A lean, green fighting machine

Cut down waste, not trees. But for heaven's sake don't turn environmentalism into a religious war.

trees-224-88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
I am green. Partly it's a way of life. But partly it's with envy. I was obviously born before my time. Environmentalism, a topic so unfashionable when I covered it as a reporter that I frequently had to explain the term itself - let alone its importance - is now so popular that Al Gore can garner both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar in one year. Everyone is getting hot under the collar about global warming. Or at least pretending to. The Jerusalem Post last week picked up an LA Times story entitled "Varying shades of celebrity 'green'" which examined the spin-off green issue - with the emphasis on the "spin" - of whether eco-friendly celebrities are really eco-hypocrites. Outing nowadays involves claims, such as one reprinted in that article, that Gore's mansion consumes 20 times more energy than the average American home. Presumably Green Gore would have preferred us to remain in the dark regarding that particular piece of information. And pity the stars who have to decide whether to use their private jets to get to a Live Earth concert on time, the piece noted. No wonder many participants at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, which wrapped up its second and final week on December 14, made a point of traveling by bicycle. Nothing is new under the sun (except, perhaps, the hole in the ozone layer). And nothing is as simple as it seems. "When the Almighty created man, He said unto him: 'Behold my creation, how lovely and wonderful it is. Make sure that you do not spoil or destroy my world, for if you damage it, there is no one to repair it after you.'" Ecclesiastes Rabba 5:28. As environmentalism becomes the new religion of the masses, it is worth recalling that violations of modern ecological thinking are usually transgressions of Jewish law as well. Being ecologically aware is not just a modern fad so trendy that President Shimon Peres seems to be in the process of greening his agenda. While I support building bridges for peace, I remember Peres promoting an industrial park on the very banks of the Jordan River which would make sure that, environmentally speaking, neither neighbor had green grass to be jealous of. And the president recently got a chilly reception by Greenpeace activists who stripped to their underwear to protest his role in building Israel's nuclear facility. Friendliness to the environment and to the animals in it are ancient commandments - with all the problems entailed. The Sages said that if you are planting a tree and someone tells you the Messiah has come, you should first finish planting and only then go and greet Him. (The reasoning being should the Messiah indeed have arrived He'll be around for a while so you have time to finish the job, and if it is only a rumor, at least you'll still have the tree.) THE MESSIAH would recognize many of the basic environmental precepts: The Talmud is full of biblical interpretations concerning regulations on air, water, land and even noise pollution - the only type of pollution which might not kill you but might make you want to kill someone else. Of course, this being a shmita (agricultural sabbatical) year, that's one dilemma less for a while. But the rest of it is pretty complicated. I try to do my best - starting with a rule to eat nothing that had eyes unless it is a potato and avoiding leather accessories. Needless to say I don't possess a fur coat, unless you count those worn, naturally, by the dog and two cats. All my pets are rescued. Even Hamburger the hamster was found in his cage next to a garbage bin, giving a whole new connotation to the saying one man's trash is another man's treasure. Like the participants at the Bali conference, I believe in cutting down waste, not trees. But it is not easy reaching a consensus on how to save the world when the phrase "industrial concerns" is more likely to refer to business interests than caring corporate bodies. Zvi Lidar, who led the delegation by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-The Jewish National Fund to the UN conference in Indonesia, reported that the discussions "are sometimes reminiscent of a Turkish bazaar. A lot of money is involved here. A lot of interests. Not by chance are representatives of OPEC [the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] wandering around here and trying to influence the decisions. Oil, as we know, is a major polluter and any regulation decreasing its use will have a tremendous effect on the petroleum producers' income." Lidar points out that "trees are the only remedy to reduce the greenhouse gases." Although the conference was primarily concerned with reducing the emission of gases, the KKL-JNF could share its expertise in tree-planting to reduce the harmful gases already in the atmosphere. "We at the KKL are prepared and after the sabbatical year will continue planting, with the help of world Jewry, millions more trees to add to the 230 million that have already been planted by us so far in the Land of Israel," he says. But while many agree to taking a leaf out of the KKL's book, afforestation is not without its own problems, Lidar notes. One of the issues that came up at the conference, for example, is what happens to communities close to forests whose land is expropriated for planting. Entire communities and cultures could be literally uprooted and lost in favor of trees. It is not yet clear what will come out of the climate control conference other than more hot air. It is good to recycle waste products; recycling ideas is not so productive. Solutions exist, but are not easy. The industrialists and the environmentalists do not share much common ground, polluted or otherwise. Locally, we recently witnessed an attempt to hijack the green scene by painting Judaism black. The campaign by Green Hanukkia to encourage Jewish families to light one less Hanukka candle this year to reduce CO2 emissions did nothing to improve the atmosphere in either sense of the word as far as I'm concerned. I can wax lyrical on the beauty of Hanukka candles - and of lighting candles for Shabbat when observant Jews refrain from traveling and hence help reduce noxious fumes. Turning the green movement into an anti-religious vehicle is less likely to help fight the serious environmental problems than, say, the Prayer for Rain. There is no reason for one to cancel out the other. We can all do our bit to help save the world while we're waiting for the Messiah. Plant a tree, eat less meat, use less plastic and packaging, think green when you clean. And above all, take a deep breath while the air is still pure enough.