Torah, Food, and Climate Change

Navdanya farm, India

This weekend begins the “Earth Week” starting with the March for Science and culminating next weekend with the People’s Climate March. Both will be held in Washington, DC, with satellite marches across the nation and around the globe.  We are living in a perilous time: we’ve already exceed the greenhouse gas emissions goal of 350 ppm, each year tops the previous one as “the hottest on record” and efforts are underway to gut the Environmental Protection Agency. The effects of climate change, including drought, floods and increased temperatures wreak havoc on crops, threatening our food supplies.  We can make a significant reduction in our climate emissions through our food choices (9% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US come from agriculture). Torah teaches us that we are God’s partner in protecting creation, bal taschit (do not destroy/waste) is a central teaching, and our calendar follows the agricultural cycle. “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it” (Genesis 2:15). The following tips to reduce one’s carbon emissions through food choices can be easily be done at home, schools, and shuls (and details about Jewish involvement in the People’s Climate Shabbat/March and other resources).

Peninsula Jewish Community Center. Foster City, CA

1. Go veg
Worldwide, 1/5 of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, according to the UN. Don’t blame cows though-it’s humans eating so much meat and dairy (Nine billion, yes with a b, farm animals are killed worldwide annually).

2. Say no to bottled water
Producing and schlepping bottled water across the country (and globe), is a huge waste. 17 million barrels of oil are used to create all of the bottled water Americans consume annually (not including transportation). The process of  bottling water produces 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide, each year.  And, 44% of bottled water is actually just tap water.

3. Cut your food miles: eat local like the Israelites
The average American meal travels 1,500 from farm to plate, creating significant carbon emissions. As Rabbi Julian Sinclair explains, “Biblical food production is regional. Each part of the Land of Israel is known for the particular kinds of crop and produce native to it.
Eat locally grown food, whenever possible:
find your local farmers here.

4. Pass on pesticides
Pesticides were recently declared by the UN a “global human rights concern… [and] it is misleading to claim they are vital  to ensuring food security.”  Opting for growing food without chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides will help farmers better adjust to the impacts of climate change and “also offers a major potential to reduce the emissions of agricultural greenhouse gases.” In fact, regenerative organic agriculture can capture carbon emissions from the air and trap it in soil, while still producing as much food as “conventional” agriculture.

Navdanya organic farm

5. Bal taschit: Don’t waste food
The UN found that 1/3 of all food produced worldwide for humans is “lost or wasted.” The production of this much food totals to:
-3.3 Gtonnes of carbon emissions (3rd largest contribution to global emissions, after the US and China)
the use of 30% of agricultural land worldwide
-wasted water that is three times the size of Lake Geneva

6. Compost
“Landfills are the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US.”
Instead of throwing out food scraps and paper, opt to compost them instead. This will reduce one’s emissions and create nutrient rich soil that will capture carbon dioxide emissions. And your plants will love the compost!

7. Save seeds
Get involved by growing, swapping and protecting seeds.
Ensuring that our seeds can grow under changing climatic conditions will not happen by locking them in a vault. Seeds need to continuously be grown to ensure they are resilient and adapting to climate change.

8. Get involved with Jewish efforts at the People’s Climate Shabbat and March in DC and in cities across the nation. And, click here, here, and here for Jewish educational and advocacy resources.

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6 thoughts on “Torah, Food, and Climate Change

  1. Kudos, Sarah Newman, for your insightful and important comments.

    The following points indicate why averting a climate catastrophe is an urgent imperative:

    1. Science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists, and 99.9% of peer-reviewed papers on the issue in respected scientific journals argue that climate change is real, is largely caused by human activities, and poses great threats to humanity. All 195 nations at the December 2015 paris climate change conference agreed that immediate steps must be taken to combat climate change.
    2.Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade and all of the 17 warmest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. 2016 is the warmest year globally since 1880 when temperature records were first kept, breaking the record held before by 2015 and previously by 2014, meaning we now have had three consecutive years of record temperatures..
    3. Polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, faster than scientific projections. This has caused an increase in oceans worldwide with the potential for major flooding.
    4. There has been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. Seems to be stories about this almost daily on TV news.
    5. California has been subjected to so many severe climate events (heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and mudslides when heavy rains occur) recently that its governor, Jerry Brown, stated that, “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.”
    6. Many climates experts believe that we are close to a tipping point when climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur.
    7. While climate scientists believe that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, the world reached 400 ppm in 2014, and the amount is increasing by 2 – 3 ppm per year.
    8. While climate scientists hope that temperature increases can be limited to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), largely because that is the best that can be hoped for with current trends and momentum, the world is now on track for an average increase of 4 – 6 degrees Celsius, which would produce a world with almost unimaginably negative climate events .
    9. The Pentagon and other military groups believe that climate change will increase the potential for instability, terrorism, and war by reducing access to food and clean water and by causing tens of millions of desperate refuges fleeing from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms, and other effects of climate change.
    10. The conservative group ConservAmerica (www.ConservAmerica.org), formerly known as ‘Republicans for Environmental Protection,’ is very concerned about climate change threats. They are working to end the denial about climate threats and the urgency of working to avert them on the part of the vast majority of Republicans, but so far with very limited success.
    Given the above, averting a potential climate catastrophe should be a central focus of civilisation today, in order to leave a lovable world for future generations. Every aspect of life should be considered. We have to shift to renewable forms of energy, improve our transportation systems, produce more efficient cars and other means of transportation, and do everything else possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
    As president emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I want to stress the importance of shifts toward vegan diets. Animal-based agriculture its a major contributor to climate change, largely due to the emission of methane from cows and other farmed animals,, since methane is from 72 to 105 times as potent as CO2 per molecule in warming the atmosphere, during the 20 years that methane is in the atmosphere.
    Two studies demonstrate this conclusion:
    1. A 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation study, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” found that livestock agriculture emitted more GHGs, in CO2 equivalents, than all the cars, planes, ships, and other means of transportation combined.
    2. A 2009 front page story in World Watch magazine, “Livestock and Climate Change,” by two environmentalists associated with the World Bank, found that the livestock sector was responsible for at least 51 percent of all human-induced GHGs.
    So, a major shift away from animal-based diets is essential to efforts to avert a climate catastrophe..
    Because the threats are so great, it is essential that everyone make this issue a major priority, and make every effort to make dietary and other lifestyle changes, in order to help shift our imperilled planet onto a sustainable path.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Sarah,

        I think you would be interested in the new edition of my very pro-vegan book, “WhoStole My Religion? so I am posting the complete text nd the cover picture below. Comments and suggestions are very welcome.

        Please feel free to share the attachments widely with people who might be interested.

        Any help in promoting the book would be much appreciated.

        Best wishes for your continued success,

        Richard

        Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Mathematics and Global Survival, and Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet, and over 250 articles at JewishVeg.org/schwartz President Emeritus, Jewish Veg, for merly Jewish Vegetarians of North America (www.JewishVeg.org); President, Society Of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV): Associate producer of A SACRED DUTY (www.aSacredDuty.com); “Like” Jewish Veg on Facebook at http://www.facebook.org/JewishVeg

        >

        Like

  2. Pingback: Resisting Climate Change With Seeds | Neesh Noosh

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