Nipping it in the Bud

orange tree

This blog post originally appeared on the Religious Action Center’s blog.

Ah springtime…the chirping of birds, the buzzing of insects, the budding of trees. But wait a minute. It’s not spring. It’s winter in Brooklyn…it’s 72 degrees out…the tomatoes are still growing in my garden and the poor trees are confused. I’m a little confused myself. I’ve settled in to write an article about Tu BiSh’vat the Jewish holiday, which will be celebrated on January 24-25, 2016 and foretells the coming of springtime in Israel. As an experiential environmental educator, between leading eco activities and Tu BiSh’vat Seders, it’s always been my busy season. I’m used to being greeted with mixed reactions when talking about spring in the midst of icy cold winter weather.

Tu BiSh’vat, referred to as the New Year of the Trees or the Birthday of the Trees, has also been dubbed the Jewish Arbor Day or Jewish Earth Day. It’s a time when the frozen waters start to thaw; as the soil and trees are nourished, they begin to reproduce leaves and seeds. In the Jewish community Tu BiSh’vat is a time for us to embrace our responsibility as stewards of the planet and a natural time to appreciate and be awed by trees. Speaking of embracing, I’ve hugged a few trees in my day. With all that trees do for us, they deserve to be hugged.

While it was hard not to revel in wearing spring-like clothes in winter, we’ve learned over the past few years of erratic weather including 14 of the 15 hottest years on record, which have all occurred since 2000, that there’s a price to be paid. In this case, the budding of trees in December means that the plants and trees’ natural cycles have been thrown off resulting in a shortened flowering season and in some instances, some trees may not flower at all. Fruit trees for example, need to experience a substantial amount of chilling so they will bear fruit. The holiday of Tu BiSh’vat actually began as the cut-off date for collecting taxes on the crop of fruit trees. The Jewish people gave one tenth or a tithing of their harvest to support the sacred work of the temples and to help the poor and those in need. The Jewish principle of bal tashchit is a prohibition against cutting down or destroying trees even as a tactic of war, and specifically forbids the cutting down of fruit-bearing trees. Fruit (food) is a sacred gift and the law forbids needless and wasteful destruction. In our day, the increase of climate-driven extreme weather events such as excessive heat, drought and flooding related to human activity is putting our food sources at risk. Isn’t this a form of wanton destruction?

Trees are our natural partners in so many ways and critical to the sustainability of our planet. There can’t be a serious discussion about slowing down the devastation of climate change without considering the impact of trees, particularly on the heels of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The second day of the conference focused on trees including carbon sequestration, reforestation, carbon sinks, agribusinesses, logging of old-growth forests and sustainable development of commodities that come from trees. To honor the commitments in the Paris agreement and limit the temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or possibly 1.5C, the world must not only stop destroying its forests, it must invest in tree regeneration to create a balance between the emissions of greenhouse gases and their removal.

While an agreement may have been reached in Paris, as we reflect on Tu BiSh’vat, we still need to be vigilant. We must hold industry and government accountable by supporting pro-environmental legislation. We need to hold ourselves accountable as well by preserving and conserving our natural resources and taking progressive personal and communal action to nip the causes of climate change in the bud.

 

Still Trying to Imagine

John Lennon

I’m thinking about John Lennon. I’m always thinking about John Lennon. But today especially.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a confluence of the two major issues I’ve been involved in for 20+ years: climate change and gun violence. I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed by the state of both these issues, it’s been hard to get motivated to write about them. But today is the 35th anniversary of the day John Lennon was killed, so I’m motivated.

Today is also the third night of Chanukah. There’s a natural Chanukah -environment connection. It’s a holiday about oil dependence in the same unstable region of the world that we’ve always had oil issues. It’s also about light at this, the darkest time of the year, which makes it a natural time to think about energy conservation, environmental stewardship and moving away from our unsustainable use of fossil fuels. This year it has even more meaning with the UN Climate Conference in Paris in its 9th day. About 180 countries have submitted emissons reductions plans. The goal is to reach a legally binding agreement to keep global average temperatures from continuing to rise to disastrous levels. As we know, storms with increased intensity, droughts and other catastrophic weather occurrences are impacting our planet, particularly the most vulnerable who are already suffering. This isn’t something in the future. This is happening now.

Climate change is a factor in the surge of refugees and terrorism as well. In Syria, for example there has been a drought for the past six years. As crops failed, there were food shortages. Hundreds of thousands of families who depended on farms ​poured into Syria’s cities, adding to the refugees already fleeing from the chaos in Iraq. The government was incapable of doing anything, making way for militant groups to step in.

We know all too well that intolerance and instability leads to unrest and violence. Not just terrorist acts by outsiders, but homegrown acts of violence made easier by our weak gun laws, which leads me back to John Lennon. It seemed impossible at the time that anyone would want to gun down and murder John Lennon who asked us to Imagine a better world and to give peace a chance. Who would have guessed that 35 years later in America, over 108,000 people a year would be victims of gun violence?

A few weeks ago I went to Washington DC for the 2015 Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence National Summit Lobbying Day and to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the national Million Mom March, which I was a coordinator for in 2000. Following our day of lobbying, we felt exhilirated, not knowing what lie around the corner in a few weeks. On the way back to New York, I updated my blog piece, Triggers, to encourage people to get in touch with their legislators to encourage the expansion of background checks for gun purchases. We had high hopes. But even with these recent tragedies, we’re having trouble getting any traction on legislation for gun safety laws.

If John Lennon had lived, I’m sure he would be just as perplexed as any rational person should be that our country can’t agree on commonsense approaches to both the problem of climate change and gun violence.

Being outraged isn’t #ENOUGH, we need to take action by supporting and voting for legislators and policies that will make a difference.

We learn from the Chanukah story that the little guy can be victorious over the big guy. This Chanukah as we kindle the candles, let’s hope there’s light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Like This

marchers
Seeing so many millennials show up at protests this past week got me thinking about how a common lament of their generation has been that they haven’t had the deep issues of the 1960s to connect to. They (and their boomer parents) often see the activism of that time through rose tinted granny glasses. I spend a lot of time with 20 and 30-somethings. Not only because I’m the mother of two daughters in that demographic, but because of my work as an activist in the environmental movement. Protecting the environment is an issue that many millennials have gravitated to over the past fifteen years. They grew up with a well publicized push to Save the Rainforest, photos of precious polar bears floating away on melting ice sheets, and the virtues of the three ‘R’s. Not Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic like it was for their parents, but Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. And even though the environmental movement was also inspired by the boomer generation with the first Earth Day, it has suffered from not being able to attach a human face to the issues and therefore it’s been slow to attract the same kind of passion and urgency of movements of the past. Millennials in the U.S. want their own Vietnam to protest against, their own Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements to march for. They want to care about something; a unified chant worthy cause à la: Give Peace a Chance.

Then along came the corrosive power of Wall Street and multinational corporations and banks, which led to the greatest recession we had seen in decades. This was followed by the reprehensible behavior of these industries going unpunished and the very personal concern for young people over college loans and high unemployment. There was a common enemy and the Occupy Movement was born. Millennials were motivated…for awhile. But some say the problem with Occupy was that it was more about the participants attracting attention, having their voices heard, than actually about getting results. My feeling is; what they were rallying against didn’t strike a painful enough chord. Not so with recent events, which leads me to think: be careful what you wish for.

None of us could have foreseen that decades later we’d be fighting many of the same fights. We’ve got wars galore—conflicts where there can be no winners, where peace eludes us. When it comes to injustice—women are still being discriminated against, particularly in the workplace. And from Ferguson to New York, and all points in between, while we’ve moved one step forward in addressing racial inequality, it feels like we’ve taken two steps back. Even the environmental movement is gaining more critical mass momentum as the rate of the devastating effects of climate change on humans is escalating.  The system is broken.  So young and older are once again taking to the streets to put democracy into action, to hold those in positions of power accountable, and try to affect change. But for all of us who have romanticized revolution, I think we can agree; we didn’t want it like this.