DRIED FRUIT and nuts 390.
(photo credit: Thinkstock)
Like nature itself, Tu Bishvat has gone though a number of different seasons
throughout its existence. From its Biblical origins as a tax day on fruit trees,
to its Kabbalistic transformation as a nature-mystical holiday, and more
recently as the environmental holiday par excellence of Judaism.
tradition is saturated with nature-sensitive messages, from the charge to
“guard” the earth (Genesis 2:15) to the nature-intoxicated words of many of the
Psalms, to the sublime message not to disturb the environment on
The environment is synonymous with life, and we are commanded in
Deuteronomy to “choose life” (30:19). We know that the condition of our shared
global environment is increasingly vulnerable and that we must act with greater
resolve to address its condition.
One way to affirm that commitment would
be the establishment by the Nobel Foundation of a Nobel Environment
As the Tu Bishvat and the seasons change, so has the Nobel Prize.
From 1901 until 1969, Nobel prizes were awarded in Physics, Chemistry,
Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace. However, in 1968 the Nobel Prize
in Economics was added and the first award conferred the following
While the establishment of a new Nobel prize should not be taken
lightly, humanity has entered a new century where Alfred Nobel’s goal to improve
the human condition and the conditions for our survival now face grave
challenges caused by the deterioration of our global environment. The Nobel
Prize in Economics was established by a large donation by the Riksbanken, the
central bank of Sweden, to the Nobel Foundation.
While the prize in
Economics was not part of Alfred Nobel’s original list of prizes as described in
his will, it is considered almost as prestigious. A similar donation by an
individual or foundation could be the catalyst for the establishment of the
Nobel Environment Prize.
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There are those who will say that the Nobel
Peace Prize is the appropriate venue to recognize outstanding achievements in
the field of the environment, as was done four years ago.
There is a
logical connection between peace and the environment. More and more government
agencies, think tanks and academics understand the connection between the
debasement of environmental conditions and military conflict. Severe drought
caused by climate change has been a factor in the conflict in Darfur. In
contradistinction the environment can serve as an agent for peacebuilding as,
for example, seen through the bridge-building work of the Arava Institute for
Environmental Studies in Kibbutz Ketura.
Despite that connection between
peace and the environment they are too great to be shared by one Nobel prize.
This view has been advocated for years by Dr. Tom Benson, President Emeritus of
Green Mountain College, a leading environmental college. The Nobel Peace Prize
should continue to recognize those distinguished efforts to bring about better
relations between peoples, while the envisioned Nobel Environment Prize would
identify such efforts to bring about better relations between humanity and our
common global environment.
Since the first Nobel prizes were awarded in
1901, global temperatures and sea levels have increased, and glacial coverage
Most alarming, parts per million of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere has increased from 300 in 1901 to 392 today. Vermont-based
environmental activist Bill McKibben reminds us that 300 ppm was the top level
naturally reached during the previous 800,000 years. 350 ppm, which was passed
in 1988, is considered the highest long-term safe number for human
The Nobel prizes were established by the will of Alfred Nobel,
who instructed that prizes should go to individuals whose efforts “conferred the
greatest benefit on mankind.”
110 years after the first Nobel prizes were
awarded, the care of our global environment has become essential for the
survival of humankind. As we pause and celebrate Tu Bishvat this year, the
Jewish environmental holiday, one way to show we are serious about that critical
endeavor would begin to work toward the establishment of a Nobel Environment
Prize.The writer is a rabbi and the author of
Einstein’s Rabbi: A Tale
of Science and the Soul.
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