Three times a day, observant Jews around the world read one of the most important biblical passages for our people, Deuteronomy 11:13–21. In these verses, God tells the Israelites that if they obey God’s commandments with their whole heart and soul, there will be abundant rainfall in its appointed time and a temperate climate to support crops for feeding the people and their livestock. However, if their hearts are led astray to follow the false gods of greed, exploitation, and short-sightedness, the rains will cease, the climate will no longer support fruitful harvests, and the land will become unlivable. This extraordinary pronouncement about global climate change, its causes and its consequences, is so fundamental to the Jewish people that we are commanded to place its words upon our hearts, to bind them as a sign upon our hands and between our eyes, to teach them to our children, to speak them both at home and away from home and upon lying down and getting up, and to inscribe them on the doorposts of our houses and upon our gates, so that we and our descendants might enjoy a sustainable way of life.
Along with the rest of the faith community in Michigan, we Jews are deeply concerned about the impact that pollution from greenhouse gases has on God’s creation and on public health. The Bible teaches that we are caretakers of the land we inhabit. It is our duty to protect the land for future generations, and to treat our environment with sacredness and respect. And yet our state alone releases nearly 182 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined emissions of 91 developing countries.
The prophet Isaiah warned our ancestors not to become a nation with unlimited chariots that fill the land with horses, the original source of horse-power. Instead, the prophet commanded them to use their wealth to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and provide for those in need. Unfortunately our consumer-driven economy has ignored Isaiah’s plea. Instead we have earned a stern rebuke from the prophet Ezekiel [34:18]: “Is it not enough for you to graze on choice grazing ground; must you also trample with your feet what is left from your grazing? And is it not enough for you to drink clear water; must you also muddy with your feet what is left?” I suggest that the time has come to wash our feet by demanding auto-fuel efficiency standards commensurate with other industrialized nations: not just 25 or 30 mpg, but rather on a par with Japan’s 46.9 mpg by 2015, or the European Union’s 48.9 mpg by 2012. I suggest the time has come for the U.S., with 5% of the world’s population, to stop trampling the rest of the world’s choice grazing ground with 27.8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and to adopt emission reduction goals comparable to China’s 40% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
This for us is an ethical issue. The Bible commands us to maintain the highest standards of purity, both out of obligation to God and out of consideration for the health and well-being of the entire community. Any step we can take to increase the quality of the air breathed by our citizens, their children and grandchildren, deserves our wholehearted endorsement.