Climate Crisis And Commitment


The decade began with climate scientists and activists arguing about changes we urgently needed to make in order to prevent future tragedies. By the end of the decade the future was now.

Seven out of the 10 hottest years ever recorded on planet earth happened in the last 10 years. Arctic sea ice cover dropped to the lowest level ever recorded. July 2019 was the hottest month ever, and hundreds died in Europe in the ensuing heatwave.

And during the decade: droughts in Syria led to a civil war, 5 million people displaced, a million refugees in Europe, and western liberal democracies facing right-wing populist uprisings. You can’t specifically attribute all of that to the climate crisis, and yet this chain of causation is exactly what we may continue to expect if human-induced climate change places added stresses on some of the poorest societies on earth.

Where is the Jewish community, in response?

On the one hand, this decade saw the burgeoning of the Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming & Environmental Education movement across the country and across the Jewish world. It’s no longer just Hazon: this decade saw the growth of environmental efforts such as Pearlstone, the birth and growth of Urban Adamah, the flourishing of Wilderness Torah, plus Milk and Honey Farm in Boulder, Ekar in Denver, Coastal Roots in Encinitas, Calif., Abundance Farm in Massachusetts, Eden Village and Grow Torah — not to mention Shoresh in Toronto, Sadeh in the UK and Chava v’Adam in Israel. In Philadelphia, Rabbi Arthur Waskow has been for many years a strong prophetic voice. In Boston JCAN (Jewish Climate Action Network) started, and spread to New York and Washington, D.C. In Israel clean tech has grown, and the environmental movement has not only strengthened, but has also been a powerful force for bridge-building amongst neighbors.

In the next decade we need to respond with greater seriousness, commitment and focus. We need to integrate education, action and advocacy; we need change from individuals, from institutions and in the wider community; and we need to build determined multi-year processes to drive systemic change.

One place for the Jewish community to start is food. Industrial meat and dairy is globally one of the two largest drivers of anthropogenic climate change. For more than 2,000 years we’ve had a tradition of “keeping kosher” — i.e. of asking if something was fit to eat. We hope that in the next decade we get industrial meat and dairy out of every Jewish institution. And we hope too that we integrate environmental education into the fabric of schools, synagogues and camps.

Becky O’Brien is director of food and climate at Hazon; Jessica Haller is chair of the Hazon Seal of Sustainability; Nigel Savage is Hazon’s CEO.

More essays from The Decade In Review: 2010- 2019 and snapshots from our editorial team on the last ten years in Jewish Journalism, including the big issues they covered locally, nationally and internationally.