G. Michael Alder, “Earth—A Gift of Gladness,” Ensign, Jul 1991, 27
God has made us responsible for the earth and all living things. How well are we doing?
As I was reading the scriptures recently, my mind flashed back to a Sunday morning thirty-five years ago. I was ten years old at the time, walking home from church. The sun was breaking through the trees with those wondrous, slanted rays, backlighting leaves and turning their edges to gold. The fields beyond the trees were covered with color—lavender and pink. The delicate hue was suddenly everywhere. I was surrounded and stunned by the beauty. There was no one to share the experience with, but the Spirit whispered, and for the first time I sensed Heavenly Father’s love for me, expressed through his creations.
The verse that brought that memory to mind is in Doctrine and Covenants 59. There the Lord tells the Prophet Joseph that “all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart, … to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.” The Lord goes on to tell us that he is pleased to give all these things for our benefit and use, but that they are to be used “with judgment, not to excess.” (D&C 59:18, 20; italics added.)
A recent awareness of man’s activities on earth came to me in the form of a report from a Boy Scout. He wrote this paragraph for his Environmental Science merit badge: “Although nature doesn’t have much of a chance against us humans, the mountains are still a place of beauty. There are laws that protect parks. Most people don’t care anyway. If we would ask ourselves if what we are doing would harm this mountain or that forest, maybe nature would have a better chance.”
The relevance of this simple message comes with repetitive impact these days as we read about the environmental damage caused by such man-made problems as acid rain, excessive carbon dioxide and other chemicals in the atmosphere, deforestation, and the pollution of our oceans, lakes, and streams.
Scientific American has noted that at the beginning of this century mankind did not have the power to radically alter the global environment. Today we have that power, and as a result, serious, mostly unintended changes are taking place in the air, water, and land around us. These changes outstrip our present ability to cope with them, largely because the world’s financial, social, and political systems are out of step with natural processes. (See Gro Harlem Brundtland, “How to Secure Our Common Future,” Scientific American, Sept. 1989, p. 190.)
At one time, there may have been reason to be skeptical about the idea that we are damaging the earth on a global scale. But no longer. The evidence is mounting that we are doing ourselves and our mortal home serious damage. An observatory on Mauna Loa in Hawaii far away from large industry has recorded a rate of 1.5 to 2 parts per million increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1958. Similar observations were made at the South Pole. A continued increase in carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, produced by our vast consumption of oil, coal, and other fossil fuels, appears to be responsible for a general increase in temperature worldwide. (See Sylvan H. Wittwer, “The Greenhouse Effect,” Carolina Biology 163:8.) That increase threatens possible major changes in climate around the world, potentially causing drought in some areas and greater rainfall in others.
Evidence for this global warming also comes from studies made by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which analyzed records going back to 1860. The studies showed that the greatest global temperature increase has taken place in the last decade. Carbon dioxide and trace gases produced by our industrial societies were considered to be the cause. (See R. A. Haughton and G. M. Woodwell, “Global Climatic Change,” Scientific American, April 1989, p. 37.)
Another consequence of our burning large amounts of fossil fuels has been a condition called acid rain. Forests, streams, and lakes have all been seriously damaged in regions where pollutants in the atmosphere are converted into mild acids that are brought back to earth through rain and snow. As the acid accumulates, it kills both plant and animal life.
At the same time, we are combining that indirect and largely unintended attack with a more direct attack: deforestation. As forests are cut in many parts of the earth, the effect they have on slowing global warming decreases, and the loss of animal and plant habitat increases.
In Doctrine and Covenants 104:17, the Lord said, “For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” [D&C 104:17] My impression on reading those words is that the Lord is an ample provider—but he did not plan that we waste the gifts he has given us. The scriptures make it clear that we have dominion over the earth, but they also make it clear what that dominion means: We are to care for our planetary home and use its resources wisely. It was never intended that we abuse it.
Unfortunately, it is the nature of most people that when they are given authority, they begin to exercise “unrighteous dominion.” (See D&C 121:39.) I confess that when I was a young man, my respect for God’s creations was not a high priority. My attitude was not much different from that of my friends. Together we used and abused nature as we felt inclined. Scouting introduced me to the concept of conservation, but somehow I was slow to abandon my “consumer mentality.”
Now, as a trained biologist and a member of a bishopric, I find my past behavior totally out of line with being a son of God. A disregard for the gifts of nature is an attitude contrary to the instructions given by our Father in Heaven. We all enjoy scenic vistas, wilderness experiences, or opportunities to commune with nature. Too often, however, wise dominion conflicts with convenience, and usually it is convenience that prevails.
However, restoration is possible, though in the case of the damage we are doing to our global environment, including the destruction of living species, restitution is very difficult if not impossible. After all, how do you restore a species once it is gone? Some measures must be truly global in scope, involving governments worldwide. But there are also steps we can take as individuals.
Every spring our stake high priests group spends a Saturday morning cleaning the roadsides in our neighborhood. It is hard to imagine the good that participating in that project has done for us all. The amount of trash collected always astounds us, and we come away from the experience sobered by the realization that even acts like littering can add up to big problems.
It is also sobering to recognize that in the support of our living here on earth, some life must be sacrificed. We all need to ponder that humbling fact. Whenever the United States Army Corps of Engineers draft plans that will disturb a habitat, they must also draft plans on how they will mitigate the effects of their activities. This means they have to reclaim, restore, or develop new habitats that are equal to those being destroyed. If we have to destroy life or the habitat of a species for any reason, we could try to adopt the same policy. Why not have a personal plan to mitigate our own destructiveness by building, adding back, or supporting life whenever we can?
Every year we hear about worthwhile projects that improve our environment. Why not make it a point to be less passive in the future and to participate more? As we do so, our understanding will grow, we will effect positive changes, and we will be humbled to see what it takes to successfully reclaim, restore, or beautify natural areas. Heavenly Father has already provided these processes naturally; we need but learn how to copy and use them.
I used to wonder why President Spencer W. Kimball admonished us so often to raise gardens. But as my gardening skills grew, I came to appreciate the wisdom of his counsel. Not only do we center that activity at or near our homes where the focus of our attention should be, but we learn much about the processes of nature. When we work with the soil and learn ways of producing food from the earth, we begin to understand the delicate balances in nature. This harmony is difficult to see if the only way we get our food is by visiting the supermarket.
Gardening also teaches us that life is fragile. It teaches us that all living things require food, water, space to grow, clean air to breathe, and protection from natural and man-made enemies in ways that God has established. This is true of both plants and animals. Pollution, erosion, waste, destruction of unique environments, careless use of resources, and uncontrolled “sport” killing destroy those creatures and the places in which they live.
Can Heavenly Father be any less pleased with this willful destruction of nature than when we break the Word of Wisdom? Certainly, if we are to become like him, we must begin to master the skills necessary to preserve and encourage the processes of life. It seems to me that part of our responsibility as caretakers for the earth is to learn about those processes and take advantage of opportunities to protect our world’s resources. Ecology and the natural sciences should be areas of interest for us all. (See D&C 88:79.)
These matters are vital. Apart from the fact that our personal safety is being increasingly endangered by the deterioration of our environment, we need to recognize that someday we will be asked to account for how we have managed our resources. What will our answer be when the Lord asks how we treated the earth—this gift he gave us gladly and which he asks us to use with gladness?
How You Can Help
Here are a few ideas you might consider in trying to take better care of the earth:
• Find ways to reduce unnecessary personal consumption of energy, water, wood products, and other products that come from scarce resources.
• Stop using products that damage the environment.
• Recycle metal, glass, plastic, and paper products.
• Be conscientious in disposing of chemical wastes properly.
• Learn more about natural processes and earth science.
• Cultivate a garden where possible; learn the art and science of composting.
• Adopt a conservation rather than a consumption attitude.
• Be grateful.
Dennis Rasmussen, “Three Gardens,” New Era, Apr 1972, 14
“… I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
“And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26.)
We celebrate this month the anniversary of what one writer has called the strangest story in the world. No matter how familiar we are with this story, it still remains infinitely above our understanding. It is more wonderful than any dream. It is unlike any other account. And yet it is true.
Because the story is true, the children of Adam shall live forever. Grasping this truth, man can hope for limitless, joyful tomorrows.
“He is not here, for he is risen.” (Matt. 28:6.) These words announced the most significant victory ever to be won in the history of man: a victory of God and man over death and sin. It was a victory for God because his power won it. It was a victory for man because Jesus, subject to all the temptations of mankind, proved that man can live above sin. Our Savior, being both Son of God and son of man, at great personal cost and personal valor, finally secured the field so that mankind could be redeemed. Our Redeemer, in awful loneliness, transformed longing into reality and plan into achievement as he walked the road toward a battle that he alone could fight.
Along that road there were three gardens—gardens that symbolize the great events in the plan. In the beginning God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and he placed there the parents of the human family. We are told that God walked in that garden in the cool of the evening, blessing the earth with his presence. Then, through his free choice, man left this garden, never to return, and entered a world of suffering, sin, and death. God withdrew his personal presence and man was left to walk by faith and the Spirit in a hostile world, in a world that was now enemy-occupied territory, for everywhere was found the influence of the adversary, the prince of this world.
Thus man began his long journey through mortality, made bearable by simple moments of hope, companionship, beauty, love, family closeness, and earth-oriented goal achievements. As he ventured further and further from the garden, the awareness of his true condition settled over him like a dark cloud. This was a world of time where everything would soon pass away. Youth, physical beauty, even life—all would one day be gone. Man, a little lower than the angels, knew that at the end of all his most cherished dreams and associations was a grave and a few spadefuls of earth.
His ideals never seemed quite within his grasp. Always there was a dark and sinister force trying to pull him down, tempting him with strange, unholy thoughts and deeds.
“I have seen,” says the writer of Ecclesiastes, “all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
“That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.” (Eccl. 1:14–15.)
Yet beside this cry of despair there was another voice, the voice of a small, politically insignificant people claiming that beyond all hope and from beyond the world, help would come. “For I know that my redeemer liveth,” cried Job, “and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” (Job 19:25.) Could such a thing be believed?
In a small province of the Imperial Roman Empire, an aged man, Simeon, first believed, and then knew beyond doubt: “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
“And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
“And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
“Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
“For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
“Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” (Luke 2:25–31.)
At some time in our Savior’s own earthly youth, he knew what he would do when grown. He came to know that he was the person prepared from before the foundation of the world to be offered as a lamb in sacrifice. His life, by its very nature, was to carry him toward a grim rendezvous with the prince of darkness. And long before that crisis came, his face was set toward Jerusalem and toward a garden called Gethsemane. There he would meet his adversary. There all things would hang in balance, awaiting the outcome.
As the duel began that night, his seconds fell asleep. In terrible loneliness he stepped off the brink of earthly support and plummeted downward in his spirits, grappling with his foe and his duty of love until, in a way unknown to us, he had plumbed to infinity the wages of human sin and suffering. And then he rose. He had carried with him the whole of the world’s weakness into a garden and a night; now he must bear it up a hill toward day.
As he hung on the cross, he experienced that which was essential to his victory and yet almost too much to bear. His feeling was beyond words as he pleaded, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” [Matt. 27:46] The sustaining power of heaven had been withdrawn. The face of his Father had turned away and he was left unto himself that the awful battle could be his alone—to win—or lose. From the purity and love and power of his own soul he drew his measure of strength, and (as it appears) breaking his heart, fulfilled his quest. “It is finished,” said the Savior, and then he died.
The power of sin passed away in that moment. The victory of love had been won. The Son of God had ransomed his Father’s children paying a price of suffering none of us really understand.
Then, on the third day, friends of the Christ, coming at daybreak to the place of his burial.,found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. To Mary, lingering in confusion and grief before the abandoned tomb, it was given to behold the risen Christ—walking again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.