Climate hero Mirele B. Goldsmith, PhD is an environmental psychologist, educator, and activist. An expert in how to change human behavior to solve environmental problems and build a sustainable future, Dr. Goldsmith is the founder and co-chair of Jewish Earth Alliance, a national advocacy coalition raising a moral voice on climate change to the US Congress. She and the team of the Jewish Earth Alliance are working to mobilize Jews to stand up and raise a loud, collective voice for policies that reflect our values.
I invited Dr. Goldsmith to tell me about her journey to become a climate leader, and how she – and we – can make a difference.
Here is what she shared:
A peak moment in my life as a climate activist was the People’s Climate March in 2014,which took place just before Rosh Hashana. On the morning of the March, I stood with 10,000 people of many faiths as Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of The Shalom Center, blew a blast on the shofar to call us to action. My involvement with the March started with an organizing meeting several months before. As one inspiring speaker after another got up and spoke, I felt the power of the moment. Then Leslie Cagan, a long-time organizer for peace, justice and socialist movements, got up to speak. Leslie said that she and her colleagues would make all the arrangements for the March, but it would not be successful unless we recruited the marchers. Then she asked us to turn to our neighbor and say what we were going to do to make the March a success. There was no way to avoid it. I had to commit to organize my Jewish community to be there. The team we put together brought thousands of Jews to the March from over 150 Jewish organizations.
After the experience of organizing for the People’s Climate March, I felt a responsibility to keep going. With Dr. Adriane Leveen, I founded Jewish Climate Action Network NYC to keep the Jews we had mobilized engaged in climate advocacy. Then, in 2018, I moved to Washington, DC. I knew I wanted to keep engaging Jews in working for a world safe from climate change, but I wasn’t sure what I would do. It soon became clear to me that I should take advantage of the opportunity of being close to the action of the federal government. I began to attend meetings of the Washington Interfaith Staff Community’s Working Group on Energy and Environment. This is where staff of faith organizations collaborate on advocacy efforts for climate solutions. At these meetings I got to know Lavona Grow, a leader of Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice (UUSJ.) Lavona was organizing her community to build relationships with Members of Congress by lobbying on Capitol Hill every month, delivering letters from constituents in UU churches across the country. I realized we Jews could do it too.
In 2019, I co-founded Jewish Earth Alliance with Rabbi Devorah Lynn. Inspired by the approach of the UJSJ we prepared monthly action alerts, collected letters from constituents across the country, and recruited volunteers in Washington DC to deliver the letters on Capitol Hill. Then the pandemic, followed by January 6, shut down Capitol Hill. We had to change our tactics. We continued to send out action alerts every month to enable Jews to contact their Members of Congress on a regular basis – the key to building relationships. And then we moved our lobbying efforts in to the virtual sphere because as government business went online it became possible to bring constituents from across the country to lobby for themselves without having to travel to Washington DC.
This year, thanks to the leadership of Rabbi Melanie Aron, we organized our first national virtual lobby day. It was timed for Tu Bishvat, which has become the Jewish Earth Day. 140 constituents participated in 20+ meetings with Senate offices. We advocated for passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act which will empower states to implement action plans to protect plants and animals threatened by climate change. By supporting this bill, we are taking action to preserve and protect creation, as we are commanded in Genesis. This bi-partisan bill passed the House but the Senate failed to pass it. We are not giving up and continue to advocate for passage.
It is very clear that the harms caused by the changing climate are impacting already disadvantaged communities first and worst. We believe that our Jewish faith requires that we act in solidarity with communities impacted by environmental injustice that are suffering from heat and extreme weather, as well as legacy and continuing pollution from fossil fuel infrastructure. The Inflation Reduction Act, passed last year, includes positive measures around climate justice and allocates an estimated $47.5 billion to environmental justice priorities. But there are concerns about whether the communities that need this help the most will benefit. We asked our Senators to use their oversight powers to make sure that the IRA is implemented as it was designed in terms of directing resources to disadvantaged communities.
We organized our second lobby day for Tisha B’av. Like Tu Bishvat, this day holds special meaning for Jews facing the reality of climate crisis. Our ancestors viewed the Temple as a microcosm of Earth. Today it is the Earth itself that is facing destruction. We must not let another catastrophe be added to the list that we mourn on Tisha B’av. Almost 200 Jews participated in over 25 meetings with Senate staff to lobby for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, climate solutions in the Farm Bill, and for energy infrastructure permitting reforms that protect communities and prioritize renewable energy.
From the time I first became concerned about environmental problems I was interested in the human dimension of change. Wanting to know more about how change happens, I went back to school to earn a PhD in environmental psychology. I’ve also learned lot about how to make change from community organizers. One of my mentors is Eric Weltman, a senior organizer at Food & Water Watch who recruited me to participate in the campaign to ban fracking in New York State. Sharing all that I’ve learned about how to inspire and engage people has become a focus of my work as an activist. In a recent book chapter, entitled “How People Change: Lessons from Jonah,” I drew on social science research and Jewish teachings (published in The Sacred Earth: Jewish Perspectives on our Planet, CCAR Press.)
Reversing climate change and healing Earth is the work of our time. I have come to realize that I will be doing it for the rest of my life. Each of us has gifts to bring to this work. Each of us must find a path that brings us joy and fulfillment as we confront hard truths about the state of society and our planet. Miriam Massen z”l, a dear colleague who participated in Hazon’s Jewish Greening Fellowship, once beautifully expressed that in this time in history, working for environmental sustainability is essential to a meaningful Jewish life. The work has brought meaning to my life and I feel blessed to do it alongside so many wonderful friends and teachers. Climate activism has enriched my life as much as the climate crisis has pained and challenged me.