Sometimes I wish I didn’t care about climate change.
Each time I speak with a congregation, I try to put into words what keeps me going in this work, when it would be so much less difficult not to care.
What would I have to do to not care about climate change?
First, I would have to not care about anybody who doesn’t live in the United States and is suffering the consequences of a warming climate now. I would also have to not care about anyone who will be alive after I’m gone, and may be harmed in the future. And then I’d have to not care about any other species of plants or animals, who might not be able to adapt fast enough to survive in a rapidly warming climate.
At that point I don’t have to care about climate change, but I have made my world so small … and too lonely.
Every Jewish community I’ve been a part of teaches us to honor every person as made in God’s image, that to save a single human life is saving a whole world.
The Jewish communities in which I was raised cherished children, and made it the highest priority to transmit the tradition across the generations. The rabbis wrote that “the world endures for the sake of the breath of schoolchildren.”
And, I was taught that there is inherent value to the other species we encounter in the natural world. One commentary on the Torah teaches that even creatures that might seem superfluous to us — “such as fleas, gnats and flies” — have a purpose and reason for Creation. It’s not up to us to decide which species are expendable, to preside over what Bill McKibben calls “Genesis in reverse” — the massive extinctions occurring on our watch due to climate change.
That’s what I’ve realized; there’s nothing that goes more against my religious convictions than to make my world so small that I don’t have to care about this.
At Interfaith Power & Light, we take the harder road: we care. We care because our religious traditions push us to feel more connected with other people, and to feel a part of something that transcends generations and will last after we’re gone. Our traditions teach us to feel more kinship with the natural world.
Caring about climate is worth it, even when it is heartbreaking. The way forward in this heartbreak is actually the way to stay whole, to stay interconnected, and to not be so lonely in the world. When we come together across religious traditions to address this problem together, it’s a beautiful sight … beautiful even when it’s difficult and the outcome uncertain.
That’s the most hopeful thing we can offer each other in the new year: a community in which to address this problem together.
Interfaith Power & Light provides hope by sustaining the community where we come together to face the climate crisis.
—Joelle Novey, director
Interfaith Power & Light (MD.DC.NoVA): Our religious response to climate change.
A program of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.
If you were at the conference you may also remember Joelle’s wait-for-everyone-else-to-stop-stealing analogy. You can find it over here.