The Paris Accords — Now What?

Jewish tradition isn’t just for kids and it isn’t just for synagogues and it isn’t just about bagels or dressing up on Purim.

This last week, across the Jewish world, we celebrated Shavuot, “the giving of the Torah.” It’s called the time of the giving of the Torah, and not the receiving of the Torah, because Jewish tradition, fundamentally, is about choice, and responsibility. We choose whether to receive this gift, and in what ways we receive it. It’s an act of responsibility and of obligation to take on the injunctions of Jewish tradition and to use them not merely to be good Jews or good people, but to create, day by day, a better world.

In every country of the world in which Jewish people live, their government has endorsed the Paris Climate Agreement. Every religious faith community spoke up for it. Nigel Savage, Hazon’s President and CEO, went to Paris in 2015 to represent the Jewish community in the lead-up to the negotiation of those Accords; alongside senior religious and governmental leaders – Ségolène Royal, then-President Hollande, Cardinal Turkson, Vandana Shiva, Mary Robinson, and so on – to say that the Jewish people have always sought to stand on the right side of history; and we hope and pray that our governments act decisively to defend generations yet to be born.

The decision of the US government to withdraw from the Paris Accords stands against common sense and human decency. Across the whole world, governments, corporations, non-profits, religious communities, and families and individuals are doing the hard work of slowly, slowly, slowly, trying to wean ourselves away from unhelpful and self-hurtful behaviors, and towards ones that will better protect the planet and all its inhabitants.

We each legitimately may feel powerless or impotent in the face of these enormous challenges. But receiving the Torah means that we each have responsibility, each day, to strive to be our best selves. This week, choose to take one action to take responsibility for our future:

  • Commit yourself and your organization to the Paris goals, as Hazon has done. That means reducing your carbon emissions by about a quarter (26 to 28%) over the next seven years.
  • Apply for the Hazon Seal of Sustainability. Start a Green Team in your shul or Jewish institution, or support one that’s there. Several Jewish organizations in Colorado are already participating in the Seal: Congregation Bonai Shalom, Congregation Nevei Kodesh, CSU, DU Hillel, Moishe House Boulder, and Ramah in the Rockies.
  • Take some steps to live more lightly – ride your bike, or eat less meat, or eat more local produce.
  • Join a local group – it’s the leading climate activism group in the world.
  • Support Hazongive a donation to support our work, and share this article with your friends.

Finally, this week’s Torah portion starts with a census. Jewish tradition is about being counted. We want to believe that we can count on the Jewish community, that we can count on other faith communities, and that – ultimately – we can count on ourselves, our families, and our friends to commit to the Paris goals and a healthier world.


About Becky O'Brien

Hazon is America's largest Jewish environmental organization. We create healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond. Hazon in Colorado is led by Becky O'Brien, Boulder Director and Sarah Kornhauser, Denver Director.

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