Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
Some who are concerned about the environment criticize Christians because they reason Christians are only concerned about heaven.
Maybe this critique is appropriate for some; however for many Christians, care for the environment is tied to our fidelity to God. Why? First, we can look to the book of Genesis.
God gave the garden to Adam and Eve to tend and to care. We, as descendants of Adam and Eve, are called to be stewards of creation. Christians have made this a priority and we have called it “creation care.” Do we worship the environment? Certainly not. But we realize God gave life to us and to all creatures and plants, therefore it is disrespectful of God, and dare I say sinful, to destroy God’s creation.
Also, you and I don’t have to be too wise to realize if we destroy creation, we are not far behind. We all rely on clean water, clean air and nutritious food, not to mention the wonders beauty in nature does for our souls.
We in the West have difficulty accepting the limitations that our environment places on us. I was born in Phoenix, Arizona. I am thankful to my parents that we moved when I was a youngster, because it is beastly hot there.
If you or I go to one of these hell-like cities, we will notice many of the people who have built these places did not understand nature has her limits. They have poured lots of concrete and asphalt all over these cities. They have planted non-native plants that need too much water. Instead of being happy with what God provided, they wanted desert landscapes to look like the Midwest. Not only have these cities become hotter, they are more humid and what once was a great place for allergy sufferers is no longer the case. God created these desert ecosystems that are complex, beautiful and fragile, yet He did not design them as places for vast numbers of people in which to live.
We in Utah are not too different. We live in the second driest state of the union and we consume the most water per person in the U.S. I am perplexed when I hear fellow citizens complain about the federal government. Regardless of the fact that great numbers of people are employed by the feds (most of my parish and many of the residents of Tooele County), we acknowledge we are subsidized up to our eyeballs with federal dollars so we can have water here in this dry state.
The irrigation programs may have started with Brigham Young and the LDS pioneers; however, they are being paid for largely with federal tax money. Reservoirs are expensive and they have an effective life of only about 100 years (they fill with sediment). We ask what we get from the buck that is given to us by the feds: water to be used on water hungry alfalfa and Kentucky blue grass. My father lives in Nashville just south of Kentucky. Most people have Kentucky blue and do not have sprinklers because God gives them rain and it is really green there all year long.
God does not give us sufficient rain for what we want to grow here in Utah, so the federal government gives us our network of reservoirs to keep our winter runoff from flowing into the Great Salt Lake and Willard Bay and deep wells to access the water in our aquifers. We are not charged directly for the cost of our water systems, so the invisible, yet powerful hand of market forces is not there to guide us to conserve. So we use this expensive (but cheap for us) water on non-native, water-hungry plants, golf courses, alfalfa for cows and lots of Kentucky blue.
If we were to look at Utah before the advent of our water projects and big federal budgets, we would see a much browner reality, especially in July and August. We would see lots of sagebrush, cedar, oak and various other plant species that have evolved to live in our dry, desert climate.
I recently saw a map of the current water situation in the southwest. California is burning up, most of Utah is below average, and most of the western states do not have sufficient water. With the effects of changing global climate patterns, it is likely we are going to get drier with greater demands on our precious water supply.
How do we adapt to this reality? How do we change the way we are living so that we can live sustainably? Places like Phoenix, St. George, and Las Vegas now require their citizens to landscape in a way that is like their desert environment. Although these dry cities try to conserve, their burgeoning populations place greater demands on their water supply. For example, Las Vegas and Nevada want the right to drain the aquifer in the middle of our state so the toilets and showers in the Bellagio will work.
Since money talks, the surest way to encourage conservation is to charge those of us who use the water what it really costs. It is not our monthly water bill and it is certainly not yearly maintenance fee if you own water shares. If we were given the real bill for our water consumption, our towns and cities might look much different and the sprinklers in farmers’ fields wouldn’t run 24/7.
We have been shielded from the real costs of our lifestyle in the West. We expect to live in a manner that is unsustainable today and in the future. We just have to look at our lifestyle and say how am I impacting the environment? What would grow here if I didn’t put vast quantities of clean, pure water on these plants? Will it always be here? Is there enough for everyone? The answer of course is that our water is precious, limited, and an expensive resource that we waste because we don’t have to pay for it directly. We also haven’t accepted the possibility that we can run out of it through misuse and overuse.
We are living now in the time when we realize that most, if not all, our natural resources can be completely depleted by overuse and bad stewardship. In 1950, 2.5 billion people lived on the planet. Now, there are 7.2 billion. In just 60 years, our population has nearly tripled. Our population in the West has also grown greatly. All of the major cities in the West, including all of the towns along the Wasatch Front, and the once-little town of Tooele, continue to grow at a rapid pace. It is not space that is the problem; it is our natural resources that are being greatly taxed.
As people of faith, we ask the question: How do we stop trashing God’s planet, especially our corner of it? How do we make it so that future generations can live here, knowing already that the effects of climate change will greatly impact future generations regardless of how proactive we become? How can we be better stewards of the ecosystems of the earth, especially the desert where we chose to live?
Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden for their transgressions. I wonder what our fate will be?
Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.