Thursday, August 15, 2013

Earth Etude for Elul 11 - A Thorny Dilemma

by Rabbi Judy Weiss

My younger son left on July 16 to take a job in Israel. As he was packing, he asked me when would I visit him. I choked out the words, "I'm not going to visit you."

Actually, I would love to visit, see what his life is like in Tel Aviv, and spend time with him. Yet, I'm afraid my trip would destroy his future. If I visit, flying 12,000 miles round-trip, my share of the plane's carbon emissions would be 3 metric tons. The worldwide per capita target for carbon emissions, if we are to control climate change, is 2 tons per year. I would exceed my annual goal in one trip. How could I do tshuvah for such huge emissions expended to satisfy my desire to see him?

Absurdly, I know one person's trip doesn't affect the climate, but our collective choices as a nation do. So I wrestle with the moral issue involved in visiting my kid, knowing my personal decision is meaningless.

Crazy? The dilemma gets thornier because my older son will soon become a father. What will the world be like as my grandchild reaches adulthood? How can I justify taking a trip to visit one son, if it will injury my other son's child?

While wrestling with this, I read America's Climate Century by Iowa Senator Rob Hogg in which he says, "I gave up air travel in 2002 for climate reasons." Flying, the most carbon intensive form of travel, releases carbon emissions in the upper atmosphere where they do more damage than emissions at ground level. Hogg emphasizes we don't have to eliminate air travel, but we ought to minimize it. He also argues that every time we decide to change our lifestyle for the sake of the climate, we should write to our elected representatives because they need to know their constituents want climate action.

Publicize our personal acts of repentance to guide societal repentance? A new type of communal Vidui?


Rabbi Judy Weiss lives in Brookline, MA with her husband Alan. She teaches Hebrew Bible to adults, is co-steerer of Minyan Shaleym, and volunteers with Citizens Climate Lobby. Check out her web page at

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