My happiest memories include being in nature. My husband Nick and our children, Josh and Nina spend summer vacations on Cape Cod where there is a plethora of gorgeous lakes, bays, and, of course, the ocean. We especially love Nickerson State Park with two connected bodies of water Flax Pond and Cliff Point, nestled in a forest of green. We kayak, swim, and mostly gaze at the water.
We have been to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, named for the blue tint in the mountains when seen from a distance and to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. There we drove upward, listening to John Denver sing Rocky Mountain High on the cassette player. We reached the top and enjoyed snow in August. On the way down, we hiked, taking in the deer, elk, and bighorn sheep.
Despite its loveliness, the natural world is not all charming scenery and wonderful experiences. Peaceful falling snow can transform into blinding blizzards and an ordinary drive in the rain can turn into an encounter with a flash flood. When I was nine years old, while with my family at the Jersey shore, I was caught in a large and rough wave that landed on top of me. I was pulled under the water unable to regain my balance, enduring an onslaught of seaweed and rocks. I felt panic as I struggled against the force of the wave to regain my footing, I was pushed to the floor of the ocean, washed to the shore, face down, dazed. All these decades later I still stand at the ocean contemplating whether I want to confront the waves and instead end up timidly wading.
Nature’s unexpected violence is no longer limited to rough waves or the occasional hurricane or blizzard. I live in New Jersey where several storms took place last summer, ending with Hurricane Ida, killing thirty people most of whom drowned in floods. In one instance, a man caught in the storm was pulled into a sewer pipe. Remarkably, he survived. Extreme weather events which seemed rare are now ubiquitous:
● Last February, Texas suffered one of its costliest winter weather storms, killing 246 people, leaving millions of people without power, and causing $25 billion in damage. Texas is known for heat not cold.
● In Colorado known for ski resorts, 2022 began with a wildfire in wintery January, destroying over 900 homes.
● In the famously damp and chilly Pacific Northwest, temperatures reached 110 degrees F in the summer. The average summer temperature in that region is 72 degrees F.
In Israel, 2011 to 2021 was the hottest decade on record. Canada saw temperatures of 120 F. Finland and Ireland experienced tropical heat, and last year Siberia reached over 100 degrees.
I find myself increasingly alarmed by climate change, not because it is a cause I am drawn to. I’m not. I love lakes and being outdoors and strolling in parks, but the environment has never been a passion. I’m not a vegetarian or vegan, I like cities, I don’t garden. I passively wonder whether recycling matters. Do all those bottles, cans and papers end up with the rest of the trash?
I am, however, passionate about my children and am increasingly worried they won’t have a planet safe enough for them to live on.
In the Australian television drama, “The Beautiful Lie” Anna said, “When you are standing in the sunshine, it’s hard to see the storm coming.” But with each major climate event, it is clear that the storm is upon us. It is no longer enough to leave the problem to governments and corporations. Climate change requires a new way of thinking, investing, working, eating, consuming, and purchasing. It is a big, complicated issue in need of an international transformative movement.
Our collective challenge is to see the storm when the sun is still shining. I believe we are at a moment when we are taking in the danger we face. American Jewish voters listed climate change as their top priority, ahead of Israel, antisemitism, and Iran. Activism involving divestments from fossil fuel has leverage. In October three Rabbis and six Jewish teenagers were among those arrested protesting the investment firm BlackRock for its stake in fossil fuel. The protest was led by the Jewish Youth Climate Movement. The activists specifically called on BlackRock’s Founder and CEO, Larry Fink to “stand by his Jewish values and end BlackRock’s funding of the fossil fuel industry.” The company manages $10 trillion in assets.
In a letter to CEOs, Larry Fink said that BlackRock is committed to investments that mitigate climate risk. The Sierra Club said, “BlackRock’s announcement is a major step in the right direction and a testament to the power of public pressure calling for climate action.”
Every person should connect themselves to the issue through an activist group. Dayanu is a nonprofit group, working to establish a grassroots movement to address climate change through a Jewish lens and is encouraging Jewish institutions to divest from investments in fossil fuel. Its website is here.
With each first of its kind weather event, climate change is increasingly hard to put aside for another day. Global warming is a genuine existential crisis for our children, making wishful thinking, (“governments will take care of it”), distraction, (daily life), and denial (“it’s not so bad”) a destructive response to the crisis. On behalf of our children and the future itself, we need to act now.