Climate change is already affecting California, with fire season getting longer and more destructive, as seen in this photo of
the Fort Sage Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area, which was closed temporarily in July 2017 due to fires.
 (Photo/Courtesy Bureau of Land Management)
Climate change is already affecting California, with fire season getting longer and more destructive, as seen in this photo of the Fort Sage Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area, which was closed temporarily in July 2017 due to fires. (Photo/Courtesy Bureau of Land Management)

Why Jews need to save the planet our children will inherit

I am afraid for our future. Climate change threatens all life on this planet and is tangled up with nearly every other social justice crisis of our time.

As a mother, I worry about the world that my children and their peers will inherit. As a rabbi, I am called to action by our tradition’s ancient wisdom.

Our fight against climate change is grounded in our Jewish values. According to one rabbinic story, when God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and instructed them, “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world, for if you do, there will be no one after you to repair it” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13).

In our time, we already bear witness to the havoc that generations of irresponsible environmental stewardship are wreaking: threats to coastal communities, destabilized food supply, rising food and water costs, more frequent and intense fires and storms and forced migration to escape drought.

No, we don’t know exactly how many climate refugees there are worldwide. A forum on the topic held by the Global Governance Project in 2012 concluded “there are different estimates available pertaining to this emerging problem, which differ from 50 million in 2010 [a number put out the by the United Nations in 2005] to hundreds of millions or even 1 billion by 2050. This shows that more research is needed to determine a more exact number of climate refugees. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is looming crisis which needs to be dealt with rather sooner than later.”

U.S. secretaries of defense for the past 15 years, Democrats and Republicans alike, have identified climate change as a compelling threat to our national security and way of life.

There are meaningful actions we can each take, as individuals, to slow the process of climate change. We can drive more efficient cars, eat a little less meat, install solar panels in our congregations and homes, and so on.

We need forward-thinking policy and collective public action.

However, an issue as urgent as climate change demands more. We need forward-thinking policy and collective public action.

And yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of the effects of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions on climate change, in 2017 the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, thus stepping back from our responsibility to lead on issues of environmental protection. Without leadership in Washington, it is now upon cities, states and the private sector to step up and fight for the protection of our Earth for future generations.

While California already has the cleanest energy system in the nation, we are called upon to think bigger and to take bold action. That’s why, as a mother, as a rabbi and as a participant in Reform California — a project of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism — I support SB 100, the California Clean Energy Act of 2017.

SB 100 would establish in California the most ambitious clean energy goal in the country: 100 percent clean energy by the year 2045. The bill also would create measurable benchmarks between now and 2045 to ensure a smooth transition.

SB 100 would dramatically reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions, promote economic growth throughout the state and reduce air pollution in vulnerable communities where power plants are often located. SB 100 was passed by the Senate last year but didn’t get to a vote on the Assembly floor. “As the state Legislature reconvened [Jan. 3], all eyes will be on SB 100,” the Sacramento Bee reported.

This is our opportunity to create a future in which California is entirely powered by clean energy, setting an example of bold climate leadership for the whole world. I urge the Assembly to send SB 100 — a clean bill, without poisonous or restrictive amendments — to the governor’s desk.

Now is the time to take critical and decisive action to protect the environment and safeguard our future. It is on us. For if we spoil and destroy this world, there will be no one after us to repair it.

Rabbi Rebekah Stern
Rabbi Rebekah Stern

Rabbi Rebekah Stern is associate rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. She serves on the leadership team of Reform California.