The Origins of a Rebellion: Religion, Land, and a Western Environmental Ethic
23 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2017 Last revised: 6 Apr 2017
Date Written: February 26, 2017
This article examines an apparent irony in the environmental ethic of the contemporary American West. Much of the Interior West is dominated by a particular culture that is the product of Mormon settlement in the Salt Lake Valley and subsequent expansion throughout the region. The teachings of early Mormon leaders contained significant threads of what today would be recognized as environmentalism. Despite these teachings, and despite Mormons’ famously strict adherence to other theological tenets, the environmental ethic of the contemporary West is often perceived as anti-environment. Why would this culture, which holds so fast to its other religious teachings — including those teachings that for a time had significant and negative political, legal, and economic effects — reject this aspect of religious doctrine? Using the Mormon experience as a case study, this article argues that the contemporary West’s conservative environmental ethic is a tapestry woven from the interrelationships of legal regimes found and developed during western settlement, the cultural origins and destinations of the settlers, and the physical landscape itself. It is both what settlers found and developed upon arriving in the interior West that led to the region’s contemporary environmental conservatism.
Keywords: public lands, environmental ethics, american west, pragmatism
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