By S. Bruce Kohrn
For many Jews engaged in the essential work to protect the environment and climate, Tisha B’Av has taken on expanded meaning in recent years. The saddest day of the Jewish year, it commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon, the Jewish Lab for Sustainability, points out there’s a comparison to be made between the Temples’ wanton destruction and the damage humans have inflicted on the planet – from climate change to ecosystem degradation to a global pandemic – and the loss we feel.
However, this year there was a twist: On August 7 – Tisha B’Av – the US Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes the biggest investment in the nation’s history to combat climate change. Jakir Manela, Hazon’s current CEO, points out that this outcome was by no means inevitable and is the result of the hard work and years of effort of untold numbers of dedicated and committed people. So, the day of mourning that began in grief ended in hope: that we can develop solutions to mitigate some of the worst impacts of climate change.
I tell my son, who as a college freshman is a member of the climate change generation and wants to do something about it, that the climate requires not one but a million solutions, created by millions of people. Manela quotes author Rebecca Solnit, who profoundly states: “Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.” We now have some resources; it’s an understatement to say there is much work to be done.
But what if instead we did nothing? Seriously. What if the whole world just stopped working one day each week? Like Shabbat. Would that help? It just might: if we all refrained from our usual pursuits once each week, we could reduce our energy consumption by one seventh. This is the mission of the Green Sabbath Project, launched by Jonathan Schorsch, professor of Jewish Religious and Intellectual History at the University of Potsdam, Germany.
I realize this is more of a thought experiment than anything that might actually happen, but it is thought provoking and shows us our impact on the planet: In Israel, air pollution declines 70% to 99% on Yom Kippur. In the days following 9/11 when global air travel stopped, and more recently during the pandemic when global economic activity came to a grinding halt, air quality improved. Skies were blue again in smog-choked cities around the world.
The Green Sabbath Project puts it this way: One day every week. Do nothing… Don’t drive. Don’t shop. Don’t build. Instead, take a walk. Eat with friends. Play or read with your kids. Sing. Meditate. Celebrate contentment. Give the Earth a day of rest. From us.
On the other six days, however, we need to act. What can Jewish Buffalo do to become Sustainable Jewish Buffalo? One small but meaningful step to help Buffalo’s west side community is to join us for the Second Annual Reverse Tashlich event at Unity Island Park on October 2 at 10:30 AM for a waterway cleanup. Just register at repairthesea.org/rt2022.
Rest and action. Two steps we can each take to help the Earth.
S. Bruce Kohrn of Vision & Grit, LLC is an expert in environment and sustainability and is the Chair of Buffalo’s Reverse Tashlich effort. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org