The Jewish imperative to tackle climate change


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Two days before the U.N. Climate Summit, demonstrators, including a large multi-faith contingent — will descend on New York City to demand urgent action on climate change. The People’s Climate March, which coincides with the week of the U.N. General Assembly, is being billed as the largest climate march in history.

Sunday’s event is notably taking place in the city badly battered less than two years prior by Hurricane Sandy — the “super storm” that killed 285 people and caused tens of billion of dollars in damage to property and infrastructure.

Also remarkable: The march is happening just three days before Rosh Hashanah. This Jewish New Year is different than all past ones, for it is the last observance of Shmita — Israel’s biblically mandated yearlong farming sabbatical — before extreme climate change becomes irreversible.

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released its latest Low Carbon Economy Index, with the damning news that the major economies are falling further behind meeting their carbon reduction goals.

All of this makes the haunting liturgy of the Days of Awe — “who shall live and who shall die” — particularly resonant.

Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which erased more than 6,300 names from the Book of Life last November, was supercharged by the warming waters of the Indian Ocean and the higher sea levels due to the melting of the ice caps. Who by water. The severity of the droughts across sub-Sahara Africa threatens millions of lives. Who by thirst. Even California is suffering compromising water shortages and wildfires. Who by fire.

The economic devastation alone of climate change — prices for water, food and energy will rise for billions of people — coupled with the unprecedented loss of human life is like no other physical and moral challenge that humanity has ever faced.

Enter the Jewish people.

Let’s not fool ourselves. We are a small people, contributing a fraction of a fraction of the nearly 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide that trap more and more heat in our atmosphere, creating the devastating greenhouse effect. Yet we are not without agency. Here are four things we can uniquely do as a people that can turn the tide against this global challenge.

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