To many people the word is still new—but only to those who neither read the headlines nor listen to the news broadcasts. To all others the message has come through loud and clear: Many places in our world are already in danger of being made unfit for life—any kind of life!
The reason? Man is polluting the environment, destroying the ecological system. Ecology is that branch of biological science that deals with the interrelationships of all living organisms—including man—and their environment. And the scriptures have a great deal to say about life on earth.
Nephi explained that it was never intended that the earth be a barren, lifeless sphere: “Behold, the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it.” (1 Ne. 17:36.)
When the Lord prepared the earth for habitation and placed plants and animals therein, he pronounced it all good and gave Adam dominion over it. (Moses 2: 26–31.) In spite of the fact that “all things which [the Lord] had made were very good” (Moses 2:31), and even though it is said that his preparations for the earth were finished (Moses 3:1), it is interesting to note that he put Adam into the garden of Eden “to dress it and to keep it” (Moses 3:15) and to subdue the earth (Moses 2:28). Such phrases suggest that the earth needs to be looked after and that man has the responsibility to dress, to keep, and to maintain the earth as a habitable place. The indication is that in the beginning the Lord placed upon man the responsibility for the use he makes of his environment.
Centuries later, after the waters of the flood had receded, the Lord instructed Noah concerning the conservation of animal life. This was a subject of great importance at a time when the only available animal life was that which had been preserved in the ark. The scripture says that all life upon the earth was delivered into the hand of man, and that the Lord placed man in charge of all things, both moving creatures and green herbs. (Gen. 9:2–3.) These verses signify a reaffirmation and renewal unto Noah of the environmental responsibility that had been placed upon Adam and his posterity.
The instruction to Noah is even more precise in Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of Genesis:
“Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.
“And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (JST, Gen. 9:9, 11.)
Thus it appears that man will be held responsible to the Lord for animals that he needlessly kills beyond the need for self-defense or for food. A similar expression with reference to “the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air” is given in the Doctrine and Covenants 49:21:
“And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.”
Later the Lord gave instruction to Moses regarding the protection of bird life:
“If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young:
“But thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to thee; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days.” (Deut. 22:6–7.)
The thrust of this passage is that the mother bird should be left free to produce more young; that is, one should not destroy the breeding stock. The counsel to preserve bird life carries the observation, “that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days.” The inference is that prolonging human life on a long-term basis requires wise management of the available resources of the land.
A type of conservation is described among the Nephites when those living in the land of Desolation took great pains to “suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses … and all manner of their buildings.” (Hel. 3:9.) Earlier there had been timber, but much of the area had been rendered desolate and without timber “because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.” (Hel. 3:5.) It appears that the earlier inhabitants had not practiced proper environmental science.
The Lord has made another declaration in our day concerning man’s use and enjoyment of his world:
“… the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
“Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;
“Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
“Yea, for food and for raiment, tor taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.” (D&C 59:16–19.)
However, there follows a caution and a warning that the bounties of the earth are not to be exploited:
“And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” (D&C 59:20. Emphasis added.)
We have been instructed to learn all things pertaining to our globe, “things … in the earth and under the earth.” (D&C 88:79.) This request easily includes the study of ecology and the conservation of our natural resources, which are vital to the continuation of the good life on earth.
“For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.
“For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” (D&C 104:13, 17.)