Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Earth Etude for Elul 15 - Looking at the Whole Picture

By Susie Davidson

As a writaholic, I am also a readaholic. As we move forward in our chosen missions toward creating communities that feed, nurture and sustain (while protecting) all the inhabitants of the earth, I believe that it is also incumbent upon us to remain informed about the news of the day and the topics that affect underlying societal infrastructures.

Certainly, some of these infrastructures seem entrenched to the point of impermeability, none more so than the economic systems that govern world relations and, therefore, virtually every facet of our existence. For those of us concerned with environmental health and sustainability, there is possibly no greater challenge.

During Elul, we embrace teshuvah and serve G-d by returning and adhering to our highest visions. It may seem daunting, but with teshuvah to guide us, we can redouble our efforts. And there is even more motivation and opportunity right now, as 5775 will be a Shmita year. According to Hazon ("vision" in Hebrew), a New York-based nonprofit with six regional US offices, Shmita, which means ‘release," is a Sabbatical year practice that allows arable land to lie fallow while debts are forgiven, and the principles of an equitable and healthy society guide the management of agriculture and the economy.

"The Shmita cycle presents a cultural system rooted in local food security, economic resiliency and community empowerment," Hazon's Shmita segment states, as it advocates exploring and employing common ethics and values.

This includes knowing the difference between "money and value." An overabundance of goods leads to cheap prices, while scarce commodities are more valued. But according to Hazon, wealth, in Shmita practice, isn't synonymous with currency: "Market capital is replaced with social capital and investments are made in long-term relationships."

But how do we forge ahead in the face of a seemingly impermeable economic system that seems to be rooted in just the opposite ideology?

Sometimes the answer is simply doubling down, and a coalition of Boston area environmental groups has done just that. An August 8 Boston Globe article by Jim O'Sullivan, "Green groups make move for more muscle," details the formation of MUSCLE (Mass. United for Science, Climate, Environment), a group effort being formed by the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters, Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club. According to the article, MUSCLE, whose members are tired of lip service with no results, plans to get environmentally focused nonprofits into state elections and legislative processes. This week, they will launch specific projects, including sharply messaged newspapers advertisements on climate change and youth-led efforts, and unveil 20 candidate endorsements in this fall’s races.

As a coordinator of the Boston chapter of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, I sit on the Clean Water Action's Alliance For a Healthy Tomorrow board. So for my own Elul teshuvah, I plan to become more involved in this effort.

"We weren’t going to be played with," states former state representative and ELM head George Bachrach in the Globe article. Bachrach was one of three members who recently resigned in protest from the governor’s greenhouse gas reductions advisory council.
Getting back to the economy, the article ends by questioning how MUSCLE-affiliated labor unions are going to balance their participation with, for example, their members' potential roles in building the controversial Keystone pipeline.

They might well look into Hazon guidelines for direction. By looking at the whole picture, and balancing immediate economic needs with long-term societal good, perhaps work opportunities can be found within a more sustainable, earth-nurturing energy field.
Recent revelations and lawsuits related to unprecedented surges in earthquake activity in US states where fracking is conducted (including 240 reported magnitude 3.0 or higher earthquakes in Oklahoma just this year), certainly give pause to the way we are approaching our energy needs.

"In your business and governing structures, as you make decisions that will affect others, consider the needs and voice of those who will be affected," states Hazon. "Take into account all members of your community, especially those who are most vulnerable: the elderly, the sick, minorities with the community, and those with low-income. This is not charity. This is healthy community."

Susie Davidson is a freelance journalist for Jewish and secular media. She is active in environmentaland social justice efforts, and is an alternative rock music fan.

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