Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, says: …[E]ach person must consider that the performance of one mitzvah is praiseworthy, since it tilts both the person’s personal balance and that of the entire world to the scale of merit. Conversely, the transgression of one prohibition, woe to the person, tilts the person’s personal balance and that of the entire world to the scale of liability. (Kiddushin 40b)
I followed a recent discussion on the OHALAH list concerning the site and timing of our annual conference. There were many ideas floated including seeking another venue rather than Colorado (many find the altitude difficult for such a short stay) and thinking about a different time of year (with some proposing a winter conference in Florida). What I don’t remember anyone suggesting is that perhaps we have the conference every other year, thereby reducing its carbon footprint by half.
Here in British Columbia we no sooner finished a period of flash floods due to the fast melting snow caps, than the sudden turn to hot and dry set off several wildfires. Just this past week, the New York Times ran two articles about the effects of climate disruption which are already with us, focused on eroding beach sand in New York and Senegal.
So why is it that we who are the progressive, universally oriented Jews, seem to pay so little attention to the fundamental crisis of our time when it comes to our own priorities and events? There is an emerging literature on this subject(1) which tries to unravel this mystery on a grander scale, but I wonder most about us, including me. Even though I do my best to weigh every decision to purchase something or to travel, even though my carbon footprint is constantly on my mind, consistency is elusive. Every time I congratulate myself on deciding to forego a pleasure or refusing to fly, I realize that I’m still cutting open the single use plastic in which the piece of salmon (wild, of course) is sealed, throwing it in what we call here “Absolut Garbage” because it can’t be recycled.
I’m not suggesting that we “should” take this or that particular action (though a conference every other year, at least for now, would serve more than one good purpose). But I do think that our carbon footprints should be on the table as a significant factor in making our individual and collective decisions and that we need to do this in public. That is, unless we read this quote from Kiddushin only as a teaching for others.
PS: In addition to the wonderful things that Reb David Seidenberg shares with us all, may I add the booklet that Esther Azar and I prepared specifically for the six years between one sh’mittah and the next, which you can find in the ALEPH Catalogue.
1. I especially recommend George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It, partly because he looks to religious organizations as possible models from which environmentalists can learn.