Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Earth Stewardship in Norway, Part 2: Sustainability

Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of Joanna Bjerga’s guest post, providing an international perspective for our blog. Part 1 is here.


All photos by the author.


The sustainable development approach is three pronged: Environmental, Economic, and Societal.

  • Environmental: Greenhouse gas emission create global warming and other environmental issues. Most of today’s emissions are from the wealthy countries of the world. The problems caused, like flooding, droughts, and other natural disasters, affect poor countries most. In addition, the stress on nature is threatening biological diversity. Greenhouse gases are emitted, among other ways, by the combustion of oil, coal, and gas. These resources are not renewable. Once they are used up, they are gone forever. To halt the climate changes and create sustainable development, the world needs to invest in renewable resources like forests, water, and wind.
  • Economic: Most of the world’s population lives in poor countries, while it is the population of the wealthy countries that uses most of the resources. If the entire world’s population were to consume as much as Norway and the US, for example, we would need, respectively, 2.7 and 4.4 earths! To lessen the gap between the poor and the rich, we need a more equal distribution of the world’s resources and increased opportunities in poor countries. For growth to be sustainable, the environment must be taken into consideration along the way. That could mean that richer countries help pay for poor countries to develop environmentally sound industries, instead of focusing on non-renewable resources. Normal citizens in rich countries can contribute to a more equal distribution by being more aware of (and reducing) their own consumption. If we, for example, ate a little less meat than we do today, the corn used as feed for animals (that are to become meat), could be used to feed people instead.
  • Societal: The relatively high population growth in poor countries creates an added stress on the local natural resources, which again makes it harder for poor people to work their way out of poverty. Many rural families therefore choose to move to urban areas, and many end up living in slum areas. Access to education and health care is an important component in making it possible for the poor to escape poverty over time. Studies show that women who have knowledge of and access to family planninghave fewer children than those who don’t. This again gives the families fewer mouths to feed, and less pressure and stress on the local natural resources. (source: United Nations Association of Norway)

Our personal and individual approach to creating “sustainable development” should also be three pronged in the same areas, as reflected in the causes we support (financially and otherwise) and the priorities we make.


We cannot truly care for the environment without taking into consideration the welfare of our fellow earth inhabitants, our brothers and sisters. I quote Elder Holland:

In our day, the restored Church of Jesus Christ had not yet seen its first anniversary when the Lord commanded the members to “look to the poor and . . . needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer.” Note the imperative tone of that passage—“they shall not suffer.” That is language God uses when He means business.

As I noted in my last post, sometimes the task seems so enormous we are paralyzed. Elder Holland has a thought:

Given the monumental challenge of addressing inequity in the world, what can one man or woman do? The Master Himself offered an answer. When, prior to His betrayal and Crucifixion, Mary anointed Jesus’s head with an expensive burial ointment, Judas Iscariot protested this extravagance and “murmured against her.”

Jesus said: “Why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work. . . . She hath done what she could.”

“She hath done what she could”! What a succinct formula! (Jeffery R. Holland, “Are we not all beggars?”, Oct. 2014)

As I have searched for ways to align my personal life with the knowledge and accountability I have mentioned above, I have found many helpful resources. One of my favorites is the book Zero Waste Home, by the French author Bea Johnson. She has expanded the familiar “3 R’s” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) to the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. Always in that order.

Minimizing my carbon footprint means taking a close look at all the little decisions I make every day, and it starts at home. If I want to reduce the amount of waste that our home produces, I need to start by reducing what comes into the house in the first place. When I started reading the book, I thought the whole concept was just about reducing the amount of landfill trash produced, but as I started living the 5 R’s, I realized more and more that it included not wasting the resources I had access to as well. The old cliche, Waste not, want not, turns out to be a powerful principle. Bea Johnson has made all the rookie mistakes of enthusiastic idealism, and worked out perfectly feasible guidelines for a simpler, environmentally friendlier and even healthier lifestyle.

It’s all the little things that add up. Riding my bike to work, buying in bulk, reducing the amount of meat we eat, but increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables. Buying less clothes and shoes, and buying quality when I do. Doing less laundry. Taking shorter showers. Composting biological waste in the garden. Avoiding plastic bags and disposables. Giving gifts of time or experiences, instead of stuff. Paying a generous fast offering and contributing to the church’s Humanitarian Aid Fund. Using natural ingredients to clean my home, instead of harsh chemicals. Sharing what I know, in any way I can.


A few days ago my brother shared a video clip of the stand-up comedian Louis CK. I won’t link to it here, since the language wasn’t exactly family-friendly, but here’s my attempt to transcribe a little part of it:

If you believe that God gave you the earth, that God created the earth for you, why would you not have to look after it? Why would you not think that when He came back He would not go:

“What on earth did you do? I gave this to you! Are you crazy? The polar bears are brown! What did you do to the polar bears? Who did this? Did you do this? Did you spill this? Come over here. Did you spill this? What is that?”

“It’s oil. It’s just some oil . . . I didn’t mean to spill it . . .”

“Well, why did you take it out of the ground?”

“’Cause I wanted to go faster . . . It’s not, I’m not fast enough . . . and I was cold . . .”’

“What do you mean you were cold? I gave you everything you needed!”

“Well, because, jobs . . . and . . . eh . . . I wanted a job . . .”

“What’s a job? Explain to me—what’s a job?”

“Eh . . . you work at a place, and people call when their game isn’t working, and you help them figure it out . . .”

“What do you do that for?”

“For money.”

“What do you need money for?”

“Um . . . food?”

“Just eat the stuff on the floor! I left stuff all over the floor! Corn and wheat and stuff! Grind it and make bread and stuff! What are you doing?”

(whining) “But it doesn’t have bacon around it, and . . . I like when it has like bacon on it and . . .”

The Norwegian word for environment is Miljø. It is pronounced like the French word milieu, which means “middle.” I like to think of the environment as just that: my surroundings, that I am in the middle of, and have been assigned stewardship over.

Because it is all still His.

  • Søren Simonsen says:


  • PeterA says:

    It sounds like you’ve given stewardship a great deal of thought, and have taken great strides towards incorporating it into your life. Thanks for your good example. Maybe future posts can elaborate about specific elements of your stewardship practice.

    I also like your book recommendation. Maybe you can review the book in more detail for us in the future. We’ve toyed with the idea of organizing an online book group, but never quite figured out how to implement it.