As Hurricane Dorian bore down on the Bahamas last week, made more deadly by our unnaturally warmer waters in a damaged climate, I took note of two annual milestones — one hopeful, the other painful:
The first, the Hebrew month of Elul, reminds me that it’s time for my Jewish communities to take stock of who we’ve been and who we want to be as we prepare to enter the new year. This time of year on the Jewish calendar, coming in Autumn as so many students return to school, affirms that all of us can grow and change.
The second milestone might have escaped much notice, but it’s outrageous: it has now been a full year since the Trump administration appointed William Happer to the National Security Council, where he is working to form a panel aimed at contradicting the findings of climate science.
The elevation of a fossil fuel-funded climate denier to national leadership is an affront to all Americans. But he’s made repeated use of our people, and of Jewish history, to lie about the climate crisis — so we have a particular responsibility as Jews to speak out.
Several years ago, Happer said in a television interview that “the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.” He has never retracted or apologized for such comments.
Needless to say, trivializing the Holocaust in this way should always be unacceptable. Pollution itself cannot suffer; people can, and do. Comparing millions of slaughtered Jews to carbon dioxide blatantly trivializes the horrors of the Holocaust and the vast human suffering that resulted from the Nazis’ atrocities. Molecules of carbon dioxide can hardly be subject to the deprivations that the Nazis inflicted during their brutal attempt to destroy European Jewry. Someone with Happer’s ignorance of history and callousness about real suffering shouldn’t have served a single day on our country’s National Security Council, and certainly not a full year.
Furthermore, it’s irresponsible and immoral to place someone like Prof. Happer in a position to sow doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change. Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree, and 7 in 10 Americans understand, that burning fossil fuels and other activities are pouring heat-trapping climate pollution into our atmosphere, causing our Earth to warm.
Our Jewish communities join so many caring people who are alarmed by the suffering climate change will cause and are working to repair our damaged climate. One lesson of our Jewish history that we bring to this moment is the obligation to take human suffering seriously. That’s why, together with Mirele Goldsmith and David Waskow, I authored a statement on behalf of concerned Jewish leaders, calling on the Trump Administration to remove Happer from his position. That statement has already been signed by six Jewish organizations and by over 50 rabbis and other Jewish community and climate leaders.
Even if the nation’s senior science advisors turn away from human suffering, we as Jews cannot. We enter Elul clear on our obligation to care: We care about the Alaskan communities whose livelihoods and way of life are threatened as ice melts and the sea intrudes. We care about the 1.6 billion people living downstream from the Himalayas who will face catastrophic water shortages as the mountain glaciers that provide their water melt away. We care about all those suffering from increasingly powerful and destructive hurricanes like Dorian, we care about terrifying and deadly fires in water-starved forests, and we care about the island nations whose very existence will be endangered by rising sea levels. We care about today’s young people, who face an uncertain future in a world experiencing rapid ecological change driven by carbon and methane pollution.
Happer is certainly not the kind of leader we need right now. So where can we turn for clear-eyed climate leadership? We can turn to our children. Across our country and around the world, youth are leading a global “climate strike” on Friday September 20th and asking everyone to join them. We invite Jewish communities not only to reject those like Happer who would use us as a talking point, but to take a stand for urgent climate action by supporting a youth-led climate strike in your community: strikewithus.org
May this Elul bring a reckoning for the growth and change we need in a critical moment on our warming planet. Shana tova.