A call for unified Jewish action on climate

I am writing to the Jewish community out of a deep sense of concern, as well as my own ethical obligation for tikkun olam.

Humanity is in the midst of a crisis. This crisis will result in an unprecedented magnitude of human suffering and displacement on the scale of a global nuclear war.

The climate crisis is the greatest environmental and social justice disaster in history. It is an emergency that can no longer be ignored. It is here. Now. It is the greatest moral issue of our time.

Leadership, as well as personal and political actions, are vital at this tipping point. Jewish leaders and educators have a platform to reach congregants. It is not enough to “believe” in climate change. Belief, like thoughts and prayers, will not bring change. Silence is assent.

We must manifest our recognition with activism in our community, state and nation. We demonstrate the godliness within each of us through ethical action, loving-kindness and compassion. This is our moral obligation.

According to the recently published “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells, despite an understanding of the science of climate change, “more than half the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in just the past three decades. Which means we have (personally) done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain human life and civilization … than in all the centuries — all the millennia — that came before.”

A single lifetime. Our lifetime. As predicted decades ago, firestorms, torrential rain and flooding, extreme heat, drought and superstorms are the new normal, both here in the United States and especially in the Southern Hemisphere and equatorial countries.

The United Nations predicts 200 million climate refugees by 2050, just 30 years from now, though estimates tend to vary wildly, from 25 million to 1 billion.

For comparison, Wallace-Wells writes, the 1 million Syrian refugees from the prolonged drought and ensuing conflict in 2015 caused widespread political destabilization in Europe.

In a 2018 presentation to the Vatican, German atmospheric physicist and climatologist Hans Schellnhuber, former chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change, estimated 1.4 billion climate refugees by 2060.

We will witness and experience this horror along with our children and grandchildren. The projected poverty, suffering and refugee crisis is beyond imagination.

Why do we not act?

We are distracted by closer and more immediate issues and overwhelmed by the intractable scale of the global climate crisis. But there is no excuse for inaction. It is genocide. And suicide.

We readily address immediate social justice problems with our actions for immigrants and our protests to close the child concentration camps. Likewise, we must show crucial foresight in addressing this looming disaster.

It must begin now. It is not too late to make a difference. For each degree (and tenth of a degree) of warming that we avoid, there will be less environmental destabilization and suffering, Wallace-Wells writes. L’dor vador, we must act for future generations. If not, what will be left for our children, and what will be our legacy?

In the words of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist and climate hero, when she addressed the European Parliament’s environmental committee in April: “It is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce, fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations where we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. In other words, it will take cathedral thinking. I ask you to please wake up and make the changes required.”

According to Prophet Isaiah, God called upon our people to be a light unto the nations. We are called as spiritual and moral leaders for the world. Let’s step up to that prophecy. Within our congregations and communities, we must educate people and make a moral case to focus on the climate crisis. We can advocate, legislate and agitate for a carbon-neutral economy. I ask for your leadership to educate congregants to recognize our ethical obligation to preserve the Earth for generations to come.

Let us welcome the Jewish New Year of 5780 as the moment we were called to wake and act. We can support our youth and join our interfaith neighbors, walking in the streets of San Francisco during the Global Climate Strike on Friday, Sept. 20 and joining events from Sept. 20 to 27.

During September, at Shabbat sermons and all High Holiday services, I ask you to speak of this.

At Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world, I ask you to speak of this. Sound the shofar and lead a climate charge that continues until we have repaired our climate and the world.

For the Earth and our children, please lead our congregation and community forward in response to this emergency.

Jackie Garcia Mann

Jackie Garcia Mann is a member of the Environmental Action Team at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, and is active with the Interfaith Climate Action Network in Contra Costa County.