A renewed commitment to preserving our planet

This year as we celebrate Tu BiSh’vat, we are not just celebrating a new year for the trees, but the start of a new era for our planet. The international climate agreement that was finalized at the end of 2015 has provided a new sense of hope for protecting our earth and all of its inhabitants from the dangers of climate change. The commitment of all nations at the recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris showed that the global community understands that climate change is real and affecting us all, and that we can no longer ignore record-breaking carbon emissions, rising sea levels and global temperatures. This historic agreement gives us the opportunity to change the course of climate change and build a more sustainable and just future.

During this time of celebration, we must ask what obligations this agreement creates for us as individuals, as Americans and as Jews.

The Reform Jewish community has been advocating for climate justice for decades, promoting sustainable practices in our communities, supporting vulnerable populations, protecting endangered species, working for cleaner air, land and water and advocating for greater investment in renewable energy – but now is the time to engage ever more deeply.

With a commitment from 196 developing and developed nations to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius, the world has united around the understanding that effective action to fight climate change must come from all nations. 188 of the 196 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change members, including the United States, have submitted Nationally Determined Contribution plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Some have argued that this agreement will not have as great of an impact as is hoped for. It’s true: the agreement will only be as strong as each nation’s commitment to abide by its terms. The United States has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Now, the government must take steps such as full implementation of the Clean Power Plan in every state, to ensure we meet that goal. Furthermore, the United States must uphold its commitment to help countries that face the undue burden of climate change by meeting President Obama’s pledge to the Green Climate Fund, a fund to help vulnerable communities adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

This agreement helps us uphold our tradition of passing the earth l'dor v'dor, from generation to generation, working to ensure that our children and children’s children around the world have the same access to the natural resources that we (too often) take for granted in our daily lives. God implores us, “Do not destroy my world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to make it right again” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13).  Although the effects of climate change cannot be undone, we have the chance to change our climate legacy at this key time. We can be the generation that had the opportunity to halt climate change and did not act, or we can take action to ensure that our world is not destroyed.

As we engage in our Tu BiSh’vat Seders and celebrate the renewal of the trees, let us also celebrate achievement marked by the international agreement and consider how we as a Jewish community can change the course of climate change. Let us call on the United States, and all nations of the world to act upon this historic climate agreement and take the necessary measures to keep our global temperature from rising to destructive levels.

Barbara Weinstein is the Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism