Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

The Great Barrier Reef and Hope

Paul F. Curtis is an LDS Earth Stewardship member in Leura, New South Wales, Australia. He works in the field of sustainable building technology.

The Great Barrier Reef is dying.

The Australian government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reported in May 2016:

Above average sea surface temperatures have persisted since February across the entire Great Barrier Reef, due to a combination of climate change, the strong El Niño and local weather patterns. These conditions have triggered the worst mass coral bleaching event to be recorded on the Reef. Overall, the most severe bleaching has occurred in the northern half of the Reef, while there is less severe bleaching in the southern half. Coral mortality also worsened in April on some reefs in the northern half. Severe bleaching and subsequent coral mortality have been observed from the tip of Cape York down to some shallow reef areas offshore of Cairns.


As this record bleaching—which will bring extensive death of large areas of the Great Barrier Reef—was being announced by scientists from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Queensland state government announced final approval for the largest-ever Australian coal mine, to be developed directly inland from the Great Barrier Reef. Many Australians continue to fight against this development.

There is little hope that the negative effects of climate change will slow as global emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise. The result is higher ocean temperatures and more acidic sea water as more atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in our oceans.

The Scientific American “Ocean Portal” states:

What we do know is that things are going to look different, and we can’t predict in any detail how they will look. Some organisms will survive or even thrive under the more acidic conditions while others will struggle to adapt, and may even go extinct. Beyond lost biodiversity, acidification will affect fisheries and aquaculture, threatening food security for millions of people.

The Great Barrier Reef is not alone. Many coral reefs around the world are dying. Our oceans are becoming toxic from increased acidification caused by carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Severe weather events become more frequent and increasingly destructive as heat being stored in our oceans drives more intense storms. Security of food around the world is increasingly threatened by climate change. And yet we as inhabitants of this planet are not doing anywhere near enough to prevent a dangerous and potentially irreversible level of climate change.

A large ocean-going ship takes a long time to stop or turn around. With all the best will in the world working to avoid dangerous climate change, the negative impacts of climate change will continue to worsen for many years yet. Unfortunately we do not have all the best will in the world. For all the species on this earth, including ours, the future looks increasingly difficult. As a member of the species that is perpetuating the calamity of climate change on this earth, I am ashamed.

Sea levels will rise this century sufficient to displace millions. Will we look back on the current refugee crisis in Europe as a time of relative calm? More and more crops will fail. Are we prepared for resulting food shortages? More homes and workplaces will be destroyed by extreme storms. Are we building to survive extreme weather?

Our church has a useful contribution to make. Lack of provident living in the Western world and the resulting profligate consumption of resources—above all, fossil fuels—are at the foundation of climate change. Are we applying provident living principles in our daily lives as taught by our church leaders? How can we offer that doctrine to others without first giving heed ourselves? Why, for example, have we in large part ignored Doctrine and Covenants 89:12—13 counseling the eating of animal flesh in moderation? Beef production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Can we reconsider our excessive use of beef? We as a church have much to offer, but are we ready and able to make a genuine contribution?

Realistically, how can we hold on to optimism and hope for better times while the impacts of climate change continue to worsen?

There is always the prospect of a better life after death. As Latter-day Saints we are fortified more than most to hold an optimistic outlook for the future. Even as the earth is degraded around us we have reason to hope. If I did not have my testimony of the resurrection and the belief that justice will eventually prevail, I would despair. Is our belief in a better afterlife the only place we can find hope? After reflection, the answer for me is no. We can keep hope alive through our commitment to making the world a better place here and now. I have tried to implement this principle in my own life.

Several years ago, after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I began a business to develop energy-saving home building systems. Much of my motivation came from becoming a grandfather for the first time while reflecting on the way we are destroying the planet for our children. We have now proven a prototype for better-insulated walls and are working on commercial production. There is much we can all do, as we are able, to reduce the impacts of climate change. While there are undoubtedly dark times ahead our faith and hope can sustain us.

Retreat to the relatively untouched wilderness and my testimony of the great plan of salvation is my refuge for peace.

We know that the thousand years of the coming millennium will be a time of repair and renewal for our earth so that it can receive again its true paradisaical glory. I hope I can be there to be part of that. Meanwhile it is our spiritual duty to love, respect, and repair this beautiful earth as we live and work in hope for a brighter future.

As coral reefs around the world are dying and the impacts of severe climate change become apparent, I ask these question. Should our efforts be focused on building our spiritual strength and fortifying our families, both physically and spiritually, now, to survive the dark days that are approaching us like a silent tsunami? Should we start to plan how communities can be established that will endure a thousand years in true sustainability? May we live to be worthy to live to see that day.

Written in hope.