Commentary: Environmental solutions depend on reason, not faith

A climate activist with a colorful mask attends the March for Climate in a protest against global warming in Katowice, Poland, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, as the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference takes place in the city. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Solid environmental solutions depend on reason, not faith.

Steven T. Collis (chairman of a nationwide religious institution and First Amendment practice group) argued the opposite in his commentary in The Salt Lake Tribune of Dec. 9. He suggested that the environmental movement has failed and a better solution can be derived from the scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet environmental solutions have flourished, are effective and sustainable, and have proven results based on the scientific method.

For example, protecting wildlife and ecosystem function through formal wilderness designation secures those values. Advancing renewable energy sources like Utah’s solar potential and reducing coal dependency have definable benefits: sustainability, reduction in air pollution and reduction in the warming effects of climate change. Plus there are obvious benefits to the conservation of water. Ranchers and farmers consume 84 percent of Utah’s water and, at least in Huntsville, waste 54 percent of it.

Workable solutions are promoted by sensible, smart environmentalists across our planet, yet these are the same people whom Collis derisively labels as radical, extremists, screamers and ranters.

Contrast those environmental solutions with that offered by the LDS Church.

Collis cites doctrine with, “As beneficiaries of this divine creation, we should care for the earth, be wise stewards over it, and preserve it for future generations. The earth and all things on it are part of God’s plan for the redemption of His children and should be used responsibly to sustain the human family (see 1 Nephi 17:36; Moses 1:39; Abraham 3:24–25).” And, “Our Heavenly Father created this beautiful earth, with all its abundance, for our benefit and use” (see D&C 109:8) (italics mine).

Happy general advice. But nice thoughts do not translate into protection. If they did, LDS devotees like Cliven Bundy would not run 900 cattle on marginal range that can barely sustain 100 and would not abdicate financial responsibility as a “wise steward,” nor would LDS scofflaw and recently elected state Rep. Phil Lyman be convicted of misdemeanor conspiracy for leading an ATV event in archaeologically rich Recapture Canyon. It is weak and insincere for Collis to claim that caring for the Earth and being “wise stewards over it” are sufficient. The wise steward standard lacks definition and, apparently, followers.

Underlying LDS doctrine is dominion of humans over all species, that “the earth and all things on it … should be used responsibly to sustain the human family.” Yet we share this planet with all species. Rather than subjugation, environmentalists are dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of the natural world around us and fostering a reverence for all its creatures.

Finally, environmentalists recognize that every significant global environmental and social problem can be reduced or eliminated by reducing the human population on Earth. There would be no need for government boondoggles like shipping Utah coal to California or tapping Lake Powell to fuel St. George sprawl. Salt Lake Valley’s winter inversion would disappear. There’d be no gridlock in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Rush hour in Salt Lake City would not be constant.

Yet, rather than counsel its members on the negative societal impacts of additional children, the LDS Church doctrine advances one of its core religious principals — large families. Having the blessings of more spirit children is exactly the opposite of being a wise steward of the Earth. There is no greater hypocrisy in the LDS faith.

Environmental solutions already exist and more will arise based on the infallibility of the scientific method. Americans can rely on that. Poorly defined, faith-based assertions will irrevocably mislead our advancement toward a comfortable global future.

Mark Luttrell

Former Utahn Mark Luttrell has advocated for science-based conservation since the sixth grade, primarily in his home state of Alaska.