Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Monday, June 9, 2014
Climate change a game changer for Israel and world Jewry (Times of Israel)
Climate change a game changer for Israel and world Jewry
This coming Tuesday, my congregation will celebrate the delivery of the first fruits of our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Over fifty families are participating in the first Jewish CSA in southwestern Connecticut. We are purchasing produce from alocal farm, which will have a positive impact on my community economically, environmentally, nutritionally, and spiritually. All the leftovers will be donated to the local food bank, so this will be a big-time tzedakkah project too. Combined with our massive solar panel project and our national recognition as a “Cool Congregation,” we are making an enormous statement on the urgency of combating climate change and healing our planet.
While we have been doing our part, a growing crescendo is attesting to the impact of climate change on our earth. We’re no longer talking about devastating things to come in the future. The future is now. This theme has been echoed in a number of recent articles and major documentaries, including the National Geographic series “Cosmos” and, most notably, Showtime’s devastating, “Years of Living Dangerously.”
Which brings me to Israel. One way Israel can fulfill the Zionist vision of people like David Ben Gurion, and be a light unto the nations, would be to help nations to light that very light – to lead the way in providing solutions for the environmental dilemmas of our age.
There is still much to do, and Israeli environmentalists are always wary of urban development run amok, roads destroying wetlands, fragile bird sanctuaries and lots of other dangers. But perhaps the greatest environmental challenge to the Zionist enterprise lies miles offshore, in the enormous natural gas fields that promise to provide Israel with that energy independence that has eluded it since the founding of the state. Natural gas is much cleaner than fossil fuels, but as we are discovering here in America, there are concerns about methane leakage that could in fact be far worse for climate change even than coal. Investigations are ongoing, but recent discoveries in the US are not encouraging.
I’ve seen no reports of methane leakage in Israel’s natural gas fields, but neither have I heard of any new technologies or methodologies being devised to stop them. Israel has more immediate concerns, such as the risk of pipeline sabotage by terror groups (as happened not long ago in Sinai), which could simultaneously create a geopolitical and an environmental disaster. But if Israel could do for preventing natural gas pipeline methane leakage what it has done for desalination and water conservation, that would perhaps be the greatest game changer of all, for Israel, for Zionism, and for the planet.
But if not – if the natural gas bonanza turns out to be an environmental Trojan horse filled with methane, some very difficult decisions lie ahead. Should Israel plow ahead and drill, baby, drill for short term gain and energy independence but at an enormous environmental risk – or not?
I’m personally hoping Israel puts its best foot forward to become a worldwide leader in developing the cleanest energy options and fighting the effects of climate change. In the meantime, while we give the Israelis time to perform another miracle in underwater methane detection and pipeline safety, we here in America need to continue to do our part for the environment.
Unfortunately, few Jewish congregations have done that. Read down the list of congregations honored along recently by Interfaith Power and Light. Nearly fifty houses of worship, and mine is the only synagogue (one other Jewish organization is mentioned, Camp Ramah in California). I’m proud of what my congregation has done, but this is no no time for self congratulation. Jews everywhere need to continue to proclaim to the world, and most urgently to our own people – that the future of the planet is a very Jewish issue.