Earth Day is Coming: Why Should Jews Care?

April 13, 2015Liya Rechtman

For many North American Jews, Passover marks the "official" start of spring. As the weather warms, many are taking the opportunity to walk instead of drive, breathe some (not totally frigid) fresh air, and explore the world around us. We are also celebrating the 45th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22.

What is Earth Day?

Many consider Earth Day the historic birthday of the worldwide environmental movement, which started in April 1970. After a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA, in 1969, US Senator Gaylord Nelson worked with emerging environmental activists. Modeled off of contemporary anti-Vietnam student activism, the early environmental movement advocated for clean air and clean water regulations to ensure that the 1969 oil spill was not a repeat incident through teach-ins and protests. The movement garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans and eventually culminated in the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Endangered Species Acts in the 1970s. These pieces of legislation are to this day incredibly important cornerstones of environmental protection and mitigating the causes of climate change.

We mark Earth Day not only to remember the importance of these landmark pieces of legislation, but also to recognize how much work is still left to be done. Climate change is a growing threat that is effecting communities around the world today. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, proposed under the Clean Air Act, would work to reduce carbon emissions domestically and encourage other nations to limit their emissions through international climate negotiations. The Religious Action Center gave testimony in support of the Clean Power Plan last year. The Green Climate Fund is another important environmental battle of today. The Green Climate Fund is an international fund split between helping developing countries adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects. You can sign on here to tell your Members of Congress that you support the Green Climate Fund.

How can you celebrate Earth Day 2015?

In a blog post for the Earth Day Network, Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), wrote:

As inheritors of a tradition of environmental stewardship that stretches back to the Book of Genesis, Jews know that we have a crucial role to play in protecting our planet and responding to climate change. We also recognize that our responsibility to care of the environment is not only part of our covenant with God to “till and tend” to our earth (Genesis 2:15), but also part of our covenant with our children, so that they may inherit a habitable planet.

As Jews, we have an important role to play in Earth Day. You can join Reform Movement families and congregations across North America and around the world in marking the history and continued work of the environmental movement by participating in Earth Day Shabbat April 17-18. Check out the Earth Day Shabbat resource guide here learn more about how you can incorporate aspects of environmental awareness and advocacy into your Shabbat observance. Also take a look at the Religious Action Center’s Holiday Guides and environmental issue page for more ideas.

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