Saturday, December 24, 2016

How Being a Climate Activist Accidentally Prepared me for Election 2016

By Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman

I've said this recently to friends, and people have asked me to write it up. So here goes:

I've found that being a climate activist, and coming to climate activism as an act of spiritual devotion, prepared me surprisingly well for this election. If you are in the know about climate, if you read the books and understand what the science means, the news has been seriously grim for a very very long time. And while this president will make things a ton worse -- worse not only for climate but for so many people and justice issues -- another president wouldn’t have had the power to save the world from catastrophic climate change either. I've been living with that truth for a while, cycling through grieving over the past few years. Which made the grief on election day a little familiar. Things have felt hard and tragic for a while, and this is more of that.

But here is the thing:

We are fighting the battle for the climate on two fronts - the first is physics. We are seriously losing the physics front, and have been for years and, as far as I can tell from what I've read and seen, we would have continued to lose under any US president. It could have been a less bad lose, but we would have still been losing. Which doesn't mean we don't keep fighting like hell for every victory. But it does mean we know where we stand in relation to reality.

From when I was a kid until my late 20s I thought that physics was the only front that mattered - that unless my activism was guaranteed to bring down parts per million of CO2 it wasn't worth doing.

Now I understand that there is another front worth fighting on: the human spirit. And that one is winnable, and not dependent on whether or not we have outrageously unqualified, sick people in power. We are fighting hard for the human spirit, for communities to come together across difference to build resilience, for resistance against the forces that continue to destroy, for song, prayer, love and blessing, and for the fortitude and humility to see the God in everyone along the way. This election hasn't changed that we can, must, and will fight, pray, sing, and work at the local level for the human spirit, so that we can look at ourselves and show up to God and say we are living well and in our whole hearts no matter what. It's Wendell Berry's sound advice: Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts. And I don't remember now if it was Wen Stephenson who said it or someone he quoted in What We're Fighting For Now Is Each Other - but the line is we have nothing left to lose but our humanity. That is the place people in the climate movement have been for a while, and perhaps we can offer some of the wisdom of that place to those of us struggling to make sense of a new and scary reality in America.

Even the agreements of the Paris Accord, which is the best we’ve got, leaves the world in a desperate place in terms of warming. I have lived with that knowledge already. I have grieved deep grief over what has been lost to climate change and all that will be lost. But I have, for the past two years since finding this place inside me, tried to show up and do my best at what I feel God needs from me. Now that things look even darker and more desperate on the American political scene, with God's help I’m just gonna continue doing it.

Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman is the Assistant Rabbi for Engagement at Temple Sinai of Brookline. She is a leader in the interfaith climate justice movement. For more information visit and

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful piece, Shoshana. I feel the same way. The way to stay strong and hopeful is to be surrounded by others who are getting involved and taking action. Happy Hannukah!


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