My fondest childhood memories are of my family piling into our big gold van and fleeing the flat deserts of Texas toward the mountains and rivers of the West. As we climbed in elevation, my father, a geologist, would point out the window at rock formations and explain how the layers were deposited just so and how the rocks contained a record of past processes that quietly shaped the landscapes in front of my eyes. My mother would take pictures of wildflowers, collect pine cones, and revel in the turning of the seasons.
Their love for nature was contagious, and I fell in love with the world of living things too.
Years later, while serving my mission among the mountains and forests of Alaska, I developed an even deeper respect for the connections between God’s human and nonhuman creations and decided to devote my life to the conservation and study of nature.
Throughout my studies, I’ve been encouraged by principles of earth stewardship taught by prophets, apostles, and other Church leaders. For example:
At the beginning of this dispensation, the Lord told Joseph Smith that He wanted the Saints to be “accountable, as [stewards] over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures” (Doctrine and Covenants 104:13).
President Russell M. Nelson has taught: “As beneficiaries of the divine Creation, what shall we do? We should care for the earth, be wise stewards over it, and preserve it for future generations.”1
In 2019, Sister Sharon Eubank, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency and president of Latter-day Saint Charities, discussed the connection between God’s children and the earth by stating: “Some people will say, ‘Isn’t there something more important to do? Shouldn’t we be caring for the poor versus caring for the earth?’ And my question is, are they not linked so inextricably that we can’t do one without caring for the other?”2
And finally, President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke these words directly to our generation in March 2020: “I see … your commitment to a more sustainable future for all of God’s children and creatures and the earth. Whether it is environmental, economic, or social, I would hope you will continue to find creative solutions to help protect the future for all of God’s children in our world. We should do whatever we can to protect and preserve the earth, to make life better for those who will live here. We have a divine stewardship, as noted in Doctrine and Covenants 59:16–20.”3
These teachings and many others4 highlight our responsibility to care for God’s creations, both today and for future generations. So how can we as young adult Latter-day Saints respond to these prophetic teachings more fully today? Here are a few ideas to consider.
In the past few decades, nations across the world have been experiencing increases in pollution, deforestation, drought, species extinction, biodiversity loss, and other challenges that are intensifying.5 We need to always keep in mind that God created this earth for us, His children, and it’s our responsibility to care for and protect it (see 1 Nephi 17:36; Doctrine and Covenants 59:20; 103:13).
We can start by learning more about these and other environmental problems that may exist in our communities and countries. As Latter-day Saints, we’re taught to be informed about “things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; … things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:79). Surely the Lord wants us to care about the issues that affect His creations—both this earth and its inhabitants.
Learning about the role we play in our local ecological communities can also help us discover how our individual actions affect the environment. In our increasingly connected world, people’s individual actions on one continent are now collectively contributing to the environmental effects felt by God’s children in other parts of the world (for example, things like rising sea levels, food shortages, plastic pollution, and invasive species). This relationship with our global neighbors provides a whole new meaning to the commandment to “love [our] neighbour as [ourselves]” (Matthew 22:39).
It’s good to learn about environmental problems, and even better to do something about them. Here are a few practical steps you can take:
Go outside and learn about the plants, animals, and ecosystems around you. Knowledge leads to understanding and respect; use field guides, online resources, or apps to get to know God’s creations more personally.
Choose to walk, skate, cycle, carpool, or use public transportation where available. You can enjoy the outdoors a little bit more while at the same time reducing pollution.
Buy local. This has the double benefit of directly supporting your community and cutting carbon emissions (products grown or made locally don’t need to travel as far).
Plant a garden. There are few food sources more sustainable or personally fulfilling than growing your own!6 As a young adult, you might have limited space, so start small by growing an herb garden or consider joining a community garden.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Consume less, carry reusable grocery bags and water bottles, and check what materials are recyclable in your city.
Use less water and energy. Things like taking shorter showers, turning off lights, and unplugging appliances when not in use can all add up.
Get involved. You could consider volunteering or supporting reputable environmental groups.
Vote. Take the time to be educated, and vote the way you feel will best affect environmental issues and policies.
Be “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (see Doctrine and Covenants 58:26–29). We’ve been taught the principles—now it’s time to act on them.
You don’t have to feel overwhelmed by this list: to start, choose just one item and put energy behind it. Doing something is better than nothing. In doing these simple acts of environmental service, you may feel that your contribution doesn’t matter, that it won’t make any difference against the magnitude of the world’s ecological issues, but remember that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
In spiritual matters, we don’t stop choosing the right just because the world is growing more wicked! We know that our small acts of kind service won’t stop all the evil in the world, but we continue to perform them anyway, blessing lives in the process. We can have a similar attitude toward the earth and her inhabitants.
Throughout my life, I’ve had the privilege to travel and conduct research in many different countries and landscapes. Despite the drastic differences in species, climate, and human culture that exist on our planet, there is one unifying principle among each of these ecosystems: they are all connected and beautifully alive.
When Christ returns to this earth—a world He created to sustain us physically and spiritually, and one that He commanded us to preserve—I, for one, hope to have done my best to take care of His beautiful creation.