“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
—Professor Albus Dumbledore (aka JK Rowling)
A Mothers Out Front activist quoted the Hogwarts headmaster at a rally outside Boston’s federal courthouse to describe how she feels about the current climate crisis.
The rally last Monday afternoon was held in solidarity with a group of young people who filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government three years ago. In this lawsuit, the 21 plaintiffs, ages 11-22, claim that our government has violated the constitutional rights of children and young adults by knowingly and actively contributing to the global climate crisis. Recent scientific reports lay evidence to claim that ecological disaster is already underway, although the immediate effects cannot always be seen in our day-to-day lives. Rather than carry on with “business as usual,” our youth have chosen the highest mountain they could climb and have taken to the courts.
More than 60 people gathered in front of the courthouse to advocate for the future of these and all other young people around the world, who will bear a disproportionate burden from the anticipated effects of climate change. This trial would decide whether or not U.S. citizens, specifically our youngest generations, have the constitutional right to a safe and stable climate.
I first became interested in the environmental movement (although I didn’t know it was a movement at the time) during the summer of 2011, when I participated in a Jewish youth program called “USY on Wheels.” One of our afternoon study sessions was spent sitting on the hot pavement of a hotel parking lot, discussing a teaching from Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of our Fathers. The quote read: “You are not obligated to complete the task, nor are you free to neglect it.” I could not possibly remember everything that was discussed that afternoon or that summer, but I do remember being moved by that passage and promising to adopt it and apply it in my life as often as a 16-year-old high school student could. And thus began my love affair with activism.
The values I grew up with as part of the Jewish community allowed me to find deep meaning and purpose in this kind of advocacy. As a child in Hebrew school I learned that Adam and Eve were given the Garden of Eden, not to control, but to steward and protect. The idea of preservation became very important to me as I learned more about the Jewish faith and the concept of passing down our values and traditions l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.
When I declared my environmental studies major in college, I got to explore the sometimes frightening history of the way humans interact with their environments. From mountaintop-removal coal mining in the Appalachian Trail to the ever-present smog that hangs over Los Angeles, there’s no questioning that humans have irreparably altered our environments in some ways, but the argument stems in how much we can or should claim responsibility for.
We cannot solve climate change; it’s not that kind of problem. But as the Torah instructs, we can be stewards of the land, and we can lift up those who are and will be most affected by the results of drastic environmental changes. The plaintiffs of Juliana v. U.S. call for the creation and implementation of a comprehensive climate action proposal that could help our nation better mitigate for and adapt to what may be coming. Though the trial, which was supposed to begin Oct. 29, was postponed, it’s never too early to show support for those who are fighting for a better future. You can follow the progress of the trial on youthvgov.org, or via their podcast, aptly titled “No Ordinary Lawsuit.”
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