Outreach Coordinator, Washington Interfaith Power and Light
If you would rather skip despair and just do something, scroll to the bottom of this post.
In the Jewish tradition, God created the world and calls it good, placing humans to “till and to tend” it (Genesis 2:15). Humans are the beneficiaries of creation, fully dependent upon it for their own well-being. They are also, however, placed as caretakers of a world that is not their own and that is called “good” by the creator in its own right. The Rabbis tell the story that when God led Adam around the Garden of Eden, God said, "Look at my works. See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy my world—for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.13) One of the first things God told us was “this is good – do not mess it up!”
It will not be news to you that we are really, really messing it up. Nothing more needs to be said on the undeniability of the facts on global climate change and the accompanying catastrophic ecological destruction. Climate change is far beyond an economic issue, or a social justice issue. It is the most basic moral issue humans have ever been faced with. It is, quite simply, destruction of a magnitude that would take the earth many thousands of years to recover from.
Last year, Governor Inslee signed into law the Climate Action Bill, saying “I believe we ought to be optimistic about our ability to defeat climate change.”* I am not so optimistic. I am young. I do not know what kind of world awaits my potential children twenty years from now. How much will it still resemble the world that God called good?
Just this morning the New York Times is reporting that a group of scientists have come out with new models predicting that within the next few decades even our coldest years will be warmer than the hottest ones on record today. If we do nothing to curb our greenhouse pollutants, the planet could easily see a rise of over 7°C. MIT’s Center for Global Climate Change predicts that such a rise could lead to the deaths of billions of people worldwide and will cause global economic and ecological collapse. We would be looking at 50% species extinction, similar to the mass extinction that marked the end of the dinosaurs.
But Governor Inslee is right that we have “no other option but action.” Living in a rapidly industrializing England, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
If we can radically reduce our carbon emissions by the year 2020 and continue doing so through the following decades, the rise in temperature might top off beneath 4°C. We would still be looking at 30-50% species extinction, but CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere may be able to begin to stabilize and warming may level off by the end of the century. I cannot, and you cannot, and Washington Interfaith Power and Light cannot achieve this, but it is not a pipe dream. Approximately 150 of 550 of the coal plants in the US have been closed in the last five years. This is good news for our climate.
But the truth is that we have a rough century ahead of us now and it is a long, tedious slog that can’t be fixed by catchy words or numbers - only by the genuine effort of each one of us. This is an issue that all faiths are in solidarity on. The earth is sacred and of infinite value and we cannot morally stand back while harm is done to it. This is the time we are given: climate change is the most important issue that humans have ever faced, and the preservation of our sacred world depends on our actions today.
One thing we are doing right now that you should do too:
In Washington State we are looking at how we can regulate greenhouse pollution, to ensure achievement of state carbon emissions levels set by the legislature in 2007. This is your chance to speak directly to Governor Jay Inslee and the other members of the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup (CLEW) in support of strong climate action.
CLEW was established through an environmental and Governor’s priority bill passed in the 2013 legislative session. It is tasked to recommend policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet the state’s emissions limits. Over the next four months we have a chance to make our voices heard in support of large, meaningful actions on climate that will revitalize our economy with green energy jobs and join other west coast states in leading the way in reducing global warming pollution.
You can help by coming to one of the hearings and talking with Governor Inslee and the Climate Workgroup and by submitting written comments. The hearing in Seattle is October 23rd from 4-8pm and there are also hearings in Spokane and Olympia.
For more information on CLEW, the hearings, and other ways you can help click here.
*You can hear Governor Jay Inslee’s speech here.