Progressively Speaking: What can we do to help our fragile planet?
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Progressively Speaking: What can we do to help our fragile planet?

Rabbi Sandra Kviat takes a topical issue and looks at a Progressive Jewish response

Yet another massive wildfire destroying everything in its wake, another species going extinct, another nail in the coffin of our planet.

These and many other global news stories – which seem to be occurring daily –  leave us overwhelmed, anxious and with a deep sense of dread.

It is no wonder we are exhausted, overwhelmed and emotionally shut down when it comes to the environment.

So what do we do when we find ourselves in the aisles of the supermarket, wondering whether we can buy an avocado or cashew nuts and worrying about the use of plastic wrapping on many items?

Or when our family abroad asks us to visit and the easiest way is via a plane journey?

One, quite natural, reaction is to drop the avocado into the basket, ignore the plastic wrapping and book that flight ticket. After all, in the grand scheme of things what does it matter anyway?

You might recognise this thought pattern. It is called climate anxiety or dread, and it is a sense of feeling completely helpless, and even paralysed to act. It is the main obstacle to taking action.

You’re not alone if, like me, you have felt this way. It is a mentally healthy reaction to the stark realities in our world.

So what should we do as Jews? The most important thing is not to give up hope.

The unetaneh tokef from Rosh Hashanah still haunts our minds; who by wildfires, who by starvation, who by floods. And now we are reading Bereshit – the optimistic story of creation.

The Torah, especially Genesis, is a lesson in hope, not optimism, for optimism is the passive sense that everything will be OK, whereas in hope there’s faith that our actions can make a difference.

I find the American writer Rebecca Solnit’s view of hope useful. She talks about hope as an embrace of the unknown and an opening among all the complexities and uncertainties.

Hope is not a denial of how terrible the situation is, but rather an opening for us to act.

Rabbi Sandra Kviat serves Crouch End Chavurah

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