A Jewish Grandma’s Thoughts About Climate Change
Deborah L.R. Kornfeld
On a sunny day, after an evening rainfall, you might find me in the garden pulling weeds, solving problems, worrying, and dreaming. I wasn’t always able to spend time in the garden. We had years and years where we were so busy with work and children we barely had time to breathe. Now our children have grown, married and we are enjoying the bonus and blessing of grandchildren. I am a safta and as a safta I worry about the world I am leaving to my grandchildren.
It was on such a sunny day while weeding, that I had one of my reoccurring realizations. I noticed that many of the weeds I was pulling originated in my neighbor’s yard. Weeds, the sound of the neighbor’s lawn mower, whiffs of barbecue sauce in the breeze on an August evening, all these things cannot be contained. They are all reminders that there are no fences or hedges to contain air, water, or earth. We are all connected.
Here in Rochester New York the weather is a big joke. It is our badge of honor that we survive cold, gray winters. We kvetch when the weather is too cold; we kvetch when the weather is too hot or too humid. When the paper mentions climate change, we often chuckle and quip that a little global warming might be nice in January. The places that already struggle with climate change are far away and are off our collective radar.
Yet climate change is already making an impact in New York State. Average yearly temperatures have risen 2 degrees since 1970 and average winter temperature have risen 4.4 degrees. Recently the New York State coastal sea level rose between .86 to 1.5 inches a decade, whereas before the industrial revolution, the rate was .34 to.43 inches a decade. Wildlife and livestock have felt the impact of climate change and we are experiencing more extreme weather.
Also in Israel, our Jewish homeland, climate change is occurring. The area is experiencing an increase in temperature and a decrease in precipitation. There has been a subtle shift in ecosystems and more extreme weather events. Water shortages affect drinking water and the water that is available for irrigation. Water shortages combined with growing populations complicate a region that is already unstable.
The dangers of climate change are well documented by scientists who concur that our use of fossil fuels is fundamentally changing our world. The polar ice caps are melting. Super storms like hurricane Sandy and Katrina were devastating. Droughts and wild fires are happening more frequently. What sort of legacy are we leaving to our next generation?
As a safta I also look to see whether there is a Jewish response to climate change. Our prayers and texts are full of wonder at the magnificence of the mighty waters and of the vast starry skies. As a people, we are in awe of creation. The book of Genesis gives us our initial understanding of man’s relationship to the earth; we are told to both ‘subdue the earth and have dominion over it” and then again to “till it and protect it”. Initially it seems that the earth was given to us as a gift. The Torah gave laws and later the Rabbis developed those laws and regulations to protect trees and animals. We are told not to waste food or harm animals. The Midrash Tanchuma teaches us that creation is basically a symbiotic relationship. The tree needs the earth and the earth, in return, needs the tree. We must care for creation and it will care for us.
I am back in the garden, there are still more weeds to pull, more flowers to tend. Summer is ending and the days are getting shorter. The month of Elul is here. I am getting ready for Rosh HaShanah. With apples and honey and pomegranates and all manner of fruits we will celebrate the birth of this world. Climate change threatens the sustainability of our amazing planet. It is our generation at this time that needs to act. It is overwhelming, but we must go from angst to action. We have a responsibility to our next generation. “Mi-dor le-dor”(from generation to generation), as Jews, we are mandated to live in a way that protects and maintains the future.
On Sunday September 21, 2014 there is a Climate Rally in New York City. A poster for the event reads: To change everything, you need everyone”. The climate rally is just one small step in a journey to do our part to care for the earth and I will be there.