Tikkun Olam is a powerful Jewish value that motivates us to repair the world by fighting for social justice in our communities. In this time of climate change, however, the planet itself is undergoing significant change, calling upon us to address the environmental impact of our actions. We must start to take the definition of tikkun olam literally and recognize the interconnectivity of people and the planet.
The once slow and gradual impacts of human-caused climate change are becoming more visible in our daily lives. This summer alone, June 2023 was declared as the hottest month on record globally, only to be outdone by July 2023 temperatures. Ocean temperatures in the gulf of Florida reached the same level as a hot tub, upwards of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The Avian flu virus is killing millions of wild and captive birds.
As the world continues to alter in more drastic ways, all people, animal, and plant communities will be affected. The United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report in March 2023 that distills the latest climate science into an urgent, systemic call to action to mobilize action in order to ensure a just and sustainable future.
In light of this recent information, it’s more important now than ever before to encourage a climate awareness, or an understanding of the profound damage of climate change that manifests action.
Each individual person holds the power to become environmental advocates in their own ways: from as simple as using a reusable water bottle or reducing meat intake, to protesting oil pipeline construction or writing a letter to a congressman.
In my opinion, the best action we can all take to address climate change may be a bit unexpected. It’s easy, highly effective and something everyone can do: listen, observe and share stories of environmental connection.
As a Jewish community, we’re familiar with the power of remembering the past so that stories and voices aren’t lost to history. When we listen to the voices of elders, Holocaust survivors, and ancient texts, we maintain a collective memory of our shared experiences as a Jewish people. Sharing our experiences holds the key to keeping our culture alive, nurturing feelings of empathy and inspiring a more just future.
As climate change begins to alter landscapes and livelihoods at a rapid rate, we must similarly listen to stories of past and present environmental change to work towards visions of a desirable future. Stories of all kinds hold the potential to manifest climate action: whether novels that fall in the genre of “cli-fi,” journalism articles about the latest global heatwave, or your neighbor bemoaning how the nearby state park is overrun with invasive dame’s rocket.
Stories can have a variety of tones — whether optimistic, cynical or reflective — but all can validate the overwhelming emotions in response to the climate crisis, and channel those feelings towards inspiring systemic changes that benefit both vulnerable communities and the environment.
The next chapter in my personal story is a goal to listen more to the voices of our non-human neighbors. Despite a strong awareness that humans cause harm to the planet, I only recently started learning about my local ecosystem. A few years ago, I could barely tell an oak tree from a linden, or a cardinal song from a goldfinch melody. I called pretty much all yellow flowers “sunflowers” and would run in the other direction when I saw a bumblebee.
Now, when I go on a walk outside, I use various tools to help uncover the world around me. I have the Merlin Bird ID app open on my phone, which identifies the birds that are singing around me. I use the Seek by iNaturalist app to take pictures of plants that pique my interest so I can learn their names and whether they’re native or invasive. I make a guessing game out of identifying all of the trees I pass by and later verify my answers. As I learn more, I grow more appreciative of nature’s immense beauty, and fascinated by how conservation can restore the landscape to its full potential.
By sharing our own stories of environmental connection with others, as I’ve done with you, I’m optimistic that more could feel compelled to fight against climate change — numbers that have the collective power to truly repair the world.
The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle focused on climate change for the season of the world’s birthday, Rosh Hashanah. This article is part of that series for 2023/5784.
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Writer Claire Davidson is a former Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle intern who currently works in the environmental non-profit sector. She grew up in the North Shore and currently lives in Shorewood, dangerously close to the library.