The term tikkun olam, the obligation of each of us to do what we can to repair the world, is often used to explain the Jewish concept of social justice: actions done to benefit the community. I consider myself an optimist. That’s why, after seeing Al Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth," I was able to thank God for giving us the opportunity to truly engage in tikkun olam. If you haven’t seen the movie or read his book, you should. After being told for years that global warming "may or may not" be a problem, "An Inconvenient Truth" is a much needed wake-up call. The film makes a compelling, factual argument that global warming is a reality, it is happening faster than most scientists anticipated, and the results will truly be catastrophic if we continue to ignore the problem.
We’re already seeing some of the results of global warming: stronger and more frequent hurricanes, resulting in part from warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico; polar bears drowning in significant numbers because they can no longer reach ice flows, as the ice caps continue to melt; the snows on Mount Kilmanjaro all but gone. But there was one particular event that was disturbing enough to convince me to make some changes in my life.
In May ‘005, my shul, Sha’ar, participated in the Save Darfur Rally in Washington, D.C., to protest the Sudanese government’s campaign of genocide against its citizens in the Darfur region. We’ve been told that the explanation for these horrendous acts is that many of the rebel forces that oppose the Sudanese government come from the Darfur region. But I recently learned of another contributing cause.
Forty years ago Lake Chad was as large as Lake Erie. It was the sixth largest lake in the world. But due to declining rainfall and increased human use, Lake Chad is now 1/’0th its original size. As Lake Chad dwindled, periods of intense drought set the stage for the unimaginable violence that is still taking place in neighboring Darfur. People are dying from lack of water and killing to protect the water they have.
One of the effects of global warming is to redistribute weather patterns, so that while precipitation may increase worldwide, some of it is relocated. And a lot of that relocation seems to be away from Africa.
According to "An Inconvenient Truth," the United States is responsible for about 30 percent of all the greenhouse gas emissions in the world. The continent of Africa is responsible for about 5 percent. The inescapable conclusion, I think, is that Americans bear a degree of moral responsibility for what is happening in Darfur. And we have a moral obligation to take the lead in solving the planetary crisis. We already know what to do. We just need the collective will to do it.
At the end of his book, Mr. Gore lists ways individuals and governments can help halt global warming. I’d like to just describe two things that each of us can do immediately.
First, check out www.nativeenergy. com. There you will find a "carbon footprint calculator," which will calculate the amount of carbon "short tons" your household emits each year — the amount of carbon dioxide that you are responsible for putting in the atmosphere each year. The site then offers you the opportunity to "green up" your energy by purchasing "offsets" in wind power or methane power. By donating $1′ per "short ton" of carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere each year, you will effectively have neutralized your family’s effect on the climate. For example, my family of five generates about ‘0 short tons of carbon dioxide a year. By donating $’40 toward wind power, I helped reduce my household’s contribution toward global warming by helping build renewable, cleaner energy sources. I effectively removed my "carbon footprint."I consider it the best investment I ever made. As a side note, I realize that I spent more money on Beanie Babies in the 1990s. Not such a great investment.
The second Website I urge anyone living in New Jersey to visit is http://www.njcleanpower.com. The CleanPower Choice Program is a statewide program that allows you to support the development of clean, renewable sources of energy. When you make the CleanPower choice, electricity is generated from clean, renewable energy sources located in New Jersey and the mid-Atlantic region. It takes about two minutes to make the switch and does not involve actually changing your utility carrier. For most people, the additional cost will be between $7 and $10 a month. The charge is simply added as another line to your existing utility bill.
Finally, I urge everyone to educate themselves about global warming and to educate others. If there was ever a grass roots campaign worth getting involved in, this is it. Tikkun olam needs to be implemented today. We either repair the world or we lose it.