The world faces many challenges, and for one of them—climate change—the time available to reverse the current trend is limited. In the midrash, God tells us: “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” The reality is that we are spoiling and destroying the world, but if we act now, with passion and a sense of purpose, we can still make a difference in the future of the planet. On Passover, we are each to consider that we ourselves are coming out of bondage and into freedom, and freedom brings responsibility. Quite appropriately, in the words of the sage Hillel, “If not now, when?”
Why is this night different from all other nights?
Until this night, we paid little heed to the effect of fossil fuel consumption on the planet.
We’ve only been able to accurately measure the level of carbon in the atmosphere since the 1960s, when it was found to be 315 ppm; 350 ppm is considered safe for the future of the planet, but currently carbon levels exceed 400 ppm. Ninety-seven percent of all climate scientists understand that consuming fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, along with other human actions, will continue to change the world into a less and less hospitable home for our children and grandchildren.
Until this night, we ignored the impact of our actions on the health of the planet and the viability of all species.
All our choices—from the goods and materials we buy, use and throw away to the choices about what food we eat, what type of transportation we use and how we invest our money—impact the environment in terms of water, land, air pollution and greenhouse gases. More sustainable personal and communal choices can lessen this impact. When we understand that we and all other living and nonliving things are part of God’s sacred creation, it’s easier for us to treat it with love and respect.
Until this night, we disregarded the consequences of our food choices on our carbon footprint.
The entire global food system, from manufacturing fertilizer to growing, harvesting, storing, packaging and transporting food, is responsible for up to 30% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Switching from meat-rich meals to vegetarian ones significantly reduces an average person’s carbon footprint.
Until this night, we left others in charge of caring for the planet while we sat by, dazzled by the conveniences of our modern economy.
The majority of people in the world believe climate change is a serious or very serious problem. The intensity of concern varies across the world, and Latin Americans and sub-Saharan Africans are more worried than Americans and Chinese, whose countries have the highest overall carbon dioxide emissions. In the United States, although most people believe climate change is a serious issue, few give high priority to combating it. In the meantime, parts of Pacific Island nations are disappearing under rising sea levels.
As you travel to freedom this Passover, what new responsibility toward protecting creation and future generations are you willing to take on as an expression of your newfound personal freedom? Areas of your life to consider are food, transportation, plastics and other goods and materials, renewable energy, advocacy, self and community education, and personal finances. What can you do in your own life to live more sustainably? Who else can you help to change—your work, house of worship, extended family, elected officials?
Aldo Leopold said: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” What do you see in your actions that are right and wrong by this standard?
Birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish are dying 72 times faster than normal. Eliminating biodiversity threatens to disrupt the pollination of flowers, water purification and the food chain. How does this affect you and your community? How close do you live to the ocean? Have you thought about how the increasing sea rate rise will affect you, your children and your grandchildren?
The Amazon rainforest is called the “lungs of the world” because more than 20 percent of the world oxygen is produced there. Yet 150 acres are cut down each day, vanishing at 20,000 square miles a year. As this trend continues, how do you think it will affect you?
A relationship to land that is strictly economic is based on privileges and not obligation. And yet the midrash said, “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world.” What other ways can we have a relationship to land that is more ethical?
Every year, 180 million tons of toxic waste is dumped into rivers, lakes, streams and oceans by mining companies. This waste can contain arsenic, lead, mercury, cyanide and over 30 other dangerous chemicals. This environmental damage affects us all. How do you think you are affected?
Air transportation is responsible for 3 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions of the United States. Aircraft also contribute to ozone and water vapor, both harmful to the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged that airplane pollution disrupts the climate and endangers human welfare. Can you think of ways to reduce your air travel in the future?
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