April - Environmentalism



April - Environmentalism



The Environment and Judaism

Judaism has always placed a high regard on the Earth and the environment. It’s an important Jewish value to take care of the planet. Jewish texts often refer to the amazement of the creation of the universe, and the wonders of nature and God’s Earth. Psalm 24 states “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”, an declaration that this planet is God’s, and the Jewish value of bal tashcit or needless destruction is forbidden – meaning damaging the Earth, which is God’s property, is forbidden.  In Isaiah 41:17-18, God promises, "I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places and fountains in the midst of valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water." This can be translated to mean that the Earth and its land are on loan to us, and we are meant to take care of and preserve it.

Furthermore, our Jewish calendar is centered around the natural world, it’s connection to it, and holidays intended to attach us to land. The biblical concepts of shmitta (having the land rest on its seventh year) and peah (leaving the corner of the field unharvested for the poor to pick themselves) both provides a model of rest for the land and supports ecological issues for people less fortunate than us (Hazon – the Jewish Lab for Sustainability).

The Religious Action Center (RAC) states that our Jewish values directly support the fundamental ideals of climate change and environmentalism. The RAC with “as heirs to a tradition of stewardship that goes back to Genesis and teaches us to be partners in the ongoing work of creation, we cannot accept the escalating destruction of our environment and its effect on human health and livelihood. It is our sacred duty to alleviate environmental degradation and the human suffering it causes instead of despoiling our air, land, and water.”.

Environmentalism in the United States

The environmental movement in the United States began in the late 1800’s and continues today in a wide variety of organizations, groups, and areas. The early conservation movement generally focused on fisheries, wildlife management, water/soil conservation, and forestry. These growing interests allowed for the shift of control from local and state to federal governments – allowing for the creation of national parks and forests, wildlife refuge, and national monuments. The Progressive Era ushered in by President Theodore Roosevelt, championed efforts to deal with environmental health management like the removal of sewage and access to clean water supply. There was a rebirth in environmental activism, with the start of the 1960’s and 1970’s that focused on pollution and human effects on the environment including the atmosphere, ecosystems, and our oceans. The sustainability movement, which rose in the 1980’s, looked at the responsibilities of humans and their attempt to reduce the use of natural resources, reducing their carbon footprint, and promote “greener” living. For more on sustainable living, click here.

Additionally, another movement that began in the 1980’s was environmental justice. Environmental justice, and it’s to advocate against environmental racism, is the link between social and ecological environmental concerns. For example, sewage plants, dumping grounds, highways and factories, tend to be located in areas of low socioeconomic households. These homes, which are predominantly made up of minorities, are exposed to higher levels of pollution and other health risks than other races. In fact, a recent study found that “air pollution is disproportionally caused by white Americans’ consumption of goods and services, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic Americans” (NPR). For more on environmental racism, click here.

Today, environmental movements have come to encompass a great number of other issues including global warming, ozone depletion, endangered species, and land use. There are many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) dedicated to influence environmental policy in the United States. For more on the environmental movement in the United States, click here.



  • Podcasts:
    • Earthwise
      • Features discussions on conservation, environment or peace with justice.
    • Go Vegan Radio
      • Covers everything from slashed-food to cookie recipes, animal rights, diet, health, environment, world hunger, morality, justice and peace. 
    • Earth Matters
      • Local, national and international environmental issues from grassroots, activist perspectives with a strong social justice focus.
    • More Power to You
      • A bi-weekly podcast about clean energy advocacy.
    • Warm Regards
      • Covering topics that mostly encompass the societal aspects of climate change impacts.  
    • No Place Like Home
      • A podcast that gets to the heart of climate change through personal stories.  
    • For more:
  • Music:
    • Climate Change (2017) – Pitbull
    • Meat is Murder (1985) – The Smiths
    • What’s Going On? (1971) – Marvin Gaye
    • HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I (1995) – Michael Jackson
    • Plastic Beach (2010) – Gorillaz


  • Film:
    • Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)
      • “Follow the shocking, yet humorous, journey of an aspiring environmentalist, as he daringly seeks to find the real solution to the most pressing environmental issues and true path to sustainability.”
    • Years of Living Dangerously (2016)
      • “This series features firsthand accounts from people who have been affected by the occurrence, with a team of correspondents from the entertainment and news industries travelling around the world to report on effects of global warming and what people are doing to find solutions for it.”
    • An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
      • “Oscar-winning documentary about the environment, explaining how humans have messed up the planet and issuing an urgent warning on what must be done, and done quickly, to save the earth.”
    • A Beautiful Planet (2016)
      • Astronauts aboard the International Space Station capture breathtaking footage of the natural wonders of Earth.”
    • WALL-E (2008)
      • “WALL-E, short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class, is the last robot left on Earth. He spends his days tidying up the planet, one piece of garbage at a time.”
    • Before the Flood (2016)
      • “Actor Leonardo DiCaprio meets with scientists, activists and world leaders to discuss the dangers of climate change and possible solutions.”
    • The 11th Hour (2007)
      • “Specialists reveal how human actions impact the Earth's ecosystems, and what can be done to reverse or slow the damage before it is too late to save the planet.”
    • Chasing Ice (2012)
      • “National Geographic photographer, James Balog, and his team on the Extreme Ice Survey assemble a multiyear chronicle of the planet's rapidly melting glaciers.”
    • The Island President (2011)
      • “Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldives’ Islands, works tirelessly to save his country from the ravages of global climate change.”
  • ELITalks: (Allows individuals and organizations to cultivate, transmit, and curate Jewish ideas and thoughts through digital conversations.)
  • TED Talks:
  • Books:
    • “Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future” by Mary Robinson
      • “Holding her first grandchild in her arms in 2003, Mary Robinson was struck by the uncertainty of the world he had been born into. Before his fiftieth birthday, he would share the planet with more than nine billion people - people battling for food, water, and shelter in an increasingly volatile climate. The faceless, shadowy menace of climate change had become, in an instant, deeply personal.”
    • “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynas
      • “The book looks and attempts to summarize results from scientific papers on climate change.”
    • “Below Freezing: Elegy for the Melting Planet” by Donald Anderson
      • Below Freezing is a unique assemblage of scientific fact, newspaper reports, and excerpts from novels, short stories, nonfiction, history, creative nonfiction, and poetry--a commonplace book for our era of altering climate.
    • “This is the Way the World Ends” by Jeffery A. Nesbit
      • “An enlightening - and alarming - explanation of the climate challenge as it exists today.”
    • “The Quest for Environmental Justice” by Dr. Robert D. Bullard
      • “A collection of essays contributed by some of the leading participants in the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, which focused attention on "environmental racism"--racial discrimination in environmental policymaking and the enforcement of environmental protection laws and regulations.”
    • “Judaism and Vegetarianism” by Richard H. Schwartz
      • “Indeed, Judaism's particular concern for tikkun olam, a healing of the world, has never been more urgent today--given the current state of world hunger, environmental degradation, and the horror of factory farms. Dr. Schwartz shows not only how Judaism is particularly well suited to solving these problems, but how doing so can revitalize one's Jewish faith.”
    • “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson
      • “Explores the adverse environmental effects caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides, the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting the industry's marketing claims unquestioningly.”
    • “New Perspectives on Environmental Justice: Gender, Sexuality, and Activism” by Rachel Stein
      • “Women make up the vast majority of activists and organizers of grassroots movements fighting against environmental ills that threaten poor and people of color communities.”
    • “The Great Derangement” by Amitav Ghosh
      • “It is a call to writers, artists, politicians, economists, industrialists, scientists, and all people to awaken out of the derangement we are presently living with. - ‘that we need not be concerned with earth and our environment in our actions, pursuits and activities.’”
    • “Sustainability: A Love Story” by Nicole Walker
      • “This book is for the burnt-out environmentalist, the lazy environmentalist, the would-be environmentalist. It's for those who believe the planet is dying. For those who believe they are dying. And for those who question what it means to live and love sustainably, and maybe even with hope.”
    • “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss
      • “Chronicles the plight of the environment and the Lorax is the titular character, who "speaks for the trees" and confronts the Once-ler, who causes environmental degradation.”


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