Jun 16, 2008

An Inconvenient Or An Irrelevant Truth?

A few night ago I watched Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" for the first time. Most of you have probably seen it (if not, I recommend it for the wake-up call) and for most of us, climate change is (or should be) high up on our list of things to worry about -- unless of course you're Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck.

So, all the news and warnings we hear regarding climate change are a real downer. It's frightening and depressing, to put it quite bluntly. After watching something like "An Inconvenient Truth," you can either come away from it feeling motivated and determined to save our beloved planet, or feeling like it's all hopeless so you may as well just continue to enjoy your SUV and long, hot showers, since giving them up would only be a drop in the bucket.

The main problem I see is that those with the means to make the biggest difference -- enough that we could perhaps see a change for the better -- are generally the world's most prosperous nations where the negative effects of climate change are either not really negative at all (such as longer, warmer summers in the north) or virtually non-existent. The US has seen more frequent and powerful hurricanes, but the average North American or European is probably not seeing or feeling climate change to the extent that people in southeast Asia or the Pacific islands are now noticing. Where I live, the biggest "crisis" has been not enough snow to go skiing in the winter. Ouch.

So what connection does climate change have to Mormonism, if any? Most of the Mormons I know aren't the most environmentally-conscious people. Most are either ignorant and/or apathetic about things like the environment or animal rights. So I guess that makes the average Mormon not much different from the rest of society in that regard. Tree-hugging vegetarians are stereotypically left-wing Liberals, while Mormons are stereotypically (though accurately) overwhelmingly right-wing Conservatives. I will take the liberty of lumping in most (but not all) Christians in that category.

So besides differing political persuasions, is there another reason why Mormons aren't more active in environmental and/or animal causes? When you think about it, who of all people should care more about both those things than Mormons? We believe that God created Mother Earth for our benefit, along with all the animals and resources that came along with her, and that we've been instructed to be wise stewards of these gifts. We are also perhaps one of the few religions that even believe that plants and animals, all living things, have a spirit just as we human beings do. So we should be treating all these things with care and respect, right? Or does this belief give us an excuse to exploit Mother Nature, satisfying our conscience by knowing that all the plants and animals that we do away with are going on to a better place in the Hereafter?

While I was watching Al Gore's film, these thoughts came to mind because I suddenly remembered something that I heard in sacrament meeting a few months back. One of the stake high councilmen, whom I always enjoy listening to, said something that made me think. Now, I don't wish to puts words into his mouth, or to accuse this brother of justifying maltreatment of the environment, but I did sort of interpret his words to possibly give the impression that it's all irrelevant. He was talking about how we hear so much negativity in the world today. (Very true.) That it's easy to become discouraged or frightened by all the bad news out there (Also very true.) He mentioned climate change, and how all the predictions are bleak and scary. (True once again.) But it didn't matter, he said, because when the Lord is watching out for us and as long as we remain faithful, He will take care of us. (OK, I believe that, and yet is he trying to imply that these worldly concerns really don't matter??) It made me think a lot about how our faith can affect our actions, at least where the environment is concerned, if we are willing and able to just put our complete trust in the Lord. Then that old saying came to mind, "The Lord helps them who help themselves."

We could say that if Antarctica is gone in 30 years from now, it'll be OK because The Second Coming could be before then. Or we could say that environmental disaster has been predicted in the scriptures and it's a sign of the times, so there's nothing we can really do about it except to not worry and trust in the Lord. Both of these statements could be true, but does putting our complete trust in the Lord make Mother Earth's bleak future irrelevant?

How ironic it is that we, who are of faith, often have to look to atheists or unbelievers to set an ethical example. Those who believe that they have to make the most of this one and only life they've been given, so that their children and grandchildren will be able to have an enjoyable earthly stay, even while they themselves are no more.

8 comments:

Dan Knudsen said...

What bothers me most about the Climate Change Movement is its religious fervor (and the condemnation of all who disagree with it), along with the selling of Indulgences to take away our Climate Change stains--and no repentance is required, just the giving of our money so we can feel better about ourselves and say we're doing our part to help. It's the old "Come unto me and for your money I will forgive your sins" syndrome. The only ones who really do anything are those at the bottom who can't afford the Indulgences. Those at the top continue to do what they've always done, but contribute to the proper places (Al Gore owns stocks in those "churches" that accept these donations), while preaching to everyone else, not as fortunate as they are, that they have to cut back their meager life styles to who-knows-what? I have received criticism over the past 50 years since I've always conserved energy usage, and worn out my clothing before throwing it way, etc. And now I'm supposed to do more--to my detriment?

The Faithful Dissident said...

Dan, I can understand your frustration. I know that many see Al Gore as a big hypocrite, but even if he is, do we really have the time to be pointing fingers at each other? He has, at the very least, gotten this issue the attention that I feel it needs. I remember as a little kid, my dad teaching us to avoid chlorofluorcarbons, even though we didn't have a clue what they were, because they were destroying the ozone layer. And the term "global warming" has been around for almost as long as I can remember. So it's not really anything new. It's just become more urgent because it's progressing a lot faster than expected.

I admire the fact that you have stuck to conserving whatever you can for the past 50 years. It doesn't surprise me that people have mocked you for it. Even nowadays I get criticized for turning off lights in rooms where no one is there or for walking 20 min each way to the store instead of driving. And now you and I are supposed to do more to our detriment? Well, I hate to say it, but yes. Why? Well, what's the alternative?

Anonymous said...

I think when you have an end of days philosophy like the LDS and many evangelicals there's no reason to be engaged in preserving the viability and quality of life here and now. It's easier to dismiss or scapegoat others and look to the Second Coming and deux ex machina solutions.

I've been reading an interesting book by James Reston Jr. on the first millennium and the rise of Christianity. The parallels are striking and they also believed they were coming to the end of days. The hysteria and upheaval lasted about 20 years before they settled down into new social orders that are still the framework of the European civilization we know today.

I hope when we get past our millennial crazies the damage done by our present and past neglect won't be irreversible. OTOH, there have been many times that civilization has been on the brink of the breakdown of one system or another and some technology presented other solutions.

As always, I think we can just do what is in each of our power to attend to the information that presents itself and follow it as responsibly as we can. I don't think that what pressure we can bring to bear on government hurts and I don't think it hurts to stop buying useless crap either.

anonymous alice

Tim said...

What bothers me is that Al Gore makes this film about the enviroment--yet his house and lifestyle leave a huge "carbon" footprint.
On the other hand President Bush is accused of being terrible when it comes to the enviroment--but his house in Texas is considered an great example of leaving a very small "carbon" footprint.
This is an interesting "movement" to watch. I agree that we need to be better stewards of the Earth. I'm turning off lights and we used an electric blanket this year during the winter and turned off the heater at night (and it did save $$). But the rich and influential will continue to leave their huge "carbon" footprints while preaching doom and gloom to the little people.

Anonymous said...

"What bothers me is that Al Gore makes this film about the enviroment--yet his house and lifestyle leave a huge "carbon" footprint."

That's one of those myths passed along by Fox News and the political right. In fact, Gore's house is very green and is a net provider of electricity due to the solar and other solutions they've employed. Meanwhile, when people who are producing electricity tie into existing grids they are charged at the highest possible rate. People who are more interested in tarring Gore's image than getting to the truth use the dollar value of the electricity he consumes to extrapolate that he is a large consumer when his use is minimal and the electricty he generates through non-polluting technology supplies others in his area.

As for Bush's stewardship of resources, he flies around the country in a huge jet consuming a full load of aviation fuel for a handful of passengers with no more excuse than wanting to collect money for partisan purposes. I understand that he can't exactly fly commercial but he could skip the fundraising trips that are something other than his job as President because just one of those trips probably consumes more energy and pollutes far more than Al Gore does in a year.

I didn't mean to get partisan but the truth is the truth and deserves to be heard and not misrepresented.


anonymous alice

Tim said...

Sorry Anonymous but you're wrong. Al Gore's house does leave a huge carbon footprint and is not as green as you may think--it's not a myth--it's real--and I didn't get my information from Fox News. I checked it out myself on the urban legends website.
As for President Bush flying around in a huge plane--yeah he's the President that's how he gets around.
By the way why doesn't Al Gore fly around in a big plane to make speeches? If he's so concerned about the environment couldn't he just stay home and broadcast via the web? OR maybe he could take alternate sources of transportation like Greyhound or train. I bet that big plane is really nice and comfy though.
Not being partisan--just pointing out the inconvenient truth.

Tim said...

Sorry Anonymous but you're wrong. Al Gore's house does leave a huge carbon footprint and is not as green as you may think--it's not a myth--it's real--and I didn't get my information from Fox News. I checked it out myself on the urban legends website.
As for President Bush flying around in a huge plane--yeah he's the President that's how he gets around.
By the way why doesn't Al Gore fly around in a big plane to make speeches? If he's so concerned about the environment couldn't he just stay home and broadcast via the web? OR maybe he could take alternate sources of transportation like Greyhound or train. I bet that big plane is really nice and comfy though.
Not being partisan--just pointing out the inconvenient truth.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Tim, what's the date on the urban myths article?

Here's an article from CNN from last fall:

http://edition.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/13/gore.home.ap/index.html

I think it's good that the critics are keeping tabs on him, to make sure that he practices what he preaches, but I think it's also important to realize that making these changes can take time as new technologies become available.

I think that Gore could perhaps find more green ways of travel, but I don't know enough about his schedule to make that jugdment. Yes, he could perhaps do some web broadcasts. At the same time, sometimes nothing is as effective as being there in person. It can be hard to build up diplomatic relationships over a webcam. And if I won a Nobel Peace Prize, I for one would want to pick it up in person.

I don't know much about the Bush ranch. The house itself could very well be "green." But being a ranch, I'm guessing that he has cows, which I'm guessing are sent to slaughter for meat consumption, which is hardly what I would call "green." From what I understand, Gore stems from a family of cattle ranchers but is now vegetarian, which we all know is a major way of decreasing the impact of our carbon footprint.

As for the presedential 747, I'm sorry, but I'm trying to understand how that can be justified and I've got nothing. Leaders of other countries fly commercial, even some European royalty do. I realize that for security reasons Bush can't, but even if he couldn't get by on a lear jet, scaling down to a smaller plane would maybe help. Certainly he doesn't need a 747!