Longtime nature-lover Ty Markham converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while in high school and fell in love with Utah while attending BYU. Now, she runs a bed & breakfast in Torrey, near Capitol Reef National Park, and is the co-chair director of the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance. MESA is a year-old movement that grew out of groups with similar pro-environment
philosophies that focused on education. MESA encourages its members to participate in activism, taking a proactive stance—through protests, events and more—in defense of the Earth. Visit MESAStewardship.org to learn more about the organization and upcoming events.
Does the existence of an LDS pro-environment group strike people as odd?
Our faith has a very strong foundation in being loving and careful stewards of this planet in terms of protecting its pristine, radiant life force. LDS people are already primed to be concerned. We want to raise the banner for activism at another level, because what we see happening is that the worst aspects of ultra-capitalism are now coming back to roost, and we have to watch out and not allow greed and pride to overtake our better judgment in the way we conduct our lives and in the way we protect our cities and our communities. When we lose perspective and we start saying, “Oh, anything for jobs,” then we are allowing the wolf into the sheep pen.
So we’re now speaking out politically, and encouraging LDS people to speak out and to vote their conscience on these matters, and to get out there with banners—not just leave it to the same groups of activists that get dismissed by the powers that be. This is not just a fringe issue, and we can’t leave it to those few hearty souls that do this every time while we sit back in our the comfort of our homes and just let them do the hard work. It’s time for us LDS people to put our shoulders to the wheel in the sense of turning this situation around.
Isn’t the Earth here for us to use?
The Earth is not something that we own in order to exploit everything out of it as quickly as we can for the big money. That would be an egregious offense. It’s not for personal greed; it’s for the benefit of all. We really have to look at our values and our lives and evaluate what kind of world we want for our children and grandchildren. I look at my grandchildren now, and I worry about their future—what kind of a world are we leaving for them? I’m not worried that they’re not going to get a job driving a truck for a polluting industry. I want them to be educated. And what kind of world do we want them to live in? Do we want them to live in a filthy, polluted world? Are we just trying to burn through everything as fast as we can? We have to think differently now, going forward.
Do Mormon scriptures talk about the environment?
Our website has a page that talks about Mormon stewardship that traces the history of Mormon stewardship of the air, the water and the land all the way back to the Bible. There are a lot of the quotes that our leaders and our scriptures have given us through the centuries, through Christianity and Mormonism. General Authorities and LDS scholars— specifically Brigham Young and those in the Salt Lake Valley—have spoken out very forcefully about keeping this valley pure—not just pure in the sense that you don’t sin, but physically pure: clean air and clean water. Brigham Young and others could sense that there was going to a strong push for big outside money to come in and try to despoil our valley and our refuge of Deseret. You could put together a volume of Young’s quotes about protecting the air and the land and the water.
Joseph Smith was very much an environmentalist. He talked about how everything is interrelated—back then in 1830 he talked about how every creature was important in the web of life, and he talked about the Earth having a spirit of its own, and that the Earth itself was alive and would respond to our dealings on it, and we should never sin against our Earth. He talked about not taking it for granted—it was a gift for us, but also its own entity. It’s really a beautiful section of one of our scriptures called the Pearl of Great Price.
How did the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance get started?
The main focus for many LDS people when it comes to Earth stewardship is what individuals can do in their homes and just in their daily habits—recycling, riding your bike, taking mass transit, buying more efficient vehicles. And that’s our focus, too, but there were those of us who felt that though these are great things that we’re already doing, and we can spread that message that it’s important, we also would like to see our people finally stepping up and speaking out in a positive way about turning these issues around to save the planet.
Is the LDS Church’s position on the environment shifting in a more progressive direction?
Our leaders for eons of time have encouraged us all the way back to be civically active—to get involved in community issues, and make our communities better places to live. We’ve been encouraged to be active community members, in the political scene and in every other scene. But the Mormon church has always said that they can’t tell us how and what to do. People might say they beg to disagree with that; when it comes to moral issues like pornography and same-sex marriage, they have spoken sort of in general terms from the pulpit. Now I sort of personally resent that they haven’t done enough speaking out from the pulpit on the environment. But that is actually beginning to change. Lately, our church leaders have made more explicit remarks about our role as stewards of the planet.
We’re encouraged by that because we believe it will be an encouragement to members of wards and stakes to bring up these issues more in their Sunday school classes and in talks at church, and that this will allow people in the Mormon faith to feel that they’re not stepping out of bounds. LDS people have a strong aversion to anything that is contentious. And I agree with that—you can always catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. There is always a nice way to do anything you need to do. It should never be in an angry tone, but we do need to step up and be firm and state our principles, and let people know that our vote will count, and that we are watching what they are doing. And when we get that message out to our leaders and representatives, that will begin to shift the debate and the trend in Utah.
Why do we seem to hear about air quality only in the winter?
Well, because it’s beautiful when we don’t have it capped in like this. And what I’ve come to understand about the clean-air issue is even when we look out of our windows and see a beautiful blue sky and sunshine and go, “Oh, it’s a clean-air day!” it’s not a clean-air day in Salt Lake City. We still have terrible chemicals in the air; it’s just that we don’t see them and smell them as much as we do on the warning days. We still have emissions that are of great concern to people who have asthma or any types of respiratory issues. We really have work to do here—it isn’t for just one-third of our year.