There are three sections to this letter from me: (a) Two personal reports from people in Houston; (b) a brief diagnosis of what caused this unnatural disaster; (c) My suggested Tool-kit of what to do now. Please read all three.
(a) A few years ago, I was invited to speak at the Jewish Community Center of Houston about Judaism and the climate crisis. In the process, I met a number of folks with whom I've occasionally kept in touch.
On Monday I wrote them as follows:
"Dear friends, I am worried about all of you. Please let me know how you are, and what help The Shalom Center and I might be able to give. Blessings for you-all that the life-preservers of love buoy you up above the waters of loss and sorrow. — Arthur "
And Phyllis wrote some of them whom she had also gotten to know as members of a Chanting community.
This is one of the letters we got back:
"My husband and I are safe with my sister in [another state]. But flood waters have taken our home, our cars, and many things we care about in Houston.
"The immense suffering of so many from this huge storm is overwhelming.
"Today, i tried to chant Ki Tavor BaMayim --- I Won't Let The Waters Overwhelm You, but the tears and emotion flowed so powerfully that I could not speak. I ask your support to chant it for/with me as I navigate the waters of change in my life, and for all of those who are facing challenges of losing their homes."
From another letter back:
"Thank you for checking in.
"I am fortunate to be in a part of the city that is NOT flooded. I have power and water. I am grateful.
"I think that Hurricane Harvey is asking for a shift to renewable energy by shutting down refineries along the coast.
"I know people who are in bad shape right now. It is a sorrowful time and also a time for being close.
"I picked up my parents last night at 3am from the George R. Brown convention center where they were transported from the Meyerland area --- first by motor boat and then by police high-water emergency vehicles. They were wet and had been in the rain for 2 - 3 hours. They were cold and hungry when I picked them up --- not having eaten all day. I brought hot chamomile tea in my car and blankets.
"Brought them home to my house and made scrambled eggs and corn tortillas. and then put them to bed. We all slept until 11:30 am and spent the day inside cooking food together. I haven't spent close time with my parents like this in a long time. It was a lovely day.
"How is it that we are warm and dry while others are standing on their rooftops waiting for a boat to pick them up - blows my mind.
"And if you watch the news ... Every story begins with ... "This is unprecedented rainfall that this city has never seen ever."
"I wish that their next sentence would be something about climate change.
"Again - thank you so much for asking about all of us. So kind ---"
(b) So here is the “next sentence" that my Houston friend could not find in his local newspaper– – the sentence about climate crisis. Instead it is coming to him, and you, from The Shalom Center. The national press – – for example, the New York Times – – has begun to name the "elephant" in the Houston room. No, not the "elephant" but the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the room. The ferocious dinosaur that has already begun to chew up our civilization, with the crucial help of Big Oil and its corrupt enablers in the Trump Administration.
Trump has shattered the Environmental Protection Agency and turned it into a new EPA -- the Earth Poisoning Agency.
My Houston friend mentions that the Houston press has not begun to connect the terrible floods with the climate crisis. Perhaps that is because the oil industry is so dominant in Texas politics that the press there dares not say the truth. Or perhaps, to take a kind view, they are too busy covering the disaster itself. But to any clear-eyed independent observer, the connection is obvious.
The surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico are hotter than they have ever been in all recorded history. That is a consequence of global scorching. Its result is more intense, more powerful hurricanes. And our over-heated atmosphere sucks up more water into clouds of water vapor, and then dumps them in the unprecedented rainfall that is drowning Houston.
It is ironic that Texas is both one of the "hot centers" of Big Oil, and a center of the growing solar-energy business. But the feverish, furious search for still more oil to burn still has more political strength than its wind and solar remedies.
Unless we transform this politics, your city may become the next Houston. The farm that grows your food may become the next scorched earth of drought and famine. Your own backyard may become the next grazing ground for the mosquitoes bearing West Nile or Zika virus and the ticks bearing Lyme disease, whose habitats have been expanded by the overheating planet.
(c ) What can we do? Here is a tool-kit of suggestions:
- Call together between 10 and 20 of your con-congregants in your synagogue, church, mosque, or, or your coworkers, or your neighbors. Explain that you want to form a "Hurricane Harvey Relief And Prevention Community" in which prevention of the next unnatural disaster will be as important as helping Harvey’s victims. Take the following pledge with each other:
We call on the peoples and the governments of the United States and of the world:
a. To forbid, now and forever, the drilling of new oil wells into the depths of Mother Ocean, the destruction of mountains for the sake of the coal within them, the torture of rocks to give forth unnatural gas, and the leveling of great forests that breathe their majesty and oxygen throughout our planet.
b. To end all subsidies to producers of fossil fuels, and to provide as first priority throughout the world the support of the public in money and attention for conservation of energy and swift emplacement of responsible and sustainable energy sources: sun, wind, and earth-based geothermal.
c. To honor and affirm the Breath of Life in our own lives by taking our own steps to keep reducing our own emission of carbon dioxide, methane, and other heat-trapping gases.
d. To take action for a public policy to withdraw a trillion tons of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere, so that our children and grandchildren can take joy and sustenance from a climate as life-giving as that which sustained our parents and grandparents, with a level of eco-social justice that many of our forebears did not experience.
e. To share some of our wealth with the world so that nations and regions, domestic and world-wide, that are trapped in poverty gain help from the rich in lessening the devastation of climate crisis already under way and in achieving economic development through a non-fossil-fuel path.
2. The group then collects at least $360 to help Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), which works in the Latino neighborhoods of Houston that have already been suffering the worst from environmental injustice. That is where the oil refineries that cause epidemics of asthma in neighborhood children and planetary disasters like Harvey are located. These Latino neighborhoods have the least capacity to recover from Harvey on their own. Click to <https://www.paypal.me/tejasbarrios> to make a tax-deductible donation.
3. Since many Members of Congress are at home right now for the pre-Labor Day recess, now is an excellent time to make a group pilgrimage to their home offices –-- each one, a tiny sacred Temple to Democracy. Alert the media ahead of time. Use the approach that I described this past Monday: We The People are entitled to visit and bring Offerings, not to be forced away.
- Offerings of fair-trade chocolate bars.
- Offerings of murky water from a frack-infested stream or from a street that has become a rushing river from a flooding Superstorm, alongside bottles of pure water protected by the regulations that POTUS Trump is abolishing.
- Offerings of green and flowering plants endangered by the global scorching that Trump is abetting for the sake of Big Oil and Big Coal hyper-profits.
- And of course, Offerings of truthful words – clear, calm, prayerful as befits a sacred Offering.
- These truthful words can demand the Congress member vote down Trump’s effort to destroy EPA or turn it into the Earth Poisoning Agency.
- If the Congressmember’s staff tries to make you leave, calmly insist that you are only there to make a sacred gift in this sacred place, and that you need to offer a a blessing for the Congressperson and the staff. Judge for yourself the point at which you need to leave or decide to stay even if that means you risk arrest.
5. The group decides to explore what it means to create a Neighborhood Solar Co-op (or Wind Co-op, if that is more practical on your terrain). Begin by looking at two websites:
A nation-wide network of neighborhood-based solar-energy co-ops groups. It can help with advice and support.
NPSC (pronounced Knapsack) is a group in Philadelphia inspired and sparked by The Shalom Center. It has grown as an independent body and is now serving several dozen households, with more to come. It could be a useful model for your own congregation or your neighborhood.
Set up your co-op business. Reach out for members.
6. Collectively make a tax-deductible donation of $180 to The Shalom Center, to make it possible for us to keep sharing information and ideas about how to organize to heal our Mother Earth. Send a check to The Shalom Center, 6711 Lincoln Dr., Philadelphia PA 19119, or donate at
Mark the check or the on-line donation -- “Hurricane Harvey.”
7. Hold a monthly party to celebrate your work and the Life of Earth! Sing, eat, dance, schmooze!
Feel free, of course, to modify this plan to fit your own situation. Please let us know how this ”tool kit” for action works for you, and what changes you need to make in your own congregation or neighborhood.
Many thanks, and blessings of shalom, salaam, peace, for you, your community, and all of Earth!