Sustainability Coordinator, Provo City
I have no formal training in environmental issues but have been active in local politics and in a local environmental group named Utah Valley Earth Forum. Back in 2009 UVEF held a ‘meet the candidate” event for Provo’s mayoral candidates, including the eventual winner, John Curtis. During the Q&A, I noted that although this is a conservative city, surely there must be some cost-effective environmental things a mayor could do, such as getting more energy-efficient lights & vehicles and informing utility customers how their bills compared to their neighbors’. Mayor Curtis saw me as politically aware and willing to find worthwhile, doable environmental projects. Shortly after his inauguration, he named me to a committee working on planning to protect Provo’s natural resources, and then in 2011 he asked me to head that committee and to serve as his sustainability (environmental) adviser, all on a volunteer basis. We have helped rewrite Provo’s landscaping code to allow water-wise landscaping, placed anti-idling signs in every school parking lot and many businesses, obtained tax credits for local businesses that recycle, designed a green business certification program, and run clean-air campaigns. But we have barely wiggled the needle.
How has your personal and professional background affected your conception of environmental stewardship?
My academic experience gave me confidence that I could research and learn new things independently. That has been important in keeping up with new developments in environmental science and programs.
I worked for 33 years as a BYU professor of Russian and served as a mission president in Russia. During my many visits there I was distressed by the significant environmental pollution but could do little about it, and neither could the Russians because of their lack of press freedom and civil society (NGOs). I came to appreciate our wealth of public information and our freedoms to associate. After retiring from BYU, I decided to use these advantages to protect the local environment where my family lives.
How has your position as Sustainability Coordinator for Provo City affected how you think about environmental stewardship?
POLITICS: It has taught me the importance of being involved in politics and government. Tom Friedman says that “It is much more important to change your politicians than your light bulbs.” (Hot, Flat, and Crowded. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008, p. 397). Everyone concerned about the environment should be active in politics. Like civil rights, environmentalism “is about personal virtue but does not stop at personal virtue.” (Ibid., p.198.)
NETWORKING: It has helped me understand the importance of networking with other environmentalists, city officials and employees. Most of our successful projects have been done by others elsewhere before we did them, and I found many city employees making good efforts for the environment. Environmentalists must network if they want to be effective.
PLANNING: It has taught me the importance of long-range planning. We should only vote for politicians willing to think about the future and plan for it in time to get good projects designed, funded, and built. And similarly, environmentalists must be patient planners.
HARD DATA: You only have credibility if you have hard data that your recommendations will work. Every environmentalist must be willing to read some literature and share the scientific consensus.
How does the Gospel affect how you think about stewardship?
The Gospel is about concern for others. Polluting and wasting resources is selfish and sinful. Too many good people, however, just don’t realize how much harm they are doing to the Lord’s creation and what they could do to improve. We should all take Paul’s advice to “Examine yourselves…” (II Corinthians 13:5). The Gospel obligates us to teach others and to preach repentance, and that includes our stewardship of the Lord’s earth.
What do you think is the most important message about earth stewardship that you want to convey to members of the Church?
WORK FOR THE LIVING AS WELL AS THE DEAD. If Church members spent as much time working to preserve the earth for their present and future kindred as they do on seeking their kindred dead and doing temple work, the earth would sooner “be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”
REDUCE UTILITY BILLS AND GASOLINE EXPENSES: Among the simplest indicators of how well you are are doing in your environmental stewardship are what you spend on your utilities and gasoline. I am astonished that few heads of households know how much they are paying each month for electricity, water, and heating. Examining and reducing those bills and your gasoline costs will do wonders for your family budget and for the environment.
BEWARE OF EVIL AND DESIGNING MEN: Latter-day Saints know that “You can buy anything in this world with money,” yet they are far too accepting of propaganda funded by tobacco and fossil-fuel companies denying clear scientific consensus on global climate change and pollution. As an antidote, I recommend Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway (NY, Bloomsbury Press, 2010), which links purveyors of doubt about cancer and smoking with purveyors of doubt about climate change.
Provo mayor John Curtis has mentioned Don on his website here and here. To find out more about what Don has been doing to help facilitate people getting solar panels on their houses, see his recent guest blog post on LDS Earth Stewardship and a newspaper article “Solar panels give choice in power.”
This is the fifth of a series of profiles of Church members that exemplify stewardship in some aspect of their lives. We hope to show the diverse and wonderful ways that Church members show respect and wise use of the earth’s resources. If you would like to suggest someone to highlight in the future, let us know!