The oil-well disaster on the Gulf Coast of the United States may seem purely the product of modern technology. But there are many teachings in the Torah that focus on the spiritual failings that give rise to such disasters. The Jewish community should now take those teachings more seriously and act more vigorously to prevent such disasters in the future.
Torah's description of the earliest experience of the human race in the garden of Eden affirms on one hand that God has made overflowing bounty available to humanity. On the other hand, God warns us not to gobble up all this abundance, but rather to show self-restraint in what we eat. If we do gobble everything in sight, says the story, we lose that abundance, and humanity is forced to toil hard to reap barely enough to eat.
Many other passages from our tradition reinforce this 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.
The same forces that sought to devour every drop of oil in the deepest levels of the Gulf have foiled strong congressional action to reduce 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 no later than July 4, 2020, and to abolish all federal and state subsidies to all oil and coal producers.
And the Jewish community should call for the swift passage of a climate/energy bill that:
· sets a strong cap on emissions of planet-heating gases (carbon dioxide and methane);
· permits the Environmental Protection Agency and the states to limit emissions further;
· charges a yearly fee for carbon/methane credits to several hundred U.S. companies that are primary producers of these gases;
· prevents the resale of these credits, including any financial derivatives to enrich Wall Street;
· returns 75 percent of the income from these fees in a yearly dividend of equal amounts to every legal resident of the United States; and
· appropriates the remaining 25 percent of the income from these fees, plus any additional money necessary to make up a total of $100 billion 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 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, which this years begins on the evening of July 19, 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 in the Torah the story of Noah, the Flood, the Ark, and the Rainbow as Climate Healing Week.
In addition, Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation should include curricula and ceremonies to prevent the destruction of our earth.
If we let the Gulf Coast regional disaster awaken us, we will not only prevent it from becoming a global disaster; we can turn our knowledge to creating a joyful, sustainable future for our grandchildren.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow directs the Shalom Center (www.theshalomcenter.org). He has authored or edited several books, including "Down-to-Earth Judaism" and "Torah of the Earth."