Let’s lead from the front with a roadmap for eco-Judaism

(Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash via Jewish News)
(Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash via Jewish News)

Do we still have the appetite and desire to protect our Climate from imminent damage? This week, which is the third, annual London Climate Action week, this is a question that across Jewish communities, we should be asking.

In his recent book, ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’, Bill Gates writes that the economic and social crisis wreaked by the Coronavirus pandemic has not stopped the desire for action on preventing climate change. In fact he believes that some of the ways out of the Covid crisis can also be ways to protect our environment. The recovery will be successful if it is a green recovery.

And so, the world is waking up to a tremendous challenge ahead. The mass emissions of greenhouse gases that humans either bring about through industrial production or facilitate through warming their homes or using transport are going to make things mighty difficult for our world as we progress through this century. These greenhouse gases are warming the atmosphere and will continue to do so, causing growing extreme weather and rendering some areas of our known world as inhabitable. The economic and social crises that will follow in the wake of such increases in global temperatures are frightening. Will the world end – I don’t think so to be honest although I am not an expert. But the world will not be a pleasant place in which to live at all, and the growth of social and economic inequality will be great.

It is hard in this context to think as an individual. What can I do that will really change things? How will one or more acts of change really make a difference? But as Jewish people, a significant number of us are part of communities and as part of that experience, we frequently benefit from attending communal buildings. There will be probably hundreds of such buildings across the UK, and each one will be emitting in some way greenhouse gases. They will be using a boiler, very probably a gas boiler. They may not be insulated well so heat can escape and therefore more heat is required to keep the building warm especially in winter. They will buy in gas and electricity, possibly from a source that does not favour renewable sources of energy. And that is only the emissions caused by the Synagogue or community building itself. By travelling to an event at the Synagogue there are emissions from using petrol or diesel cars for instance – this is an emission that is caused by individuals while benefiting from the community’s building.

Now I am not writing this to focus on asking you, the reader, to act now. The path of action does include individual changes of course, but it is more complicated than that and involves national and local government involvement and intervention, as well as scientific innovation and price reductions making the growing amount of green technology more affordable. But as a community, we must come together and build a roadmap for the next 30 years. The Board of Deputies voted through a motion that recognised a global climate crisis and set a target for communal net zero emissions by 2050. That means that our communal greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced to zero by 2050. The use of the word ‘net’ here simply means that if actual zero emissions has not been reached, there may (and the word may here is important) be ways to truly offset that emission. Net Zero by 2050 is a big ask – but we all can and must get behind it and work with our own local communities to work a local roadmap, while working together with other communities in order to benefit from economies of scale and sharing of expertise.

I am one of a group of Rabbis across a spectrum of denominations who steer the exciting EcoSynagogue, presently supported by the Board of Deputies. At EcoSynagogue, through our Environmental Audit, we offer Synagogues a way to begin the journey towards net zero, and to make changes in their community which will reduce climate damage. Check whether your Synagogue is part of EcoSynagogue, and if not, encourage them to register and start the journey with us and many other Synagogues.

A growing number of Synagogue communities are realizing the importance of their place within local and national society. This has involved supporting of foodbanks, building centres to support asylum seekers and refugees and housing night shelters. The Chief Rabbi anchored his leadership in what he called ‘social responsibility’ and has preached the importance of guarding and preserving our planet. There can be nothing more rooted in such social responsibility than ensuring that our Synagogues do not contribute to the damage of our climate. Climate proofing buildings will become more of a part of life over the next decade. As a Jewish Community, let’s not wait for developments – along with other faith groups, let’s lead from the front.

About the Author
Rabbi David Mason is rabbi to an Orthodox community of over 1000 people in London and is on the executive of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue. He has an MA in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies and undertakes a great deal of civic and inter faith work. He was recently appointed as trustee for FODIP (Forum for Discussion on Israel and Palestine) and the Council of Christians of Jews as well as now Chairing the Haringey Multi Faith Network. He also has two years training in family therapy.