When was the last time you saw a rabbi and a scientist teaching a class together?
This summer I will be co-teaching a class with Rob Socolow, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University, Co-Director of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative, and senior scholar of the Princeton Environmental Institute.
Our class will be held from July 2-8, at the ALEPH Jewish-renewal Kallah (gathering) on the campus of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.
Why are we doing this?
Increasing numbers of scientists are warning that even achieving zero CO2 emissions will leave a trillion tons of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That can wreak havoc on, and possibly even destroy, human civilization. To heal our planet will require getting that lethal CO2 out of the atmosphere, or otherwise canceling its effect.
The ancient Rabbis taught that it takes three pillars to keep the world upright. Today we need to erect three pillars to prevent climate chaos and catastrophe: (1) We need to continue and swiftly increase our work to achieve Zero CO2 emissions. (2) We need to take new stepe to renew and restore a healthy, life-giving planet. An Earth, a planet, as life-giving for our children and grandchildren as it was for our parents and grandparents. (3) We need to create communities that are culturally, economically, and politically "resilient" -- that can come back from experiencing some of the storms, wildfires, epidemics, etc., that are bound to afflict us before we can restore our grandparents' climate.
We already know how to shape the first pillar. Doing it will often help shape the third one. (For example, solarized neighborhoods can reduce CO2 emissions and can also come back much faster if the central electricity grid goes down from a hyper-hurricane, as happened in Puerto Rico. And doing solarization through neighborhood and congregational co-ops will build cultural and politcal resilience.).
To deal with the second pillar, we need much more study -- both technological and religious/ spiritual/ ethical study. That's where the rabbi comes in. Various proposals are being put forward to get this excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, or to take even more radical steps that might reverse Earth's over-heating. Some of the proposed steps could be swift, effective, and very risky. Others could be slower, less certain, and safer. Which do we choose?
What should be the relationships among religion, science and public policy in addressing this crisis? What are these proposals, what are their risks and possibilities? What does Torah teach about the roots of the climate crisis: how we should behave toward the Earth, how to balance the risks of action and of inaction, how to judge among the various proposed solutions and how to engage (through study, liturgy, daily practice and advocacy) the Jewish and multi-religious communities in making these decisions?
If you want to think and act like a pioneer in new territory, with some information underfoot and some ethical/ spiritual insights to guide your steps, this is a course for you. If you want to meet a pioneering rabbi and a pioneering scientist, this course is for you. Its title is "Science, Torah, and Hard Choices."
And you don't need to be either a scientist or a rabbi to become a more knowledgable, better prepared, civically active person through this course!
I look forward to meeting face-to-face with you to deepen our conversation about action to heal our wounded Mother Earth.
Welcome! Blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace for you, for Earth, and for all her myriad earthlings.-- Arthur