Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Judith Rubinger

Stop this war on the living Earth


Several months ago, there was some alarm in my local community regarding numerous sightings of coyotes. The trouble was a few cases of missing and dead small animals—cats and dogs alike.

In discussing this matter with friends and neighbors, it seems there was a general confusion and puzzlement. How could these wild troublemakers have found their way to the civilized metropolises of College Park and Winter Park? One thoughtful friend suggested that they must have been dropped off from some wild animal park.

In the last years, brown bears have turned up in Lake Mary and other neighboring areas, again, with the same reaction from residents: how could they have gotten here? Did they actually go so far as to stow themselves away on the new Sun Rail? If I remember correctly, many in Winter Park were opposed to the Sun Rail because they feared it would bring the “riffraff” to their very gates. Could their worst nightmares have come to fruition?

But all joking aside, all one needs to do is look around at the sprawl and pay attention. We don’t need scientists to tell us half of all wildlife species have become extinct in the last 40 years. In my own backyard, visitations from bees and butterflies are few and far between; it has come to light that bees are losing the battle of survival in the face of deadly chemical pesticides and genetically modified organisms and the once prevalent milkweed plant, nutrient lifeline to the butterflies, has been routed out and destroyed to make way for more preferred human enterprise. Deforestation and loss of arable land are wreaking havoc with our food supply and with indigenous communities worldwide.

Research by scientists at World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) tells us that creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats. “If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.”

The 2014 Living Planet Report, the world’s leading, science-based analysis on the health of our planet and the impact of human activity, concludes that currently the global population is cutting down trees faster than they regrow, catching fish faster than the oceans can restock, pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them and emitting more climate-warming carbon dioxide than oceans and forests can absorb.

“We have lost one half of the animal population and knowing this is driven by human consumption, this is clearly a call to arms and we must act now,” said Mike Barratt, director of science and policy at WWF.

Marine animal populations have also fallen by 40 percent overall, with turtles suffering in particular. Hunting, the destruction of nesting grounds and getting drowned in fishing nets has seen turtle numbers fall by 80 percent. Birds have been heavily affected too. The State of the UK’s Birds report, from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and several UK government nature bodies, shows that of the UK’s 107 most widespread and common breeding birds, 16 species have declined by more than a third since 1995. Dr. Mark Eaton, conservation scientist, said many of his colleagues are shocked at how poorly familiar species were faring. “Many of the birds we’re referring to aren’t rare and don’t occur in remote locations. To the contrary, they are ones you used to see while walking the dog or enjoying a family picnic. But over two decades many of these species have ebbed away from huge swaths of our countryside.”

Adding to this sad news, we are increasingly aware of global warming brought on by the rise in concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. CO2, a by-product of burning carbon-based fuels, traps heat in our environment. There is no longer any doubt the concentration of CO2 is rising. Scientists now tell us we’ve burned twice as many fossil fuels as needed to account for the observed rise in CO2—the rest has gone into the ocean and is causing ocean acidification.

A December 2013 report by leading climate scientists James Hansen, Johan Rockström, and 15 others, “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature,” advocates for a target of 350 parts per million (ppm) as the maximum safe concentration if we choose to avoid future disastrous consequences of global warming.

But is it even possible to reduce CO2 concentration to the 350 ppm level deemed safe by our scientists, given that concentration is already at 400 ppm?

As a moderately informed member of the Jewish community, I am all too aware that my tradition behooves me to concern myself with “tikun olam” or healing the world. Healing the world refers not only to our fellow living creatures but to our Mother Earth. The Torah recognizes that our lives and our survival are intimately linked with the wellbeing of our Earth. This past Rosh Hashanah 5775, marked the beginning of a shemita (a sabbatical year) in Israel. In the Torah, we are instructed “And six years you shall sow your land...but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow” (Exodus 23:10).

This biblical injunction commands us to care for the Earth—allowing the land to rest every seventh year above economics or profit.

Our society, with its increasing demand for development and consumption, might do well to heed the biblical value of Earth stewardship.

Today, in 5775, the year of the sabbatical for the land, it is imperative that we take concrete action to preserve life on Earth. We are all responsible for putting limitations on our insatiable greed for goods and services that demand the burning of fossil fuels, thereby contributing to the dangerous increase in CO2 emissions.

As a Jew, I am both philosophical and pragmatic about this. Each one of us is called to do what we can to reduce our individual dependence on fossil fuels and to live, not as parasites, but as stewards to the Earth.

On the collective front, there is a very impressive proposal now being considered by politicians on both sides of the aisle. Known as the “George Schultz-Gary Becker Carbon Fee and Dividend,” it’s a non-partisan proposal that would place a graduated fee on carbon emissions and return the proceeds directly to American households in the form of a dividend check. This plan has already been closely studied by the prestigious REMi commission, which has determined that it would actually boost the American economy while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions over the next decades. Collectively and individually, we can make our concerns known to our leaders.

Think about it. My College Park coyote problem is far from just a local problem; surely it is one more sign among the myriad of evidence: concrete action is needed now.

Judith Rubinger is a member of Congregation Ohev Shalom and resides in College Park.


Reader Comments

Citizen writes:

Judith is right. We must act now. Carbon fee and Dividend is a practical solution to get us all off our carbon gluttony. We are all called to protect our earth.


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