The Hebrew month of Elul has arrived. It is the traditional time for heightened introspection, a chance to consider teshuva, improvements in our lives, before the “Days of Awe,” the days of judgment, the “High Holidays” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The shofar is blown every morning (except on Shabbat) in synagogues during the month of Elul to awaken us from slumber, to remind us to consider where we are in our lives and to urge us to make positive changes.
How should we respond to Elul today? How should we respond when:
- Science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists, 99.9% of peer-reviewed papers on the issue in respected scientific journals, nd the leaders of the 195 nations that met at the Paris climate conference in December 2015 all agree that climate change is real, is largely caused by human activities, and poses great threats to humanity.
- Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade and all of the 17 warmest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. 2015 was the warmest year recorded and 2016 is on track to track to be even warmer, which would be the third consecutive record breaking year.The previous 15 months all broke temperature records.
- Polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, faster than scientific projections.
- There has been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods.
- California has been subjected to so many severe climate events (heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and mudslides when heavy rains occur) recently that its governor, Jerry Brown, stated that, “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.”
- Many climates experts believe that we are close to a tipping point when climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur.
- While climate scientists believe that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, the world reached 400 ppm in 2014, and the amount is increasing by 2 – 3 ppm per year.
- While climate scientists hope that temperature increases can be limited to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), largely because that is the best that can be hoped for with current trends and momentum, the world is now on track for an average increase of 4 – 5 degrees Celsius, which would produce a world with almost unimaginably negative climate events .
- The Pentagon and other military groups believe that climate change will increase the potential for instability, terrorism, and war by reducing access to food and clean water and by causing tens of millions of desperate refuges to flee from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms, and other effects of climate change.
- despite all of the above, many people are in denial, and most people seem to be “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as we approach a giant iceberg.”
In view of the above, we should make it a priority to do all we can to awaken the world to the dangers and the urgency of doing everything possible to shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. We should contact rabbis, Jewish educators, and other Jewish leaders and ask that they increase awareness of the threats and how Jewish teachings can be applied to avert impending disasters. We should write letters to editors, call talk shows, question politicians, and in every other way possible, stress that we can’t continue the policies that have been so disastrous. We should urge that tikkun olam (the healing and repair of the world) become a central focus in all aspects of Jewish life today. As I stress in other messages, an essential part of averting a climate catastrophe is a major societal shift toward vegan diets.
The afternoon service for Yom Kippur includes the reading of the book of Jonah, who was sent by God to Nineveh to urge the people to repent and change their evil ways in order to avoid their destruction. Today the whole world is Nineveh, in danger of annihilation and in need of repentance and redemption, and each one of us must be a Jonah, with a mission to warn the world that it must turn from greed, injustice, and violence, so that we can avoid a climate catastrophe and help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.