It’s all too easy to stereotype Mormons as conservative, anti-environment and unquestioning of their leaders.
Kudos to those within the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints who are breaking out of that stereotype
— those who are proving that there is room within the faith
for diversity and debate. As Rosemary Winters writes in this
issue’s cover story, a few bold Saints are arguing loudly for
taking better care of their homeland in the West. They’re
spearheading efforts to restore rivers, protect wilderness and
prevent nuclear waste dumps.
Their message is incredibly
important. Worldwide, Mormons now outnumber Jews. In the U.S.,
there are more Mormons than Presbyterians or Episcopalians. In
Utah, there are more than 1.6 million Mormons. California has
756,000, Washington has 233,000, Idaho has 353,000 and Arizona has
322,000. And the church is growing — growing faster, in fact,
than any other faith in the Western Hemisphere.
of course, lies part of the rub. No discussion of Mormons and their
views on the environment would be complete without addressing
population. The population of Utah, which is 73 percent Mormon, is
growing more than twice as quickly as the nation as a whole, and
immigration accounts for only 12 percent of that growth. Where are
the rest of these new citizens coming from? The Web site for the
planning effort, Envision Utah, puts it tactfully: “By 2020,
the Greater Wasatch Area (stretching north and south from Salt Lake
City) will add a million more residents, two-thirds of whom will be
our children and grandchildren.”
Of course, not all
Mormons have a gaggle of kids, and Utah’s fertility rate has
dropped significantly since the 1960s, from an average of more than
four children per woman of reproductive age, to just over two and a
half. Still, Utah has the largest families in the nation, and these
families have very real impacts on the landscape.
the Greater Wasatch Area: Suburban sprawl has become rampant, and
with it traffic jams and pea-soup smog. Water has become scarce
enough that the state is talking about damming the Bear River, and
potentially drying up a world-class migratory bird refuge. The
Wasatch Mountains, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly crowded, as
skiers, snowmobilers, hikers and mountain bikers vie for limited
space on the public trails.
And yet, most Mormons —
even the outspoken environmentalists among them — shy away
from the issue of population growth and large families. The church
does not require members to have large families, nor does it have a
policy against using birth control. But the cultural expectations
are strong, and family is the foundation upon which everything else
in Mormon society is built.
As you’ll read in this
issue, some Mormons are taking on one of Utah’s greatest
icons — Glen Canyon Dam — arguing that it should be
breached, so that Glen Canyon can emerge from the depths of Lake
Powell. Surely, if there’s room for questions about Glen
Canyon Dam, there ought to be room for some talk about that other
environmental monolith that looms large in Utah and elsewhere in
the West: population growth.