Additional Resource

The Moral Imperative of Environmental Stewardship

By Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy

This address was given by Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a panel discussion Wednesday, October 10, 2018, at an environmental stewardship symposium at Utah State University. Read a news release about his talk.


I’d like to start with a story involving my younger brother, Paul. At age 18, he was working at Tom’s Texaco Service in St. George, Utah, on what was then old Highway 91. A car with New York license plates pulled into the station and the driver asked for a fill-up. While Paul was washing the windshield (they used to do that in those days), the man asked how far it was to the Grand Canyon. Paul replied that it was 170 miles.

“I can’t wait,” the man said. “All my life I’ve wanted to see the Grand Canyon. What’s it like out there?”

“I don’t know,” my brother answered. “I’ve never been there.”

The man was incredulous. He said, “You mean to tell me you live two and a half hours from one of the seven wonders of the world, and you’ve never been there?” Paul assured him that he had not.

“Well, I guess I can understand that,” the man said. “My wife and I have lived in Manhattan for over 20 years, and we’ve never visited the Statue of Liberty.” Paul looked up with a grin. “I’ve been there,” he said.

Human nature is like that. We yearn for far-off places of beauty and excitement, ignoring what lies at our own feet. To my brother, driving by the turnoff to the Grand Canyon on the way to see the Statue of Liberty seemed perfectly normal. The country he had grown up in was there, little-changed, almost unyielding. For generations it had been used by a very few of my forefathers and their neighbors. The open, undeveloped desert real estate seemed endless. Except for some exploring for minerals and oil, the outside world had shown little interest in southern Utah. We were pretty well left alone to enjoy almost unfettered use of a seemingly inexhaustible resource.

How quickly, dramatically, irretrievably that has changed!

Golf courses, luxury homes, shopping malls, trailer courts, and auto dealerships cover those once-empty lands. The land itself is redefined. It was different with my forefathers who came to southern Utah in the 1860s. They built where nature allowed. They learned quickly that the sandy banks next to rivers and creeks was no place to be, that the rocky slopes of the surrounding mesas were too steep, too rugged, too far from water. Out of necessity my forefathers became stewards of the land they settled. Certain locations were reserved for development, other areas precluded. Agricultural lands, the foundation of the economy, were carefully preserved.

No longer. Developers find no obstacles in rocky slopes and arid valleys. Sandy plains become filled with lakes and artificial streams. Hills can be flattened. Roads can be built virtually anywhere. Housing units on rocky slopes long thought unsuitable for development leave ugly scars seen for miles. Water-thirsty lawns and shrubs replace desert plants.

It’s a paradox. Though early settlers may have been too busy surviving to enjoy the beauty of southern Utah, they preserved it. Though present residents were attracted there by that beauty, many of them are complicit in destroying it. Seriously threatened is the sense of stewardship for the land that was so important to its early settlers.[1]

As I think about the rapid development of my hometown in southern Utah, two important principles come to mind. First, no matter where we choose to reside, whether in southern Utah, southern California, or northern New Jersey, the Lord has given us much for which to be grateful. As Latter-day Saints, we believe that God created this earth to provide a place for the human family to learn, progress, improve, and find joy. And a beautiful place it is. I have traveled around the world on Church assignments, including places like Germany, California, and South Africa, and I have beheld the diversity and allure of landscapes, scenery, and countryside—scenes filled with wonder, adventure, and more.

I believe the beauty of the earth testifies of a divine creator. The founder of our Church, Joseph Smith, said as much in 1832 when he described his own search for God during his early teenage years. He wrote: “I looked upon the sun, the glorious luminary of the earth, and also the moon, rolling in their majesty through the heavens, and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters, and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in majesty, and in the strength of beauty whose power and intelligence in governing the things which are so exceedingly great and marvelous. . . . And when I considered upon these things, my heart exclaimed, ‘Well hath the wise man said, it is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God.’ My heart exclaimed, ‘All these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent power, a being who maketh laws and decreeth and bindeth all things in their bounds.’”[2] Joseph Smith, we believe, found God in nature—both literally on his knees in a grove of trees and in a figurative sense while contemplating the Lord’s creations. Indeed, our religion and our environment are fundamentally interconnected.

I am especially reminded of the beauty of the earth during this time of year. While driving up Sardine Canyon from Brigham City for this conference, I was impressed with the fall colors—the various shades of red, yellow, orange, and green leaves that blanket the Wasatch Mountains. The autumn air is getting crisper. The days are getting shorter. Before we know it, the beautiful golden-brown leaves will be replaced by fresh powder snow—“the greatest snow on earth,” according to our license plates. Utah is a special place with natural wonders hiding in plain sight, from the skyscraping mountains in the north to the salt flats in the west to the red rock country in the south. Few places have the array of rivers, lakes, landscapes, hoodoos, and arches as the Beehive State. God has truly given us much for which to be grateful.

This all brings me to a second principle—that is, God expects every one of His sons and daughters to act as good stewards of the land He created. It causes me much grief when I look outside my window and see a hazy inversion or when I hear consistent reports of Utah’s poor air quality. I am concerned for the families affected by wildfires and for the schoolchildren forced to stay indoors because of smoky skies. Algal blooms are breaking out in Utah’s lakes. We are experiencing unusually dry seasons and record-breaking warm winters. One of our Church leaders, President Dallin H. Oaks, shared some of these same concerns in an address in February of last year. He said: “These are challenging times, filled with big worries: wars and rumors of wars, possible epidemics of infectious diseases, droughts, floods, and global warming. Seacoast cities are concerned with the rising level of the ocean, which will bring ocean tides to their doorsteps or over their thresholds. Global warming is also affecting agriculture and wildlife.”[3] As one commentary on says, “The earth is vulnerable. . . . Excessive consumption sullies God’s seas; wanton waste blackens His air. The creation groans under the weight of recklessness and indulgence that neglects both the poor earth and the earth’s poor.”[4] Climate change is real, and it’s our responsibility as stewards to do what we can to limit the damage done to God’s creation.

I am struck by the loving care taken by the Lord in creating this earth as depicted in one of our Church’s most sacred religious ceremonies performed in temples around the world.[5] I believe we ought to emulate that same sense of care and concern toward the earth and its resources. Too often we are a “throw-away people,” as President Spencer W. Kimball described.[6] Some live lavishly in the moment without a thought for the future. Others believe that because “the earth will [one day] be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” that we have free license to be wasteful.[7] But that’s not how it works. God made us stewards over His creations and, as such, He expects accountability. believe it is unbecoming of a Latter-day Saint to willfully deface and defile the earth.

So what does it mean to be a good steward? President Ezra Taft Benson had this to say about the topic: “Stewardship in the Church is a very important matter. The Lord has mentioned it in the revelations. We are stewards over these earthly blessings which the Lord has provided, those of us who have this soil and this water. We have no moral latitude, it seems to me. In fact, we are morally obligated to turn this land over to those who succeed us—not drained of its fertility but improved in quality, in productivity, and in usefulness for future generations.”[8] President Benson’s words remind me of the ethical code among outdoor enthusiasts: “leave no trace.” We can enjoy the earth’s beauty and utilize its resources as necessary, but a good steward treats the land with care and leaves as minimal impact as possible.

Environmental stewardship and conservation have been serious concerns of the Church and its leaders for some time. During the 1973 oil crisis, for example, the First Presidency of the Church issued a letter of support for conserving energy resources by encouraging Church members to eliminate outside lighting at chapels, walk to meetings where feasible, carpool to work where appropriate, lower thermostats in homes to prevent unnecessary consumption of electricity, and discuss the importance of fuel conservation in family home evenings.[9] Six years later, during the oil crisis of 1979, the First Presidency issued another letter with similar suggestions, this time encouraging local Church leaders to establish a consecutive meeting schedule for all Sunday meetings to conserve energy in heating and cooling buildings and prevent unnecessary use of fuel by families driving back and forth from the meetinghouse.[10] Indeed, environmental stewardship and energy conservation led to the announcement[11] of a three-hour block of Sunday meetings in 1980—well, as of last weekend it was three hours, and as of the first of the year, it will be two hours.[12]

In more recent years, the Church has striven to be a good steward of the environment when it comes to its many buildings constructed each year. The Church has implemented a green building initiative that increases energy efficiency, lowers operating costs, and makes the facilities easier to maintain. Many of these building projects, from temples and chapels to family history centers and the City Creek development, have received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the United States Green Building Council.[13] In fact, the building in which I work, the Church History Library, which was dedicated in June 2009, achieved a silver certification through LEED. In order to receive this designation, the library needed to have more efficient systems for heating and electricity and use materials that are produced locally, that are recycled, and that release fewer gasses that may affect people’s health.[14]

The Church follows other industry standards and best practices to further reduce its energy footprint. For example, at headquarters in Salt Lake City and in chapels around the world, the Church has installed more energy efficient lighting, low-flow toilets that use 1/3 less water, a recycled water system on Temple Square, and drought-tolerant plants with decorative rocks and bark to reduce water use in meetinghouse landscaping. The Church also maintains a robust recycling program. In 2014, for example, our headquarters campus recycled 180 tons of cardboard, 65 tons of paper, 26 tons of plastic, and 2 tons of aluminum. That’s not to mention similar recycling initiatives at places like LDS Printing, Beehive Clothing, Distribution Services, Deseret Industries, and the Church’s schools. There are also efforts at teaching sustainable techniques for food production, so families can learn to grow fruits and vegetables or raise small animals appropriate to their circumstances.[15]

The Church encourages women and men everywhere to learn about environmental stewardship and conservation through online resources on and These websites include informative videos and articles on the topic and lists of scriptures and quotes by Church leaders teaching Latter-day Saints to recognize the beauty of the earth and be careful with its resources. There are also suggestions for what we can do as individuals and as a community to be good stewards, such as:

  1. Check with your local utility company, local community groups, or the internet to find suggestions to conserve energy.
  2. Support community recycling programs.
  3. Consider starting a community garden.
  4. Support local civic groups that promote stewardship and conservation.
  5. Be an involved citizen in government.
  6. Use the resources of the earth sparingly and reverently.
  7. Adopt lifestyles and personal habits that respect the Creation.
  8. As you can, fix up and keep clean the places where you live, work, recreate, and worship.
  9. Make your own living space more beautiful and inspirational.
  10. Contemplate the ways that nature bears testimony of God and the harmony between the laws and patterns of nature and the gospel of Jesus Christ.[16]

I like that the Church encourages us to be involved citizens in government and to support local civic groups that promote stewardship and conservation. This is something that I have tried to do throughout my life, especially before my full-time Church service. I served at one point as a member of the board of directors for Grand Canyon Trust, an organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Grand Canyon and other lands along the Colorado Plateau. One of the major initiatives during my time on the board was to reduce the disruptive noise caused by commercial air tours of the Grand Canyon and other national parks. I believed at the time, and I still believe now, that the outdoors, including our beautiful national parks, are among the best places to “seek solitude and escape from an increasingly urbanized society.”[17] Visitors from all over the world would seek refuge at these parks only to be bombarded with noisy helicopters or low-flying airplanes. This was something that caused me concern for years, and I tried to do something about it. I remember testifying at a Joint Oversight Hearing before the Committee on Resources and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the United States House of Representatives. It was an uphill battle. Many congressmen defended the commercial airlines conducting these air tours. I don’t know how much my brief testimony helped, but over time flight-free zones were created over the Colorado River, altitude restrictions were placed on aircrafts, and limits were enforced on the number of air tours available at the Grand Canyon. It was satisfying to take part in this process as a concerned citizen and join my voice with others to try to preserve our lands.[18]

As Latter-day Saints we tend to focus on our ecclesiastical and family stewardships, which is well and good. But I believe we will also be held accountable for how we treat one another, the community in which we live, and the land that surrounds us, even the earth itself. That stewardship has never been more urgent. Our generation, more than any other, has the ability to irretrievably change the land. Financial rewards provide tremendous pressure to unleash our technology to reinvent our surroundings. There will be growth; change will come. But failure to care for the land on which we live means turning our backs on the heritage laid down carefully and at such great cost by our forefathers—and will leave us immeasurably poorer.[19]


[1] Steven E. Snow, “Skipping the Grand Canyon,” in Terry Tempest Williams, William B. Smart, and Gibbs M. Smith, eds., New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community (1998), 242–44.

[2] Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, p. 2–3, Joseph Smith Papers, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; spelling and punctuation modernized.

[3] Dallin H. Oaks, “Push Back Against the World,” Feb. 25, 2017,

[4] “In Honoring Creation, We Honor the Creator,” Apr. 26, 2018,

[5] “Environmental Stewardship and Conservation,”

[6] Spencer W. Kimball, “God Will Not Be Mocked,” Ensign, Nov. 1974, 4–9.

[7] Articles of Faith 1:10.

[8] The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 645.

[9] “Energy Crisis: First Presidency Encourages Conservation of Fuel; Reports from the Saints Around the World,” Ensign, Feb. 1974, 67–70.

[10] “First Presidency Supports Energy Conservation,” Ensign, Aug. 1979, 78.

[11] “Church Consolidates Meeting Schedules,” Ensign, Mar. 1980, 73–78.

[12] “Church Announces New Balance between Gospel Instruction in the Home and Church,”, Oct. 6, 2018.

[13] “Environmental Conservation and Stewardship Efforts,”

[14] “Church History Library Goes ‘Green’ With LEED Certification,”, April 22, 2009.

[15] “Environmental Conservation and Stewardship Efforts,”

[16] “Environmental Stewardship and Conservation,”

[17] Steven E. Snow in Minutes of the Joint Oversight Field Hearing on National Park Overflights, One Hundred Fifth Congress, Nov. 17, 1997,

[18] Minutes of the Joint Oversight Field Hearing on National Park Overflights, One Hundred Fifth Congress, Nov. 17, 1997,

[19] Steven E. Snow, “Skipping the Grand Canyon,” in New Genesis, 242–24.

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