Environmental Issues & Stewardship

A Social Justice Primer for Teens and Parents

The Broader Issue

Environmental justice refers to our obligation to protect our planet, its resources, and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the rights of all people to have “equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.” 

The United States makes up approximately 4.5% of the global population, yet is responsible for 16% of fossil fuel emissions. Greenhouses gases (mainly carbon dioxide and methane), gases that are trapped in the atmosphere, are emitted through several primary industries: the production of energy (burning coal and natural gas), the transportation industry (petroleum based fuel for cars, trucks, airplanes), and agriculture (emissions from livestock, forest management).

There are numerous tangential challenges stemming from human behavior that negatively impacts the planet. With regards to animals, the changing climate is having adverse effects on natural wildlife habitats, leading to the greatest extinction rate in 65 million years. Moreover, there is a global trend of wealthier nations and businesses contributing the most to climate change - even with the most access to research, development, and implementation of clean energy - while the most impoverished communities and industries, on the local, national, and global scale, are most vulnerable to its effects.

The Reform Movement Position

As shomrei adamah, keepers of the Earth, it is our duty to alleviate environmental destruction and the resulting impact on human and animal suffering. For over 40 years, the Reform Movement has honored our obligation to protect the environment, taking stances on the conservation of natural resources, environmental pollution, clean energy, and advocating on behalf of those whose lives are endangered as a direct, or indirect, result of toxic behavior.

Questions to Explore Together

  1. What does socioeconomic status have to do with environmental prejudice? Do you think caring about the environment is an elitist movement?
  2. How do social, political and economic factors shape a person’s view on the environment? Is it hard to find common ground among people with differing views than your own? Why or why not?
  3. What gets you most heated about climate change? What do you plan to do about it, now that you have tools and resources to make change? Where does your part, in helping the environment, begin?

Taking Action

Raising awareness is the first step, but in order to affect real change, ongoing, tangible action needs to be taken. Your family, and your teen, may consider some of the following options to take their learning to the next level:

  • Visit the Religious Action Center’s Urgency of Now website for immediate legislative action items, such as advocating your position to members of Congress.
  • Consider spending part of a summer on a URJ Mitzvah Corps program that explores environmental justice, working to rescue and rehabilitate endangered species of sea turtles.