It’s become almost a cliché: every year progressive Jewish groups use the festival of Tu b’Shvat, which falls on Saturdy, to make the point that Jewish law and tradition demand concern about our endangered planet. And then it’s business as usual until next year, when the festival prompts another outpouring of concern.
True, a number of Jewish organizations have been environmentally active in recent years. The American Jewish Committee has greened its offices; the Reform movement does advocacy on global warming; the Jewish Council for Public Affairs includes a chunk of environmental programming at its annual plenum.
But the fact is, we can all do more — as individuals, as organizations and as a community. It’s too easy to shove environmental concerns to the end of the queue, behind jobs and the economy, health care reform, terrorism, Israel; the list of other priorities that can appear more urgent is depressingly long. And we should do more; while every one of these other issues is important, it’s hard to imagine crises that eclipse that of a planet in peril.
Yes, we know, the environment has — tragically — become a partisan hot potato, making many of the public policy questions surrounding it risky for broad-based Jewish groups. Yes, we know, the science surrounding environmental damage is complex, the research findings hard to understand and sometimes contradictory. Global warming? It’s a little hard to picture when harsh winter weather blasts the East Coast.
But the preponderance of evidence and simple logic make it clear: we cannot continue polluting our air and water and depleting our natural resources without paying a steep price — maybe not us, but probably our children and certainly our grandchildren. Complexity is no excuse for inaction.
We commend those Jewish groups that seek to focus attention on environmental concerns from a Jewish perspective, but we suggest it may be time to push the issue to the next level — perhaps by calling a national Jewish summit on energy and the environment to look for new ways our community can become more actively engaged in a set of issues that affects so many of our shared concerns.