On the weekend of October 24 and 25, people the world over will be thinking “350”. That is the number of carbon dioxide parts per million in the atmosphere at which all contemporary life flourishes, at which humans and our nourishing world thrive. The world is now hovering around 390 parts per million, and moving up, way out of kilter and threatening the stability of the climate, its natural cycles and all earth’s inhabitants that depend upon them. We have to bring that number back down.
So on the last weekend of October, individuals, communities, schools, and congregations the world over will mark the significance of 350 with all sorts of programs, reminding us that we need to roll back the amount of carbon dioxide we put into the air, and to do that, we need to change the ways we do things.
That weekend also happens to be Parashat Noah, the Shabbat on which we read the story of Noah. What better serendipity of occurrences could there be? The biblical cautionary tale of the world’s near-destruction is a fitting frame for us to mark the need to tend well to our home. God promised never to destroy the world again through flood. Who would have thought that humans should have been made to sign that covenant as well?
Next week’s BALTIMORE JEWISH TIMES will include listing of area events at various congregations. In addition to these public events, we can mark the message in our homes, our families and our lives. The legacy of the weekend must carry over into our daily behaviors, guiding our choices, mundane and sublime. Here are some ideas about how we can do that.
1) Gather together and read the story of Noah out loud (Genesis 6-8). While Noah is depicted as a lonely hero here, one midrash presents a different take:
“When Noah came out of the ark, he opened his eyes and saw the whole world completely destroyed. He began crying for the world and said, God, how could you have done this? ... God replied, Oh Noah. when I told you I would destroy the entire world, I lingered and delayed, so that you would speak on its behalf. But when you knew you would be safe in the ark, you were content. You thought of no one but yourself and your family. And now you complain? Then Noah knew that he had sinned.”
We now are like Noah before the flood. What can we personally do to avoid the tragedy of indifference?
2) At the end of the Noah story, God pledges to always care for the earth (Genesis 8:22): “So long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease”. Perhaps we can read this promise as follows: as long as humans allow a healthy earth to endure, God will roll out the pattern of the seasons, a predictable climate and an earth that annually provides for our needs.
Even as the Torah has God pledge, so should we. Craft your own pledge, and speak of the specifics you too will protect on this precious home of ours.
3) The number 350 equals the word: keren, or horn, or principal (as in stock or funds). If you have a shofar, a horn, blow it on Sunday and say a few words about your connection to the earth. Give to an organization that works to protect the earth, the principal stock that supports us all.
4) Learn one new environmental fact or go to one environmental website every day for the next 350 days.
5) Set an energy reduction goal for yourself or your household that you can achieve over the next 350 days. (Conserving water; driving less; line drying your clothes; unplugging your second refrigerator; adjusting your thermostats; turning lights out; etc.)
6) Volunteer 350 minutes over the course of the year at a community garden, environmental organization, or greening your own yard.
7) Check out the 350.org website for additional ideas and a sense of the scope of this world-wide, grass-roots program.
Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is founder of the Baltimore Jewish Environmentalist Network, http://www.bjen.org .