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An Approach to Conservation
By David Ririe
(From NETWORK, the family newsletter,
volume 1, November 1996)

Conservation of the planet's essential resources has long been a concern of many people. As long ago as 1878 an English political economist, Thomas Malthus proposed in a widely accepted essay his Malthusian Doctrine. It said that whereas the human population increases geometrically, the means to provide for the population increases arithmetically and unless war or famine intervened in drastic proportions, the ability of the earth to support the numbers of people on it would be inadequate. His theory proved flawed because the population grew slower than he anticipated and food-producing technology increased far more rapidly then he could have possibly foreseen. His theory, though alarming to many people at the time, has became less worrisome as the years have passed.

While in grade school, I remember becoming alarmed one day as the teacher presented a lesson on conservation of coal. She stated that within a few decades the world's coal supply would be virtually exhausted. Relating this gloomy forecast to my own little world, it concerned me that our house might not be heated in a few years because of lack of lump coal for the stove. Over the years my worry disappeared as new sources of home heating energy came on board. A few days ago, I reviewed a report of a committee chaired by Carroll L. Wilson of Massachusetts Institute of Technology entitled "Coal, Bridge to the Future." In it the experts suggested that coal could be utilized to offset the energy requirements occasioned by oil depletion for many years into the future. The shivers I had feared as a result of my teacher's misinformation never happened.

Throughout my lifetime conservation issues have come one after another to the attention of the populace. Often in order to get audience attention and political response these causes have been exaggerated and dramatized. For a long time soil conservation was a pressing issue. Air quality was at the forefront in industrial areas during the 1960's and we all remember the lines at gasoline stations in the 1970's. But of all these issues, the one that probably had more to do with launching the environmental movement was the publication of Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring" in 1962. In this publication we were warned that the earth was being poisoned by chemicals. when Earth Day 1970 occurred on April 22, 1970, it was estimated that more than 20 million concerned people participated in an environmental awareness celebration.

The environmental movement in the United States has grown ever since with a parade of issues, million of meetings, thousands of publications, and unknown numbers of confrontations and lawsuits. A whole new field of law has developed to handle environmentally based litigation and organizations for every conceivable cause or combination of causes have come onto the stage.

All of us certainly need to be aware of and concerned with the environment. After all, Genesis states:

"And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruittul, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." Genesis 1:28.

In the beginning, man was given dominion and instructed to subdue and replenish the earth. He was not given a license to destroy or run roughshod over the earth, its creatures or its environment. Man was, however, given control and, contrary to what some environmentalists think, his needs should not be subservient to other creatures, the earth itself or the environment.

As the environmental movement grew in size and influence it spawned impending catastrophes by the score. So many hazards have been uncovered that the greatest detriment to our health, happiness, security, and well-being could well be the stress generated within our minds of real or imagined catastrophes. In a recently published book entitled, "The Scientific Catastrophes in Our Time," the author, Walter J. Karphus, of U.C.L.A., lists and discusses eight major catastrophes that have recently been predicted by members of the scientific community. They are:

(1) Depletion of the ozone layer and consequent increases in ultraviolet radiation exposure with the drastic effects on the health of humans, animals, and plants;

(2) Changes in global climate due to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases;

(3) Pollution of the atmosphere with radioactive particles;

(4) Pollution of the earth and its atmosphere with radioactive particles;

(5) The AIDS epidemic;

(6) Overpopulation; that is, the population explosion;

(7) Worldwide economic depression; and

(8) Earthquakes of catastrophic proportions.

Each of these eight catastrophic occurrences have been subjected to computer models in an effort by scientists to determine their probability and the seriousness of their consequences. Books have been written on each of the eight issues and I have read some of them. I do believe all of these things deserve our attention and we should learn what we can about them. Efforts will certainly be made in the future and are being made to appropriate vast sums of money from the public treasury, the credit of the national government and various philanthropic donors for the prevention of these disasters. In addition we can expect to be bombarded with requests for contributions to save ourselves and the earth from catastrophe in the form of any one of the eight listed or a hundred and one others that are or will become problems.

When considering suggested global catastrophes, it is my opinion that we need a moderate, conservative approach to the impending happening. Both the "Chicken Little, The Sky Is Falling, The Sky Is Falling" attitude with its immediate alarm or the proverbial "ostrich head in the sand" approach are foolhardy. We owe it to ourselves and our posterity to become informed enough to participate in intelligent voting and perhaps even activism.

Let's look at one of Karphus' stated catastrophes for example, the so-called greenhouse effect.

Back in the 1970's climatologists had studied the rise and decline of the ice ages by several methods, including analyses of ice cores, tree growth rings, samples of alternating layers of silt and clay in bottoms of lakes, and fossil dating. They had determined that ice ages of the past occurred in approximately one hundred thousand year cycles with 90,000 cold years followed by 10,000 interglacial or warmer years. Since we were now at some 10,000 years since the last ice age and the earth appeared to be cooling off; the ice age people were prophesying that serious results would occur eventually. Some proposed costly measures to monitor and perhaps even ameliorate the effects of global cooling and the impending ice age.

Later in the 70's and in the early 80's, however, scientists plotting the rise of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere became alarmed by the warming trend caused by increased concentration of such gases.. It was labeled the "greenhouse effect." Computer generated models were developed by teams of scientists and from them varying estimates of temperature rise were suggested. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons which are generated by human activities became part of the input into such models. The sources of such gases included the burning of fossil fuel, logging and clearing of rain forests, and anaerobic bacterial actions, such as those occurring in cows' guts, landfills, and rice fields.

There is now an on-going controversy about how important this global warming due to the "greenhouse effect" is going to be and how much attention and money should be thrown at it. The little red hen crowd would spend billions and pass laws and more laws, and create commissions and regulatory agencies to overcome the oncoming catastrophic effects. On the other hand some scientists say the models are not statistically sound and by the very complicated nature of the interacting inputs, unlikely to predict what will happen and therefore, we needn't be very alarmed.

My thoughts after reviewing several books on the subject of the "Greenhouse Effect," and its probable global warming are as follows:

I - in addition to the bad effects of global warming that might occur, we should realize that there are numerous positive effects that can follow slight global warming. For example, the Alberta, Canada wheat grower or the Idaho potato farmer might welcome a little higher temperature and a longer growing season.

2 - Growers of crops, recognizing that carbon dioxide is an essential element of plant growth, might not be too distressed if the atmospheric content of the compound is higher.

3 - Many scientists admit that we do not know the influence the ocean will have on absorption of carbon dioxide as the concentration of it rises. Also the amount of and effect of cloud cover on the resulting climate is not agreed upon by scientists. If; therefore, these effects are not known: why should we try to fix them?

4 - It seems to me that this is a time for good, basic research or "good science" and not a time for "public or political policy" and, heaven forbid, more laws. As one of my acquaintances, Robert J. Ernst, an attorney says, "the real environmental crises may be environmental law." This is indeed an issue in which passage of remedial laws should not precede complete elucidation and evaluation of the problem. In other words, at our present stage of knowledge, a small soft mallet instead of a sledge hammer may be appropriate.

5 - We should conserve our forests. The environmentalists are right there, but we should not overlook the fact that we can replace them and nature rejuvenates plant growth. That some useful organisms may be lost is defmitely true, so reserves of native forest stands should be set aside.

6 - We should definitely conserve our fossil fuels and do all we can to efficiently use them. Furthermore, research into alternative sources of energy is imperative and wise not only because of the "greenhouse effect" but of even greater importance, because these fuels are not inexhaustible. I do not intend to freeze this winter, however, because I might be adding to the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide when I switch on my furnace.

7 - In the fields of public opinion and policy and politics, we should be very cautious and judicious. We should not listen to every advocate of an environmental cause. Undoubtedly, as the controversy over what to do about the "greenhouse effect" continues, movie stars and other celebrities who never worked a day in their lives will become ninety-day wonders, advocates and prophets. It makes as much sense to listen to a movie actress telling us what to do about greenhouse gas emissions as it does for an atmospheric scientist to direct a movie or tell a rock and roll star how to stage a performance.

8 - One might also ask, "Will the predicted ice age cancel out global warming due to the "greenhouse effect?" Or will other cosmic effects over which we have no control completely overshadow the man-made causes of global warming? Or will a shortage of fossil fuels cut down the increases in carbon dioxide emissions before the temperature rises appreciably? Certainly, many questions remain unanswered!

If you have decided from the preceding comments that I have little or no worry about global warming and its climatic effects, you are correct. Most of the "hype" about the subject has been generated by climatologists who can't yet give us a long-range forecast that can be relied on. Why then should I fret over their computer generated numbers that are subject to so many variables that they are suspect because of their inputs. Computer models at best can only give us climatic possibilities, perhaps probabilities, and unlikely accurate predictions.

In addition to this, my mind will not be stampeded because of some nut who wants publicity, the politician who wants more government control of my life and uses gloom and doom psychology to further his legislation, or even the scientist who wants a grant to build a bigger and better model.

On the other hand, it does not surprise me that we read of catastrophes all over the world and see troubles all around us. The Savior said when He was on the earth and reiterated it through His prophet, Joseph Smith, that these days would be calamitous in nature. Consider the following:

"And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men's hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth His coming until the end of the earth.

And the love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound.

Arid when the times of the Gentiles is come in, a light shall break forth among all them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fulness of my gospel;

But they receive it not; for they perceive not the light, and they turn their hearts from me because of the precepts of men.

And in that generation shall the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

Arid there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land.

But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die.

Arid there shall be earthquakes also in divers places, and many desolations; yet men will harden their hearts against me, and they will take up the sword, one against another, and they will kill one another." Doctrine and Covenants 45:26-33.

In a nutshell, I am not nearly as concerned about being right with respect to the earth as I am worried that I might not be right with the Eternal, All Powerful God, who created the Earth and controls it and by whose power its destiny will be determined.

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