Thanksgiving and climate change

Last week, representatives from more than 200 nations concluded their summit in Glasgow, Scotland, where they met to bring the world closer to collective action to halt the devastating effects that climate change is having on the world.

Sadly, two weeks of high-level discussions did not result in a coordinated compelling commitment to catapult the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) called for by the 2017 Paris accord. Instead, delegations left Glasgow without reaching a common commitment to take necessary steps to reverse ongoing damage to the environment.

As the secular Thanksgiving holiday approaches and we consider the earth’s balance, it is a good time to remember our duty of tikkun olam, the obligation that each of us has to repair the world.

The end of the Glasgow summit coincides with the ushering in of America’s Thanksgiving season. Global warming, and the toxic harm that it causes, is plainly evident.

In Texas, the impact of deleterious climate change is readily apparent. Earlier this year, Professor John Nielsen-Gammon of Texas A&M University’s Department of Atmospheric Science reported that our state’s temperatures are heating up more rapidly than the global average.

“Land heats up faster than the oceans do,” Professor Nielsen-Gammon explained. “Every couple of years, warming basically doubles the number of 100-degree days we experience. So, that’s doubled already, it’s going to double again and unfortunately probably keep doubling for a while.”

Increased rainfall, flooding and more severe hurricanes further demonstrate the ill effects of climate change in Texas. Tornadoes in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast represent perennial threats to the stability of our communities.

One reaction to the Glasgow climate conclave is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, in response to the failure of the world’s wealthiest nations to commit to an ambitious, albeit achievable, agenda to reverse dire climate trends.

But Judaism, through scripture and the common experience of our people, teaches resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. Today’s State of Israel is powerful evidence that great progress may be achieved through sustained commitment, exploration and development.

Let us consider the beauty of Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” In a very real sense, each of us, individually, and all of us, collectively, are stewards of the heavens and earth during our lifetimes.

Judaism teaches that each of us has an obligation to take positive actions, to make the world a better place. So, what can each of us do to reverse climate change?

We may make our voices heard. We can contact our local, state and federal representatives. In our democratic system of government, the people are the government. Thus, by emailing and speaking with our elected representatives, we can express our support for limiting carbon emissions, and help foster a climate of change.

Each of us can stay informed on issues relating to the environment. As the environment experiences the impact of our collective actions, we must be aware of what is happening in our midst. Understanding the effects of global warming is an ongoing process. Little remains static. By staying informed, each us may respond to challenges that are ongoing.

In our daily lives, each of us can endeavor to conserve fossil fuels. We must explore other options when we travel, both in our daily lives and on longer trips. It may be possible to take trips by train or bus when traveling. When flying, we can opt to travel via economy class. Air travel in business and first class takes a heavier toll on the environment.

Ultimately, electric, battery-fueled and hybrid vehicles will replace the internal combustion engines. Hybrid motor vehicles are already on the market. Ultimately, we will all be compelled to surrender the gasoline-fueled transportation of today.

Throughout the year, we can conserve on the use of electricity and natural gas that we use to fuel our homes. We can become keenly conscious of our habits, and endeavor to curb them. Individual efforts can combine to foster a culture of preserving the earth by creating green spaces, public parks and gardens. Green spaces absorb carbon dioxide and stave off air pollution.

And each of us, whether in our homes, or through public programs, can contribute tzedakah to plant a tree or trees. Just as America’s Jewish community has rallied to plant trees in Eretz Yisrael, so let us plant trees in our neighborhoods, communities and throughout the land.

To join the battle against climate change, we may begin our marches with small steps. That is how every adventure begins.

Just as the Torah is a Tree of Life, let us symbolically sow seeds and plant saplings to repair the world.

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving, let us bless Hashem for the beauty and bounty of the earth, and pledge that we will act to preserve it.

A version of this editorial appeared in the Nov. 18, 2021, issue of the Jewish Herald-Voice of Houston.

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