I’m environmentally panicked. I keep talking and thinking about the recent predictions by Australian climate change experts of imminent cataclysmic environmental damage . The report says the existential threat to human beings will begin in 2050. Eventually, the planet will be a wilderness. We are currently reading in the Torah cycle the middle of the book of Numbers, known in Hebrew as Bamidbar (“wilderness”). Mere coincidence or call to action?
In the reading from parshat Shelach, Moses sends one scout from each tribe out from the wilderness to view Canaan, the Promised Land. The scouts are instructed to view its vegetation and its inhabitants. Moses asks them to report on the land, its soil, trees, and fruits as well as the people who dwell there.
In the 21st Century we have the reverse. People have taken a verdant and fruitful planet and brought it to the brink of desolation. All we need do is scout out the future. Based upon the trajectories of deforestation, carbon dioxide level increases, surging methane emissions, and rising sea levels we are turning earth into a wilderness.
In the Torah, ten of the twelve scouts were frightened by the people they saw and the fortified cities in which they dwelled. Only two had the vision to understand that the future could be suitably formed. They had faith - in themselves, in God and in the future. A time tested truth is that only a few of us will have sufficient faith to keep our eyes opened to possibilities.
Today, the vast majority is either ignoring the danger or afraid to make the necessary changes to rescue our planet. It is easier to believe that scientists will invent miracle fixes or contend that climate change is part of a natural cycle for the earth. What appears difficult for us to do is institute the necessary life style changes to reverse the destruction and demand that climate change be treated as the primary threat to the United States far beyond illegal immigration or global market share.
If Judaism has any purpose in the 21st century at all, it has to teach the lesson of saving life in the wake of an assault on the environment. If God’s creation is to be treasured and preserved, then earth must be tended to as if each and every creature and plant is as precious as those in the Garden of Eden.
Here’s what the brave and wise scouts of the future are asking you to do. Cut back on your meat consumption. Both you and the planet will be healthier. Waste less – less paper, less plastic, less food. Recycling is not enough, because we just consume too much. Sign up with solar and wind power suppliers. And don’t be afraid to share this aspiration for a healthier planet with everyone you know.
Love this planet. Put your heart into the matter. May these values remind you of the Godliness that is protecting our environment. Speak of it as you walk along the supermarket aisles and when you pay your electric bill. Teach it to your children and their children, so that they may know that we tried.
Don’t let this planet go from Promised Land to wasted land.
R’ Evan J. Krame