Forward Thinking

Battling Climate Change, the Jewish Way

By David Seidenberg

  • Print
  • Share Share

The rally in Washington D.C. last Sunday on climate change, organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and hundreds of other groups, was the largest of its kind in U.S. history, attended by up to 50,000 people, from all over the country. Buses came from all over, some traveling for several days to bring people to Washington DC from places like Montana.

Nili Simhai of the Teva Learning Alliance, which teaches nature programs to Jewish day school children called it “an historic moment.”

“it’s important for us to be here,” Simhai said. “Sustainable climate policies are at the core of what Teva has been teaching for years.”

A few thousand people were there to represent religious groups, like Quakers, Lutherans and Catholics, and of course there were thousands of Jews at the climate rally, but just a few Jewish organizations. The Shalom Center and the Green Zionist Alliance were there, as was my own organization, neohasid.org. And of course, the First Nations people from Canada, whose land is being destroyed by the tar sands development, brought all of their passion and vision to the rally.

One of the chants I heard most often was, “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” Another was, “Hey, Obama, we don’t want no climate drama!”

Speakers praised President Obama for finally finding his voice on climate change, but plenty of people in the march were skeptical about whether Obama would match words with deeds. All are closely watching whether he acts to stop the Keystone Pipeline.

But is climate change a Jewish issue? We all thought so, and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life has been making the case in print. The students from the Central Reform Synagogue in St. Louis who were there with their rabbi and Hebrew school teacher think so too, but what the Jewish community thinks is still up in the air.

There’s one tricky element: Jews have long advocated strongly for energy independence, and the Keystone Pipeline would bring us oil from friendly, reliable Canada. That pipeline would bring us Canadian oil, but the tar sands oil is some of the dirtiest oil on the planet.

Part of the problem is that when you add the energy needed to extract the oil, one barrel of tar sands oil is as bad as three barrels of average oil. And that amount doesn’t even include the residual “petroleum coke” that is left after cracking and refining, which burns dirtier than the dirtiest coal. But the bigger problem is the carbon bottom line. If the climate models are right, and we use all the Canadian tar sands oil on top of the oil reserves now on line, we may be looking at an 6-to-10 degree rise in temperatures and not just a 2-to-4 degree rise.

So is this Jewish? As we say, “No flour, no Torah.”

Without a healthy planet there is no Torah, no Judaism, and no Jewish people. But another fact that might scare the Jewish community is this: climate models predict that even with a more modest rise in overall temperature, the Negev desert could expand 200 kilometers to the north. That would include all of Israel’s lowlands!

Looking out over the crowd from the hill of the Washington monument, Rabbi Arthur Waskow busted out with the Shehechiyanu prayer.

“Blessed be you Yah, who kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this moment!”

Saying Amen to his prayer was one of the most beautiful moments of the rally for me. The other was when the First Nations people on stage called on all of us —thousands of people — to dance a circle dance to their chanting and drumming. Dancing is an amazing way to connect with the Earth. But it is also a powerful way to pray, according to both Hasidim and to the First Nations.

Simhai later reported to me that she was “especially moved by all the people from the frontline communities who have been fighting this fight for a long time, and who will do whatever it takes to secure the people on the land.” That reminded me of the promise of the Shema: “Listen well if you want to live your days on the land as long as the heavens are over the Earth.” May it be so.

Rabbi David Seidenberg is the creator of neohasid.org and savethenegev.org, and one of the foremost scholars on Judaism and ecology.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: teva, sierra club, keystone pipeline, jewish, environmentalist, climate change

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.