The second paragraph of the Sh’ma prayer, taken from Deuteronomy 11:13-21, warns that if the Jewish people do not observe the commandments, the rains will cease, the earth will not yield its produce, and “you will swiftly perish from the good land that God is giving you.” Scientists may not accept this cause and effect, but Jewish environmentalists read this text as a warning that we will pay the price for moral and economic behavior that does not respect the ecological integrity of creation.
Signs abound that human behavior is out of balance with the natural world. Epic droughts, from California to Sudan, are wreaking economic chaos. Rising sea levels due to melting ice caps are threatening populations living along the world’s coasts. Extreme weather events are becoming the norm.
Last week in Paris, 195 delegate countries — including the United States and Israel — committed to reducing heat-trapping gas emissions and improving their goals every five years. COEJL, the broad-based Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, praised the accord as “a step in the right direction, though it falls short of meeting the needs of impacted communities, and requires energetic follow-up actions.” Israeli environmentalists celebrated what one called its own government’s “most ambitious statement to date” on climate change, but also urged their leaders to take more concrete steps toward a greener future.
In our own country, the climate change debate has been mired in partisan politics, even as politicians in all parties cope with the undeniable impacts of rising seas and a warming planet. The media tend to be more focused on immediate challenges like terrorism and the refugee crisis. But just as religious groups see a relationship between our behavior and our planet, so do political scientists and economists see a direct connection between the changing climate and security issues, from wars over shrinking natural resources to the mass migration of the world’s underfed.
As COEJL put it in welcoming the accord, “The obligation to champion the poor and vulnerable around the world, to be seekers of justice, is fundamental to our Judaism.” At the same time, safeguarding the environment is fundamental to the security and well-being of all people.