The oil-well disaster on the Gulf Coast of the United States may seem utterly the product of modern technology. But there are many teachings in Torah about precisely the spiritual failings that give rise to such disasters. The Jewish community could now take those teachings far more seriously and act far more vigorously to prevent such disasters than it has so far.
Torah’s description of the earliest experience of the human race in the Garden of Eden affirms on the one hand that God has made overflowing bounty available to humanity in the earth’s abundance — and on the other, warns us not to gobble up all this abundance but to show self-restraint in what we eat. If we do gobble everything in sight, says the story, we lose the abundance: humanity must then toil with the sweat pouring down its face to wring barely enough to eat from an earth that grows mostly thorns and thistles.
Many other passages of tradition reinforce the lesson. Yet in our world today, the human race — led by giant corporations that try to wring every drop of abundance from the earth without any forethought for the future -- is bringing upon itself the disasters Torah warns against, through worship of the “afterthought gods (elohim acherim)" of greed and power.
The same voracious forces that sought to devour every drop of oil in the deepest levels of the Gulf have foiled strong Congressional action to reduce the voracious over-use of fossil fuels and with them, the emission of gases that heat the earth and bring on climate crisis -- drought, desertification, rising sea levels, the spread of tropical diseases into formerly temperate regions, the disruption of crops.
Only grass-roots energy can move Congress. So the Jewish community should unite in a campaign that calls out to ourselves and our leaders -- “GOD’S EARTH IS NOT FOR BURNING.”
The Jewish community should urge the President and Congress not only to prohibit any new oil-well drilling off our coasts, but also to shut down all offshore oil wells that have not received new safety certification by July 4, 2011, after rigorous safety tests, and all off-shore oil wells by July 4, 2020, and to abolish all Federal and state subsidies to all oil and coal producers. (Those dates are symbolic affirmations of the independence of the American people from domination and abuse by Big Oil.)
And the Jewish community should call for the swift passage of a climate / energy bill that --
(a) sets a strong cap on emissions of planet-heating gases (carbon dioxide and methane);
(b) permits EPA and the states to limit emissions further;
(c) charges a yearly rising fee for carbon credits to several hundred US companies that are primary producers of these gases, based on auctions of carbon credits with the US Government as owner/auctioneer;
(d) prevents the resale of these credits as financial derivatives to enrich Wall Street;
(e) returns 75% of the income from these fees in a yearly dividend of equal amounts to every legal resident of the United States; and
(f) appropriates the remaining 25% of the income from these fees, plus any additional money necessary to make up a total of one hundred billion dollars a year, to meet the following three needs in equal amounts:
the creation of green jobs, with special help to workers in regions and industries in the US that are especially damaged by the shift from old energy sources;
research, development, and emplacement of solar and wind energy;
and help to poverty-stricken nations both to meet the disasters already afflicting them as a result of climate change, and to follow a non-fossil path of economic development.
To put the necessary grass-roots power behind these demands, the Jewish community should carry some of our sacred moments into public space. For example, Tisha B'Av (this year July 19-20) should include public prayerful grieving for the ongoing destruction of the Holy Temple of our Earth itself, and action toward the birth of a new sustainable society.
And the Jewish community should – as it did in 2009 -- each year set aside the week when we read the Torah story of Noah, the Flood, the Ark, and the Rainbow –- (in 2010, Sunday, October 3, through Shabbat, October 9), as Climate Healing Week.
Bar/bat mitzvah preparation should include families' drawing on “Elijah’s Covenant between the Generations” (Malachi 3) in curricula and ceremonies to prevent the destruction of our earth.
If we let the Gulf Coast regional disaster awaken us, we can not only prevent it from becoming a global disaster; we can turn our knowledge to creating a joyful, sustainable future for our grandchildren.