Rabbi David Kasher, IKAR:
TU b’Shvat, which the rabbis called a “Rosh Hashanah for Trees,” is the ultimate example of an evolving Jewish holiday. It began as an official marking point in the ancient Hebrew calendar for laws regulating yearly fruit consumption. In the 16th century, Kabbalists came up with the TU b’Shvat Seder, a sacred meal-ritual that employed images of the tree for a meditation intended to spiritually repair the cosmos. And now, in our own time, TU b’Shvat has been reclaimed as a time to recommit to our environmental responsibilities, and to take action to repair the damage we have done to the earth. How can one holiday come to mean so many things?
These vastly different manifestations of TU b’Shvat speak to the prominence of trees in human life and consciousness. Trees, these quiet companions, have always been with us, providing us with oxygen, lumber, and food. No surprise, then, that trees have become primary symbols of meaning for us. In the earliest stories of the Torah, trees represent Life and Knowledge. But eventually, this symbol was used to represent the Torah itself, which we call “The Tree of Life.” Let us take this TU b’Shvat, then, as an opportunity to celebrate not just one aspect of trees, but the full forest, in all their manifold meanings for human beings and for all life on the planet.
The climate emergency requires not only that we stop using fossil fuels, but that we find large-scale ways to capture carbon from the atmosphere. Planting more trees captures carbon and keeps it out of the atmosphere. Trees also provide a myriad of other benefits: They absorb pollutants from the atmosphere and release oxygen for us to breathe, cool our cities, conserve water, prevent soil erosion, feed us, and give habitat to 80% of plant and animal species.
Meanwhile, every day, we lose 80,000 acres of forest across the planet. Unsustainable logging, fires, clearcutting for agriculture, ranching and development, and degradation from climate change are jointly responsible. We must both plant trees and fight to preserve the world’s remaining forests.
This month, take at least two actions to increase the number of trees or food-growing plants on the planet:
Support Tree People, which has been working to bring the benefits of trees to Los Angeles since 1970.
Volunteer with City Plants to plant trees in underserved Los Angeles neighborhoods.
Give trees as a present for our future with Plant for the Planet. Plant for the Planet empowers children around the world to be Climate Justice Ambassadors, educating others and planting trees in the places that need them most.
Take action to save America’s largest wild forest.
Educate yourself about natural climate solutions, to become a better advocate.
Let us know you’re participating in this month’s challenge here. Inspire your friends by posting to social media at #Earth5780. We’re giving out green prizes plus an aliyah each month to a few lucky winners, but you have to complete this month’s form to be entered in the drawing!
Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, LAB/SHUL:
I joined the Compost Crusade. There are two of us so far. Earlier this year, right after moving into my new apartment in East Harlem in NYC, a compost bin was installed in the trash room. Finally, with a decent-size kitchen and a convenient compost option I had no excuse– and I got hooked. Fell in love with compost as a sacred spiritual duty on top of just being the right thing to do. But just as I was perfecting my composting chic, the building board removed the bin. Too many residents misused it. Another outraged neighbor and I started the Compost Crusade that very night in the trash room. We’re offering a free series of how-to workshops to better learn the art of compost and win our bin back.
Compost is increasingly recognized as a simple but profound way to have an impact on our planet. It is holy not only because we give back to our earth what we got– with gratitude, humility and strategic wisdom– but also because it is the very metaphor for how to better live our personal and public lives. To compost is as real as the eternal invitation for Tikkun Olam can ever be: We are instructed to literally lift up the scraps of our existence, raise the sparks of repair and recharge reality from each fragment that becomes, again, the greater whole.
2020 is our year of Environmental Teshuva. Find your way to a compost bin in 2020 and let’s talk trash, then walk the talk. It’s on us.
Food waste and yard trimmings make up nearly one third of the waste incinerated or landfilled in the US each year. Composting is a powerful tool for slowing climate change, but only about 6% of food waste in America is composted today. When organic materials are landfilled, they decompose anaerobically (without air), generating large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent that carbon dioxide. Composting reduces methane production, and it helps sequester carbon by returning food to the ground in the form of healthy soil. Community or at-home composting prevents our organic waste from being transported long distances, and compost can replace harmful chemical fertilizers, reducing run-off pollution and soil erosion while contributing to healthy ecosystems.
This month, start from where you are and take a leap towards more composting at home and in your neighborhood by picking at least one of these actions:
- Stop before you drop… food into the trash. Place a bin beside your kitchen sink, and get started. Find out what you can compost through your city, and make sure you’re doing as much as you possibly can. (Did you know that in Los Angeles, uncooked fruits and vegetables can go in the green bin?) Santa Monica and Culver City are way ahead. They allow all food waste, compostable products and food-soiled paper.
- Ready to level-up? Learn about your home composting options, and attend a workshop to see how you can transform your food waste into rich, healthy soil for your garden. (Hint: There’s an IKAR composting workshop on Sunday, January 26.)
- Been composting for years? Explore ways to expand composting in your neighborhood. Start a conversation about community composting, or share your composting practice with at least one friend or neighbor.
- Become a soil health advocate by learning about regenerative agriculture. You can take an online healthy soils advocacy course or a or hands-on soil and gardening class with Kiss the Ground.
- Are your building’s or city’s composting efforts inadequate? Tell your landlord, homeowners’ association or city councilmember. Get organized.
Light is a symbol of resilience and hope in most traditions, especially in dark times when the days get shorter and the nights get longer and colder. Remember the miracle of Hanukkah? The oil lasting 8 nights when it was only supposed to last for one? Well, the Talmud says, miracles are nice but unreliable (lo som’chim al ha’nes!) We can’t pray for a Hail Mary from God (so to speak) to keep our environment resilient for longer than we have resources. We need to dig deep into our ancestral memory to remember what it felt like to have the discipline to kindle the lamps daily, as the Torah describes in many places– the Eternal Flame, or Ner Tamid. Keeping the light shining is part of what it means to be Jewish. Once upon a time the job of our priests was to do the lighting for us… but we’re the kingdom of priests now. The sustaining of light eternally, connecting us with resilient, bright, beautiful, God-infused light, is on us.
– Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann, Mishkan Chicago
The climate crisis is directly fueled by our energy consumption. Experts tell us that we must stop using fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and even the natural gas that has been promoted as “cleaner” energy. All of us can be a part of the solution: We can use less energy in our homes and workplaces, and we can transition to renewable sources like solar and wind energy.
The City of Los Angeles has committed to 100% renewable energy by 2045, and many local groups are pushing for 100% renewables by 2030. That is an ambitious goal– and we’ve got a long way to go to reach it. But it is possible– especially if we all do our part.
This month, adjust at least three of your home energy practices. Here are our recs:
1 Switch to LEDs. These bulbs are up to 80% more efficient than regular bulbs, and they are now available and affordable. (Did you know that incandescent lights convert 95% of energy to heat and
only 5% into light?) LED light bulbs also use less power, so they’ll reduce your energy bills and emit less carbon.
2. Get smart about VAMPIRE appliances, which use energy even when they’re off. These appliances—including computers, modems, cell phone chargers, video game systems, cable and satellite TV boxes, household items with clocks (microwaves, DVD players, etc.) and more—account for about 10% of the energy used in your home. What a waste! Unplug these appliances and electronics when not in use—then just plug them in when you need them. Think of all the energy you’ll save.
3. Go solar if you can. There are so many reasons why solar is smarter: It’s pollution-free, and causes no greenhouse emissions. It’s clean and available, even on cloudy days. The technology is getting better every day. Today, solar requires almost no maintenance and will last for more than 30 years. It’s safe, efficient, and can be used to heat water and to power homes, buildings, and cars. And there are federal grants and tax incentives available to help with installation costs.
Ready for the advanced class? Replace old appliances with ENERGY STAR ones, weatherize, insulate, and switch gas appliances to electric.
Join California’s Keep it Golden Movement to chart a course to a zero carbon state, and learn more about simple, practical steps you can take right now. And whatever you do… turn off the lights!
turn off the lights!
Local: Cool roofs lower home energy use and reduce heat island effects. Urge Mayor Garcetti to update the City of Los Angeles Cool Roof Code to match the higher standard set by LA County.
National: A bill to transition the U.S. to 100% clean energy by 2050 has just been introduced in Congress. Send a message to your representative: Take action on the climate crisis now by championing the 100% Clean Economy Act!
We’re giving out green prizes each month to help inspire you to take the challenge. So make sure to fill out the survey above!
November 2019: Transform Your Travel
Nearly 1000 years before the Industrial Revolution, our Rabbis wrote an astonishing midrash about the preciousness and precariousness of life on earth. God leads Adam around all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and says to him: “’Look at My works—see how stunning and magnificent they are! Know this: everything I created, I created for you. But be mindful that you not degrade and destroy My world, for if you spoil it– אין מי שיתקן אחריך– there will be no one after you to repair it.'” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)
It was our sacred responsibility from the start to honor and sustain the natural world. To see trees as the life sustaining miracles they are. To protect our biodiversity and to be responsible stewards of all we have been entrusted.
But over time, the allure of big profit overwhelmed the admonition of the prophets, ancient and contemporary, and we consumed, burned, and wasted. We trashed our inheritance.
Now the climate crisis is here. And there is no one after us to repair it.
IT MATTERS how we respond to the climate crisis. It matters how and what we eat. What we plant. What we throw away. It matters how we shop and what we buy. It matters that we vote and who we vote for. We can’t do everything, but there is simply no scientific or moral calculation that justifies doing nothing. So let’s do something, together.
Did you know that transportation accounts for almost 30% of US greenhouse gas emissions? Airplane and cruise ship travel generates the highest emissions per person per mile, but cars and trucks make up an astonishing one-fifth of all emissions.
ACT: We’re not asking you to disavow all air travel, and we know that not everyone is ready to transition to an electric car. But our small day-to-day transportation decisions can have a significant impact on the environment. This month, we challenge you to change your mode of transportation at least three times to reduce your carbon footprint. Take public transportation or carpool to work or school. Ride your bike to a friend’s house. Walk to the grocery store. Take a pass on the in-person work meeting and teleconference instead… in your slippers. (No one will know!)
And record your success stories! It’s ok to brag. Let’s inspire one another to rethink our daily transportation habits.
ADVOCATE: Even as we take individual action, we must also advocate for systemic change.
This month, call for a faster transition to electric trucking in California here: Electrictrucksnow.com.
And send an email to your state legislator asking them to pass legislation that would give Southern Californians the ability to take action for clean air and carbon reduction by allowing a local ballot measure to address our regional environmental challenges.
Earth Challenge Resources
How to go green with public transportation — some ideas for ways to undertake the transport challenge
Transit App — a handy app for using multiple modes of transport for a single trip
LA Metro — includes maps and trip planners for bus, rail, and bikes alone or in combination.
Create a carpool — set up carpools for any group activity
LA County Bicycle Coalition — learn how to bike in LA
LADOT — learn about transport in LA
MoveLA — get involved with local efforts to improve LA transit