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March 28, 2019 by

“Commanded to Repair the World:” A Young Writer Confronts Climate Change

I’ll be 24 next week. And in ten years, I’ll probably be buying my first house. I might be celebrating a wedding anniversary that’s not even in the double-digits yet. I may be ready to have a child, or I may already have one or two. I should not be thinking of en years as a period at the end of a sentence. It should be an ellipse… a bridge to a continued narrative of my life.

And yet, in the wake of the climate report, ten years has come to mean something entirely different. In the context of climate change, ten years means a point of no return. Hence, my crippling fear.  

via NASA

via NASA

Currently, climate-related disaster is causing record-breaking amounts of concern and and anxiety. Many, especially millennials like myself, are petrified. We’re afraid to start families, to make long-term career plans, to weave dreams for our futures… imagining that only bleakness awaits us. A Gallup poll conducted in March 2017 found that 45% of Americans say they worry about climate change a great deal, 42% think that climate change will pose a serious threat within their lifetime, and 62% think the effects of climate change have already begun.

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t always feel this bleak. But for so long, those of us who felt the pressing urge of global warming were told by politicians, fossil fuel companies, and even our own families, that we were hysterical. For those of us who were younger, our earnest concern for the well-being of the planet often elicited flat-out denial or useless platitudes.

And the fact is, many of us retreated further into denial… a denial cushioned by the lack of access to information, or maybe just deep confusion and pessimism. And yet not everyone could afford to bury our heads in the sand: the effects of climate change disproportionately impact marginalized populations, like people of color or the poor–and always, always, families and children.

I can think of nothing more opposed to Jewish or feminist values than the neglect of the future in favor of the convenience of the present. I can think of nothing more diametrically opposed to Jewish feminism than the sacrifice of the most vulnerable, who are already dying from environmental disaster, as we’ve seen in Mozambique, Nebraska, Flint, Puerto Rico, and countless other places. We love to say that we are commanded to repair the world. Well, it has never been in more need of repair.

This is why in the coming months, I am determined to continue the tradition of radical Jewish feminism by urging us to transform our anxiety into action.

Recently, the United Nations scientists released a report that gave the global community a firm deadline of ten years to enact drastic changes for the preservation of our planet. In the past it’s been too easy to dismiss deadlines of 20…30… 50 years as problems belonging solely to a new generation. It’s easy to tread water when you think you have decades—or centuries— before you drown.

But ten years… ten years places the issue of climate change firmly in the here and now. The good news is that fear and anxiety is transforming into engagement. On March 15, young people around the globe protested for their future. The Green New Deal – a revolutionary and expansive environmental reform plan—has galvanized many progressives despite critics who say the plan is too lofty and expensive.

The water protectors at Standing Rock and the activists who fought for clean water in Flint, Michigan, drew a line between environmental destruction and racism. Although arguably, the importance of these movements has led some liberals to fetishize them, maybe at the expense of really understanding what they’re about, they taught us to see systemic bias in our environmental policy. After these events, the public has some tangential idea of the effort that is required to change things, to go up against a Goliath-like enemy. This kind of global change is expensive and unrealistic, many argue, ignoring the fact that the alternative is destruction.

So, how do we begin this seemingly Sisyphean fight? How do we change our own patterns of consumption while ensuring that the main actors – the 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions – retain the lion’s share of responsibility? How do we prepare for and imagine a different world?

That’s why I’m excited to have the chance to use a series of articles on the Lilith blog as a medium to explore these questions and more. Because I do think that part of the reason for our apathy is an inability to imagine a different kind of reality. It’s a fitting weakness for this issue because, at its core, climate change is a disaster caused by laziness, entitlement, and a lack of investment in innovation. As activists firmly rooted in Jewish values, we have to rise above this. 

As Jewish feminists, we need to exercise radical imagination. If we are to continue living on this planet, we can no longer eat, travel, and live in the same way. We shouldn’t think of this as a reduction in the quality of life, but as the beginning of a new and better life. The world doesn’t really need more listicles that reduce the scale of climate change to your individual decision to carry a reusable shopping tote. I don’t think it’s helpful to say that climate change will be fixed if you, personally, give away your car and bike every day.

But as I continue to write and think about the climate, and about  being a young Jewish feminist staring down climate disaster, I hope to open up opportunities to imagine different futures—and to brainstorm tools to fight for those futures effectively and powerfully. I can think of no more Jewish value than protecting the Earth and fighting for those most at risk of climate disaster. Alone, our actions are ineffective. But together, we can repair the world.

Nylah Burton will be covering the climate and its intersection with Jewish feminism for Lilith. If you have ideas for topics to discuss, let us know in the comments or email at info@lilith.org!

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.


  • Global Warming

    The US needs to ban/seize all private jets, yachts, and houses larger than 4000 square feet. Then scrap them so they can’t pollute anymore. By doing this, the US can reduce its carbon footprint by ~20%. Stop Global Warming now!