In the past we have discussed the need to bring current events into the classroom in general as well as from a Jewish perspective. Environmental issues are very much in the forefront today and Judaism has much to say on this topic. Our students need to be aware of the Jewish position on ecology and the environment. Not only because it is important, but because we need educated activists as well.
Planet Earth was doing okay until the Industrial Revolution. The advent of machines, increased usage of fossil fuels, population explosions, growing utilization/mining of natural resources and all the benefits of human progress have created a challenge to conserve our finite resources. Not only that, but the evolution of modern technology has largely ignored the damage to the environment caused by pollution, and a blatant disregard for what we release into our water supply, the air and the earth. Every day we experience the fallout from the reckless way we treat our planet. It is no coincidence that there is an increase in forest fires, hurricanes, flooding, sea temperatures, soil erosion, respiratory illness, smog and all that other good stuff that comes from an insatiable appetite to plunder the environment with no regard for the consequences.
When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, He told him not only to work/cultivate the land but to preserve it (Genesis 2:15). Jewish tradition is replete with Biblical and Talmudic references to conservation and environmental preservation. Not only are there many citations and legal requirements to protect the land, but air and noise pollution are also proscribed. Unfortunately, concern for the environment has become politicized. Big business conglomerates and bottom-line profits are in conflict with common sense conservation policies and environmental legislation.
Scientists have been warning us for decades about the dangers to environmental sustainability. The New York Times Sunday Magazine recently devoted an entire issue to this topic. In October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we have 12 years to limit climate-change catastrophe, and in a 1,656-page assessment and major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies in November, our government presented the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end. The report is the second volume of the National Climate Assessment, which the federal government is required by law to produce every four years. The first volume was issued by the White House last year. The previous report, issued in May 2014, concluded with nearly as much scientific certainty, but not as much precision on the economic costs, that the tangible impacts of climate change had already started to cause damage across the country. It cited increasing water scarcity in dry regions, torrential downpours in wet regions and more severe heat waves and wildfires.
Judaism and other faith communities are very concerned with this issue. Therefore, the Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County is devoting this year’s 32nd annual program to “Living the Change: Interfaith Initiatives for Environmental Sustainability.” The program will take place on President’s Day, February 18, at Seasons, 644 Pascack Road in Washington Township, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be an interfaith fair as well as an interfaith choir, and kosher food will be available. The keynote speaker is Gopal Patel, a member of Greenfaith, director of the Bhumi Project at Oxford and a member of the UN Advisory Council’s task force on religion and development. Gopal is regularly invited to speak at international conferences and forums on the role Hindu teachings can play in addressing climate change. He has previously spoken at the White House, the UN and the British House of Lords, and has been honored for this work by HRH Prince Philip.
One exhibit will feature Jewish sources on protecting the environment. Tickets are available only in advance. $40 for adults and $30 for children 12 and under. Send ticket requests to [email protected] or text them to 201-873-3263 and they will be delivered. Payment is by cash or check only.
By Wallace Greene
Dr. Wallace Greene is one of the Jewish representatives to The Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County.