Climate change- a Jewish perspective
On May 20, Orlando pastor Dr. Joel Hunter hosted a panel discussion on “Climate Change: Should Christian’s Care?” Describing himself as a, “long time advocate for creation care,” Pastor Hunter is a spiritual adviser to President Barak Obama and incorporates his views on climate change issues into his teachings.
Hunter is launching an initiative that empowers multi-faith leaders to lead and engage others on climate solutions. The initiative, called Blessed Tomorrow, brings together more than 20 evangelical, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish leaders who are committed to working with their congregations and communities in response to climate change.
For the Jewish perspective on climate change, Pastor Hunter recommended Rabbi David Kay, the assistant rabbi at Congregation Ohev Shalom.
When asked, “What does Judaism say about climate change?” Rabbi Kay replied, “The creation narrative in the book of Genesis makes it clear that human beings have a responsibility to the planet on which they live. Humans are placed in the Garden of Eden l’ov’dah u’l’shom’rah—to work it and to guard it. A midrash builds on this concept, imagining God leading the primordial human being through the Garden of Eden, with the reminder that if our species destroys the natural world “there will be none after you to repair it.”
Doing deliberate damage to the earth is forbidden by both Torah and rabbinic law. Further, there is a Jewish legal principle of bal tash’chit—the prohibition against wanton destruction. Originating in the Torah’s proscription of cutting down fruit trees to build siege towers in time of war, the Talmud expands the prohibition to include any kind waste.
The recent weekly Torah reading describing the sabbatical year ... makes it clear that we are not the owners of the earth. We therefore have a moral responsibility and a sacred obligation to care for the earth as one would a precious item entrusted to one’s care.
“In my view, then,: Rabbi Kay continued, “no matter what one’s perspective or beliefs regarding climate change, it’s clearly undesirable (and, from the Jewish perspective, improper) to pour pollutants into the atmosphere, regardless of whether it adds to or hastens climate change or not. I have an undergraduate degree in ecology, ethology, and evolution, and personally find the evidence for climate change compelling.”
Pastor Hunter’s climate change panel agreed that carbon dioxide emissions from the producers of electricity, namely coal, is of great concern. The Heritage Foundation in Issue Brief#4158 states, “The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) forthcoming climate change regulations for new and existing electricity generating units have been appropriately labeled by White House adviser, Zack Coleman, as the ‘War on coal is exactly what’s needed,’ because the proposed limits for carbon dioxide emissions would essentially prohibit the construction of new coal-fired power plants and force existing ones into early retirement.
“However, the casualties will extend well beyond the coal industry, hurting families and businesses and taking a significant toll on American manufacturing across the nation. Congress should stop the EPA and all other federal agencies from regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.”
Asked what his views are on increased government regulations to address climate change, Rabbi Kay said, “It’d be difficult for me to answer your question about types of legislation or regulation I would support or advocate for, since it would be purely hypothetical. In general, I can say that one would hope that businesses and industry would act responsibly toward employees, consumers, and the environment. If not, then it becomes the obligation of government—local, state, or federal, depending on the circumstances—to protect employees, consumers, and the environment. Protecting the environment, as logic and common sense conclude, is also a matter of protecting the short-, mid-, and long-term health and welfare of citizens, since environmental degradation and pollution have an impact on citizens in both quality of life and public health.”