By Daniel Preter
Environmental issues are an ever urgent and global phenomenon. The world population has already reached 7.7 billion, and The United Nations estimates it will increase to 11.8 billion by the year 2100. All these people will need somewhere to live; they will need food, energy and resources. Pressure on the planet is increasing. Natural habitats are decreasing as the population expands and migrates. Increased industrialisation produces an ever rising output of greenhouse gases, as well as toxins and, of course, vast amounts of plastic.
Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it only occurs naturally at a rate of one to five species every year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at almost 10,000 times that rate. The main causes are habitat destruction, deforestation, and climate change, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions. As a consequence, oceans are warming and become acidified with a devastating effect on the balance of species; ice caps are melting, leading to rising sea levels and extreme weather events.
These facts are only a fraction of the challenges our planet is currently facing. It is easy to become defeatist as an individual. What difference can “little me” make? Is it all too late?
The answer is no.
We can slow down, stop and even reverse a number of the current trends. This will of course require leadership of all governments, but every individual can play their part to make a difference. Eco-Synagogue was launched on the blueprint of Eco-Church, a movement to encourage environmental awareness and change in religious organisations. It works through completing an online survey, which assesses broad domains of activity: how we use our buildings and any land we own or care for; how we eat and consume; how we use the opportunities of the liturgical year; how we teach and preach; and how we change the behaviours of our congregations. Kol Nefesh is proud to be a member of Eco-Synagogue, and has taken the challenge head on! Admittedly, our survey scoring was initially very low. Some aspects we could not influence, as we don’t own our own building. But here are some of the actions and activities we introduced in our shul:
We changed the cutlery and crockery we use at our kiddushim from plastic to biodegradable or multi-use items.
We have regular ‘green’ kiddushim, using fresh and local produce. We try to inspire our members to make changes at home, helped by a ‘green tip’ sent in our weekly bulletin.
We invite external speakers on environmental subjects, such as John Levy, the UK representative of SPNI, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
Our Rabbi, Joel Levy, dedicated a weekend to the notion of Ba’al Tashchit – do not destroy – the commandment not to destroy or waste items from the natural world.
For Mitzvah day we paired up with the London Wildlife Trust for some hands-on conservation work on Totteridge Fields.
We are currently discussing how to best offset carbon produced by all our shul related travels, including Rabbi Joel’s frequent flying.
The idea is not to coerce anyone to do anything differently, but to win over minds, and present changes relevant for all individuals, even in their own homes and lives. I’d encourage all shuls to get involved. The more people commit to a change, the more we achieve.
Let’s make a change for our world – we only have one!
Daniel Preter is a member of Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue