November 2020 Protecting the Environment
Addressing Climate Change, Environmental Justice and Sustainability
Caring for God’s creation is a central tenet of Judaism. In fact, the beginnings of a Jewish environmental ethic emerge literally from the very beginning of our Torah--in Bereishit. Genesis establishes models of our relationship as human beings with the rest of creation, which obligate us to l’ovdah u-l’shomrah, to till and to tend God’s world.
The 13th-century commentator Nachmanides wrote that many of Judaism’s otherwise puzzling laws were intended to instill respect for the integrity of nature. The story of Noah and the great flood, many of our holidays which have agricultural roots, and dozens of passages from our sacred texts are all intended to remind us that we are commanded to preserve and protect the Earth.
This commandment is best manifested in the concept of stewardship: Earth and God’s creations do not belong to us. They belong to God. We are obligated to take care of them and pass them on in good shape and healthy condition to future generations to enjoy. As the Midrash tells us, God said, “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it."
We live embedded in the natural system around us. This requires a give-and-take with the ultimate understanding that life as we know it would be impossible without a healthy environment. To that end, it is important to understand how our impact on the natural world has changed over time. National Geographic reports that “[h]umans impact the physical environment in many ways: overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation. Changes like these have triggered climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality, and undrinkable water.”
Scientific consensus is that climate change is real, caused by humans and a fundamental threat to life on Earth. Each country is responsible for the gross mistreatment of the Earth and its natural resources. The United States is among the leading contributors to climate change, including the increase of greenhouse emissions.
People around the world are already feeling the effects of climate change. Racial disparities and injustices also permeate climate change issues. In 2018, the EPA released a study explaining that “people of color are much more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air.” Furthermore, researchers concluded that “results at national, state, and county scales all indicate that non-Whites tend to be burdened disproportionately to Whites.”  This is not just on a global, macro level. The manifestations of environmental racism is also prevalent on a smaller, regional level. In St. Louis, environmental racism are prevalent and adversely affects the Black population in the region. A recent report by a coalition of local environmental and racial justice focused organizations found that “Black St. Louisans are exposed to considerably greater environmental risks than White residents, contributing to stark racial disparities regarding health, economic, and quality of life burdens.”
Climate change and the future of our planet are intertwined. In order to best protect our planet and people, we must act to preserve and maintain our home for future generations. The scope of the problem is global and the timeline is imminent. The time to act is now.
Call to Action:
“As heirs to a tradition of stewardship that goes back to Genesis and teaches us to be partners in the ongoing work of creation, we cannot accept the escalating destruction of our environment and its effect on human health and livelihood. It is our sacred duty to alleviate environmental degradation and the human suffering it causes instead of despoiling our air, land, and water.”
— Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
JCRC believes that human-accelerated climate change is real, as documented by years of scientific evidence. We are alarmed by the immediacy of its devastating impact on human and animal life around the world.
JCRC will be an advocate for local, state and federal policies which seek to preserve, protect and improve our air, water, land, wildlife and other natural resources.
JCRC recognizes that environmental destruction often has a heavier impact on low-income communities and people of color, and we will advocate for environmental policies within the context of environmental justice, including the desires and voices of those stakeholders.
Therefore, JCRC will oppose actions and policies which continue the increasing trend toward harming the Earth and its inhabitants, and support actions and policies which seek to restore the Earth and atmosphere to its proper balance while keeping in mind the environmental justice impact of each policy.
JCRC’s immediate priorities will focus on climate change and environmental justice, and may adjust as issues and opportunities for collaboration arise.
The JCRC will strive to:
● Join and collaborate:
- Seek out existing environmental protection coalitions and support their work.
- Inform our community on the harms of climate change and environmental racism.
- Advise our congregations and Jewish institutions on how to lessen their environmental impact and promote general stewardship over the environment.
- Teach the Jewish community about the advantage of participating in recycling and composting, and encourage everyday practices that can help mitigate our waste and impact on the environment.
- Amplify the issues of those who are disproportionately affected by climate change, including people living in poverty and communities of color, keeping their desires and voices at the forefront of our advocacy.
- Promote local, state and federal legislation that preserves and protects the environment and promotes environmental justice and oppose legislation and/or regulations or any other public or private actions that would be harmful to the environment.
- Encourage the use of alternative energy sources across all sectors.
- Support ballot initiatives, legislation, regulations and public and private initiatives that protect the environment within the context of environmental justice.
 Mikati I, Benson AF, Luben TJ, Sacks JD, Richmond-Bryant J. Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status. Am J Public Health. 2018;108(4):480-485. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.304297