Two weeks ago in Israel (and in every synagogue around the world), we read the story about the very first global ecological preservation project. I dare say, it is the story that most children in the world know about. How one man was commissioned to save the world from extinction, from a megaflood that consumed it.
God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth” (Gen. 6:13).
Noah was then instructed to build a huge ark and bring on board 2 animals from each species. At the time, the population was in denial of the impending ecological disaster and Noah was running out of time before the deluge. This Act of God was in fact a campaign to give humankind a second chance. And God rewarded the world with a rainbow to show how there is beautiful light after darkness.
While growing up in Sydney in the 1970s, Australia launched a national program called Keep Australia Beautiful. The TV campaign, called “Do the Right Thing” was the first national environmental mitzvah campaign of its kind that taught children not to litter. It was such a successful campaign that as a teenager it gave me the authority and power to be an agent of change. As I grew up, I would honk and yell at people who would throw cigarettes out of the car – I still do.
Over the next few decades, the campaign grew into the “Clean Up the World” – the largest community-based environmental program in the world that has engaged an estimated 35 million volunteers across 133 countries.
Fast forward and the world is in an environmental crisis. This week the United Nations Climate Change Conference better known as COP 27, began with over 140 global leaders and 40,000 others from 198 countries. The goal of the conference was to assess what has happened in the past year and what new steps should be taken to save the earth.
Will rich countries share their technologies with poorer nations to prevent ecological catastrophes in those areas? Will corporations take affirmative action and adopt environmentally corporate-responsible projects? Will we be able to educate ourselves and our youth to prevent the looming disasters?
Are we running out of time?
Over the past three years, in Israel, the Azrieli Foundation has sponsored an educational environmental project called Blue Flags Project in schools. The project was developed by the Foundation for Environmental Education, (FEE) one of the world’s largest environmental education organizations with more than 100 member organizations in 81 countries. The project, endorsed by Israel’s Ministry of Education, is managed by EcoOcean, the leading organization in Israel dealing with marine and beach environmental education. The nationwide school program promotes environmental awareness and gives practical action plans to save our environment locally and globally.
But these plans can only be effectively executed with the cooperation of other NGOs, philanthropists, corporations, and most of all the local municipalities that are connected with its residents.
To create this multisector awareness, FEE, EcoOcean, the Azrieli foundation, and several municipalities were involved in the Israel portion of the campaign “Running out of Time,” the longest non-stop relay ever attempted with runners, cyclists, and sailors working together to pass a baton hand-to-hand containing a powerful climate message from young people to decision-makers at COP27.
The 36-day, 7,767 km relay from Glasgow to Sharm el Sheikh traveled through 18 countries, across seas, mountain ranges, glaciers, and deserts, and visited schools, at-risk locations, and climate change projects meeting scientists, engineers, and community leaders at the forefront of the green revolution to better understand what is happening to our planet and to inspire local climate action. By the end of the run, up to a million pupils from around the world were brought together for Global Schools Day on Nov 3.
The historic relay run was planned a year ago, before Russia attacked Ukraine, before the riots in Iran, and before the Israeli government announced its 5th election in 4 years. However, all these other issues have been at the forefront of the news, feeding global fear, instead of the news of the most severe flooding in Pakistan‘s history, leaving almost 10 million children in need of immediate, lifesaving support. Or the heat waves in California, the hottest in recorded history, or the number of people facing acute food insecurity which has soared from 135 million to 345 million since 2019.
Is the world in total denial and running out of time?
Noah accepted God’s verdict and went ahead to save his family and the animals. He did not plead with God to save humanity.
Abraham, on the other hand, was a true leader. He believed in collective responsibility, praying for the people of Sodom who were not his brothers and sisters. He prayed on their behalf because he understood the idea of human solidarity and became the role model and initiator of a new faith. A faith that believes in collective responsibility.
This week as the COP27 summit ends in Sharm el Sheikh, (not far from where Moses received the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai), we saw leaders from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Cyprus, Greece, the Arab Emirates, and Israel collaborating to take collective responsibility for their region. They called the group the East Mediterranean- Middle East Climate Change Initiative ( EMME-CC). All these leaders are descendants of Abraham and from nations that traditionally believed natural disasters are acts of God.
However, we know that the natural disasters we are witnessing now are not acts of God but acts of man. These leaders must work together to deal with this regional and global environmental crisis. Otherwise, we will run out of time.
But this time, there will be no rainbow and unlike Noah, there won’t be a second chance. And we and all the animals will surely miss the boat.