Why I’m going to COP26

Ethics & social issues By Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg 29th Oct 2021

I’m going there to listen, learn, find every cause I can for hope and positive action and come back inspired and even more determined. I’m spending most of next week in Glasgow, the town where I was born, at COP 26, the most important gathering ever for the future of the planet.

I’ve no idea what it’ll be like, but I’ll certainly report back. I don’t imagine I’ll have the chance to meet the Pope, though I’d love to. I don’t think I’ll meet either President Biden or the Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of the State of Israel, though I’d like to. I don’t suppose I’ll bump into our own PM either, though there’s a lot I’d like to say.

It feels a bit Kafkaesque: there’s a green zone, for the NGOs (people like me with EcoSynagogue, leaders of Eco Church, etcetera); a blue zone for political actors, and a red zone for the highest level of heads of state. Like most faith leaders, my pass will only take me as far as the green zone, (I guess green is my true colour.) But walls and barriers have never put a stop to that age-old spiritual endeavour of trying to tell truth to power.

In fact, those truths are coming from every direction, from the world’s poorest countries already suffering the great impacts of climate change, and from the richest, where ever more economists and business leaders understand that there’s no point investing in fossil fuels and that green enterprise needs, and deserves, every support it can get. They come from the street, where across the world hundreds of millions of people, especially the young, are making it clear to their political leaders that they are out of patience with short-termism, self-interest, lip-service and lack of urgency. As the Talmud says about Noah’s flood, the truth is coming up through the earth in the form of droughts and fires and down from the skies in floods.

But I’m not going to Glasgow to find more cause for misery. These are hard times; only in this last week I’ve listened to several young people speak of their hopelessness. The climate emergency is a cruel inheritance to receive from their elders. But I’m mindful of Rebbe Nachman of Breslav’s maxim: Assur lehitya’esh – It’s forbidden to despair.

I’m going to Glasgow to find out about every form of positive action that I can. If I’m asked to plant trees, I’ll pick up my spade; if to show solidarity with communities struggling to adapt to climate change, I’ll ask them how; if it becomes even clearer that habits need to be changed, I’ll make my best efforts to do so.

I’m involved with all this because I’m haunted, possessed twice over. I’m seeing shadows where I hadn’t noticed them before: they follow my shopping bags and squat in my kitchen and bedroom with increasingly vividness. They whisper: ‘Is that there which you’re eating or wearing really worth what it’s doing to the earth and its peoples?’

But they don’t cling to me half as much as something else, a passionate, ineradicable love of this earth. It’s a love and joy as deep in me as the roots of a great tree. It brings nourishment to my body, mind and spirit. My God breathes in every living thing.

Nothing can suck that love out of my soul, and there’s nothing greater I want to bequeath to my children. Therefore, though I know I fall short, I want to do, and engage others to do, everything I can to protect this wonderful world and pass it on, vital and beautiful, to the future.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg will be sharing reflections from COP26 on the Masorti Judaism Facebook page at 9.30pm on Tuesday 2nd November. Tune in here.

Click here to join a Masorti communities for EcoShabbat on 5/6 November.

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