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Coronavirus is a fire drill for climate change

This Passover, abandoning bread for matzah will hardly register as a disruptive change. Our experience of the coronavirus has upended everything. It turns out our world is much more fragile than we thought.

Things we have always taken for granted — that grocery stores will be stocked with food; hospitals will have available beds and health-care workers proper protective gear; that we can go to school and work; that we can spend time in gyms and synagogues; and that we can hug our family and friends — are no longer the realty.

Our interlocking systems and networks are not built on solid ground. It has also become clear that we cannot assume that the “powers that be” have everything under control.

In all these ways, this pandemic is a fire drill for climate change. At levels that far exceed the virus, the climate crisis will bring unprecedented death and disruption to all the systems that sustain our day-to-day lives — unless we act boldly and decisively.

We have known this for a while, but it was abstract for most people. Thanks to COVID-19, we are starting to understand what unprecedented can feel like in our kishkes.

Herein lies an opportunity. We now have proof-of-concept for rapid and widespread action. We see that business as usual can change. We see that entire societies can adapt. Stripped of many of life’s trappings, what is most important to us is revealed: the wellbeing of ourselves and those we love.

Scientists know what needs to happen to confront climate change. The technology exists, but needs to be resourced and scaled. Policies have been drafted, but need to be enacted.

What is missing is political will. What is missing is widespread pressure on our governments and industry. What is missing is action.

We have no choice but to stop assuming that life as we know it will continue, or that others — those ever-elusive “grown-ups” — will take care of this for us. If we collectively commit to courageous action, we can move politicians and the financiers of fossil fuel.

The old order is crumbling, and we can define what the new world looks like. But we must take things into our own hands, just as our forebears did before us.

On Passover, we are inspired by our ancestors who faced extinction with courageous action: The midwives who risked their lives to save the Jewish babies. Nachshon, who walked into the Red Sea, step by step up to his nose, before the waters finally parted. Moses, who tirelessly confronted authority over and over again.

The ancient Israelites who, realizing the status quo was untenable, embarked on a treacherous journey to an unknown future. In our own time, as we face the existential threat of climate change, we are called to draw from our well of strength and do everything it takes to secure a different future.

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The Jewish community clearly cannot act alone, but we have a critical role to play. We must join with other communities and build a robust Jewish movement confronting the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold political action.

In the coming months there will be plenty of opportunities to take courageous action. Just last week, while the country was preoccupied, the Trump Administration rolled back emissions standards.

More positively, this moment offers unexpected opportunities to reimagine and create a different sort of world. The need to rebuild our economy can actually accelerate our country’s response to the climate crisis.

Aviation industry bailouts, for example, could be provided contingent on a commitment to significant emissions reduction. A stimulus package could boost the economy through investments in renewable energy and create millions of jobs building green infrastructure.

We have the chance to rebuild our systems to be resilient and prepared for the next disaster. But we need to recognize that it is on us to rise up and act. As we recount the story of our Exodus, let us draw strength from our ancestors.

At our Seders we sang Dayenu. Let us proclaim: “We have had enough!” and pledge to take courageous action in the coming year.

Let us also come together in remembering, even as we endure this time of uncertainty, that we also have enough. We have what we need to rebuild a different world.

Rabbi Jennie Rosenn is founder and chief executive of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, a new nonprofit that plans to launch this spring.


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