A Human Issue

July 19, 2021

By Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff (Rebbe & Director of Community Learning) for eJewishPhilanthropy

What is your solution to the climate crisis?

That is my question to everyone who was disappointed with President Biden’s revocation of the Keystone XL pipeline permit last week. I pose the same question to those who object to Biden’s commitment to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030. Do you believe the science that tells us that climate change already causes colossal damage to human lives and stands to cause infinitely more in the coming decades? If you deny the science, then I have little more to say to you. We live in different realities. But if you acknowledge the science — and more and more Americans are coming to believe the evidence appearing before their very eyes — there can be only one response. This catastrophe needs a solution. It will be complicated from the perspective of economics, technology, international relations, and politics. But we need a solution. No ethical society, religious or secular, could claim otherwise.

This conclusion has its roots in the Five Books of Moses: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life”(30:19). The way of God, is the way of life. “It is a tree of life,” says the Book of Proverbs. What are the branches of this tree? Here’s one: We do our utmost to preserve human life. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man,” says the Book of Genesis. “Thou shalt not murder,” it says in the Ten Commandments. Human life is precious. It is incumbent on us to protect it.

A World Health Organization assessment from 2018 claims that at our current trajectory,  between the years 2030 and 2050 we can expect an additional 250,000 deaths per year worldwide as a result of increased global temperatures. A Duke University study, also from 2018, argues that 150 million lives could be saved by reducing the global temperature increase to less than three degrees by the end of the century. And at the end of this past May, Nature published a study stating that more than a third (37%) of heat-related deaths from 1991-2018 can be attributed to warming caused by humans. This is the opposite of “choose life.”

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