla’s Gigafactory, the world’s largest battery factory, could store three minutes’ worth of annual U.S. electricity demand. It would require 1,000 years of production to make enough batteries for two days’ worth of U.S. electricity demand. Meanwhile, 50–100 pounds of materials are mined, moved, and processed for every pound of battery produced.

    In other words, there are serious limitations and constraints on green energy production. Yes, things have “gotten better” with respect to renewable energy. But it largely just shifts the externalities (pollution) elsewhere.

    To reiterate: I think we should take care of the earth. And if a few solar panels on your house rooftop makes you feel good inside, then by all means do it for the sake of your self esteem. But let’s stop pretending that green energy is going to do what it claims. Because the claims are patently false. Fossil fuels are here to stay for the long term if we want to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

  18. Michael,

    You sound a bit like I sound when people naively proclaim that all we need to do is desalinate the oceans to produce the freshwater we need.

    There are ways and ways of skinning this particular cat (the energy cat). I’m a bit frustrated that American society did most of its infrastructure allocation during a timeframe when we figured that everybody would have a car.

    I live in the east where such city design was not necessary. I’m guessing you live in the west, where distances are vast and some means of transportation cities at least is required.

    I think our respective positions are relatively clear, so I don’t know that it’s terribly fruitful to continue restating our positions over and over again.

  19. My perspective may be different. I consider fossil fuels undeniably a moral good. All of the advancements of the last 180 years or so could not have taken place without fossil fuels. I consider the hatred for fossil fuels today pretty darned ignorant. And I agree with Michael that most of the “green” technologies have been massive fails. The most successful green source of power — by far — has been nuclear, but of course that doesn’t count for the environmental fanatics, so we must throw that in the same waste bucket as fossil fuels (apparently). Will fossil fuels become a quaint relic before 2100? I would say it is very possible given the pace of technological innovation, but at this point it is difficult to imagine what would replace fossil fuels. But if some new green technology that actually works is invented, I will certainly welcome it. Meanwhile, many people need to read this book:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moral_Case_for_Fossil_Fuels

  20. This world that we have been given is great and it will recieve a celestial glory but after it has passed as all things with a tempral form then be resurected with its spiriatual nature that and fossil fuels are best current source with alteratives you get dead burds in california electric car batterys that require lithium other rare earth metals exctracted by mines and fossil fueled vichles from third world countrys like bolivia or africa its how countrys develope or gulf states evolve from us buying there oil and they went from desret huts to crazy dubia,s tallest buildings we may not need the fuel but it fills up the car and some one else pocket and country now does that me that everyone is goning to be equal no no one is equal in life only in death to be judged

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