To which of the many threats posed by the Trump administration should the Jewish community give most of its attention? The repellent and frightening resurgence of anti-Semitism? The inhumane persecution of undocumented immigrants? The loosening of gun regulations? The discriminatory and irrational Muslim ban? Collusion with Russia?
All of these are important, but I fear we may be making the all too human mistake of prioritizing the visceral and immediate over the long term and abstract, and to our great peril. As I wrote in the Forward in October, by 2020, ⅔ of the world’s wild animals (vertebrates specifically) will be gone. 347 Native Bee Species, upon which key aspects of our food chain rely, were recently officially declared at risk of extinction. The Arctic ecosystem is being hit by a slow-motion bomb right now, as ice melts, glaciers crack, polar bears and penguins are stranded, and the Arctic Ocean acidifies. Speaking of ocean acidification, a leading environmental news organization just warned us that “oceans are about to turn into a frothing cauldron of death,” adding that “climate change will disrupt more than half of the world’s ocean habitat in the next 15 years, and 86 percent by 2050.” Ocean de-oxygenation may be widespread in as few as fifteen years. I could go on. And on.
Scientists warn that a failure to take these blatant, glaring warning signs from the earth ecology into account will result in the short term in extreme weather, economic disruption, loss of biodiversity and increased injury to the poorest and most vulnerable communities on earth. In the not-that-much-longer term, we may lose our coastal cities (like New York) and suffer from increases in war, terrorism, and disease. Famine on catastrophic and barely imaginable scales, caused by the loss of ocean life, food pollinating bees, water shortages and crop failure, is likely. To put it simply, we need to learn a lesson from the #NODAPL protesters and start thinking about the next seven generations, or even the next two.
Despite all of this, since President Trump took office in the currently-and perhaps-not-much-longer most powerful country on earth, he has emboldened and supported the fossil fuel industry, initiated plans to roll back environmental regulations and halt American plans to address climate change, and begun withdrawing support from scientists working to understand our earth ecology and what is needed to protect it (and to protect ourselves from it). Mustafa Ali, the head of the Environmental Justice office at the EPA, whose commission was to protect poor and minority communities from suffering from the ecological irresponsibility of corporations and government, just resigned in protest of Trump’s new EPA. Scott Pruitt, the new “leader” of the EPA, went on record days later to deny the consensus understanding of human-caused climate change.
The ‘Day Without An Immigrant” and the “Day Without A Woman” strikes were great actions, but a Day Without the Earth would of course simply mean the death of all living things. If it sounds like I’m playing “which cause is most important,” I am. The cause of protecting the viability of the ecology that sustains all of us is the indeed most important possible cause (with the possible exception of nuclear disarmament). Why are rabbis not being arrested in acts of civil disobedience to protect the EPA? Why have we not had a million human being march to protect the earth and the next generations? Why are we wearing pussyhats and not, I don’t know, treehats? As important as alliances with Muslims, LGBTQ, Latinos, African-Americans and others are (and I think they are very important and am involved in them myself), these concerns still pale in comparison to the disastrous effects of undermining a human-friendly earth ecology. I am not saying this is either/or, but for all of our sake let’s make it at least a both/and.