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Birkenstocks Not Required: Why We Should All Be Environmental Stewards

Birkenstocks Not Required: Why We Should All Be Environmental Stewards

Though skeptics will argue if it’s scientifically true, and politicians will argue about whether it’s relevant, climate change is a threat to our environment, health, and economy. When confronting an international issue, like climate change, it is imperative that the United States be at the forefront of creating innovative policies. By refraining from acting on this increasingly time-sensitive issue, our government is ignoring the repercussions of America’s contribution to greenhouse gasses - endangering not only our livelihood, but the well-being of people around the world. In a nation categorized by its wealth and opportunity, it is unjust that the effects of climate change are impacting those in developing countries who leave a much smaller carbon footprint as a result of their inexistent spending power.

As a sophomore in high school, I participated in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminar. I remember writing a passionate essay on the detrimental effects of climate change and proudly sharing my concerns with my senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. As a result of my liberal, eco-chic upbringing in Portland, I was raised with an awareness of climate change. However, I was surprised that other students on the program weren’t as familiar with the concept. Working in Washington, D.C., this summer has reignited my passion for addressing climate change in our national legislature, reminding me of the destructive consequences of inaction. While being environmentally aware may be a cool, cultural trend in Portland, this attitude is not universal and the serious repercussions of ignoring global warming are not explicit in our media and legislative policies

Though the United States is home to only five percent of the world’s population, we produce about 19 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions, impacting the well-being of communities other than our own. The United States can rectify this issue by investing in clean energy. Researching, utilizing and producing renewable sources of energy, such as wind power and solar power, produce both environmental and economic benefits. Furthermore, as new jobs are created by investing in clean energy, our nation reduces our dependency on foreign oil and foreign power. In the wake of arguments surrounding the keystone pipeline, and other proposals to harness oil in North America, I am frustrated by our desire to invest in industries that are unable to produce energy in the long-run. In an era of Google Glass and recreational space shuttles, I find it dumbfounding that we haven’t created means to make clean energy more affordable and sustainable.

I find solace in the fact that the Jewish community acknowledges the realities of climate change and the consequences of inaction. Jewish values corroborate a need to take initiative as our religious texts emphasize that we much each be stewards of the earth. The book of Genesis stresses this concept, highlighting our duty as individuals to care for our environment and all that dwell in it, “the human being was placed in the Garden of Eden to till it and to tend it” (Genesis 2:15).

As individuals, and as Jews, it is our duty to care for the environment. We don’t need to all wear Birkenstocks and chastise those who drive to work, but it is essential that we recognize that climate change isn’t a problem that will solve itself. Rather, we need to address the issue from a political standpoint - acknowledging that climate change is not only an environmental and economic dilemma, impacting multiple facets of American politics and infrastructure, but an international threat to public health and developing nations.

Talia Berniker is a 2015 participant in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's Machon Kaplan participant. She loves playing the guitar, going to concerts, and drinking coffee. She is a sophomore at the University of Oregon and plans on majoring in Journalism with a focus in advertising and minors in political science and multimedia design. She is interning this summer at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

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