Ecology, Pollution, and Consumerism
September 1971

“Ecology, Pollution, and Consumerism,” New Era, Sept. 1971, 20


Ecology, Pollution, and Consumerism

“I submit that no people should be more concerned about the earth than Latter-day Saints. But if that sounds like another familiar cry for quick ecological solutions, it is not. We have enough of those. Too many. Unfortunately, ecology has become a fad.

But let’s hope that the fad aspects won’t permanently cloud the real issue or delay possible solutions any longer.”

The speaker was Dr. Joseph R. Murphy, a highly competent Latter-day Saint zoologist and entomologist who was serving as discussion leader for the workshop on ecology, pollution, and consumerism. As you might expect, the workshop was filled.

Have the fad ecologists already muddled the real environmental picture? Dr Murphy, describing himself as an “optimistic ecologist,” believes that they have. The students attending the workshop concurred, believing that a lack of facts often causes a polarization of enthusiasts, some of whom move so far out to one extreme or the other that they cease to be open-minded. Both extremes paralyze positive action—one through fear, the other through apathy.

“Paul Ehrlich, the famed Stanford University ecologist, is typical of the doom and gloom ecologists on the one end of the spectrum for whom cataclysmic disaster and the day of reckoning loom on the horizon,” Dr. Murphy observed. “At the other extreme are those who claim we have nothing at all to worry about for them, everything will surely be all right.” Industries and their much-discussed pollution of the air seem to present an example of how polarization occurs.

Confronted by well-meaning but possibly misinformed citizens with unrealistic demands for immediate pollution control, industry may react defensively and threaten, “If you force us to go to the expense of cleaning up, we’ll pull out of your town; then you’ll be sorry.” The truth is that many industries are cooperating in controlling pollution. A citizens group that is uninformed about the true nature of the problem and its possible solutions may only prolong the time before improvement is made.

There are also some shortsighted persons around who claim that the ecology movement is nothing more than an attempt to detract support from “more important” issues, like racial equality and poverty.

“I repeat: get the facts,” Dr. Murphy urged.

However, the more we discussed the problem, the more apparent it became that we need to define ecology. Dr. Murphy said ecology is “the mutual relations between organisms and their environment.” It is more than cleaning up lakes and picking up cans at the park. Anytime any of us draws upon natural resources, we step into the ecology picture.

One participant noted that rapidly increasing demands on resources are due not so much to the increasing population as to our increasing desires to consume the fruits of modern technology.

Dr. Murphy agrees. “In fact, mankind everywhere often degrades technology by its use of it. Often, technology creates a device and then convinces the public that it needs the creation. ‘Who needs an electric toenail clipper?’ technology will ask. ‘You do!’ Soon life isn’t livable without it.

In America, a black and white television set seems to be part of the minimum subsistence level, so far as many people are concerned.”

At this point a thought was introduced from a contemporary publication:

“Albert Einstein once told the students at the California Institute of Technology that he doubted whether present-day Americans were any happier than the Indians who were inhabiting the continent when the white man first came. Not many are likely to agree with so extreme a statement, but quite a few, I think, would admit that, leaving the Indians out of it, we are not as much happier than our grandfathers as it would seem our gains in health, security, comfort, [and] convenience … ought to make us. Does this failure to pay off have something to do with a misjudgment concerning what man really wants most or, at least, a failure to take into account certain of the things he wants besides comfort, health, and the rest?” (Baja California and the Geography of Hope.)

“Well,” asked Doug Woodruff, student at the University of Alberta at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, “if that’s the problem, how do we get people to be less materialistically oriented?”

First of all, it was agreed, we start with ourselves. “Mormons, of all people, should be nonmaterialistic,” Dr. Murphy suggested. “But concern about ecology in the Church is not new. All of our theology indicates that the earth is a very important place, spiritually and temporally.” To the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed: “Yea, all things which come of the earth … are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart … for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.” (D&C 59:18–19.)

Brigham Young said this:

“… There is only so much property in the world. There are the elements that belong to this globe, and no more. We do not go to the moon tomorrow; neither send to the sun or any of the planets; all our commercial transactions must be confined to this little earth and its wealth cannot be increased or diminished; and though the improvements in the arts of life which have taken place within the memory of many now living are very wonderful, there is no question that extravagance has more than kept pace with them.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 304.)

“There is a great work for the Saints to do. Progress, and improve upon, and make beautiful everything around you. Cultivate the earth and cultivate your minds. Build cities, adorn your habitations, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labours you may do so with pleasure, and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations. In the meantime, continually seek to adorn your minds with all the graces of the Spirit of Christ.” (JD, vol. 8, p. 83.)

It is obvious that Latter-day Saints have ample precedence in the ecology thing. Our whole doctrine is based on giving man joy and upgrading his personality talents, traits, and environment. Latter-day Saints have special values to offer to any discussion or action dealing with these themes.