At the conclusion of his documentary Blue Planet II, Sir David Attenborough famously explains: “We are at a unique stage in our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about that. Surely we all have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity and indeed, all life on earth, now depends on us.”
Over decades working in Melbourne’s wonderful Jewish schools, I have been blessed to be part of school communities that are resolutely committed to the learning and wellbeing of our children. We work so hard to ensure that our students are equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to thrive in the future and are constantly asking ourselves the question: Who and what are our children becoming as a result of their time with us?
We cannot hold true to this mission while ignoring the reality that without radical change, our children face a future that is radically different from what we would hope for them. We need to do what we can to protect them from harm and to protect their future quality of life, whatever that may look like.
The impacts of climate change are already being felt, but unabated we know that they will become dramatically worse. Glen Mullins, former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner wrote: “The steps we take from today to phase out coal, oil and gas – the biggest drivers of climate change – and to achieve net zero emissions, will determine whether our children have a liveable future, or one that is incompatible with a functional human society.”
Our Jewish core concepts of tikkun olam (healing the world) and pikuach nefesh (preserving life) are imperatives for us to act to become a part of the solution, rather than major contributors to the problem.
While Australians have been shown through numerous surveys to genuinely care about climate change, there is inertia that prevents those who know about the problem from taking steps to reduce their emissions.
This is likely due to multiple reasons.
Chiefly, the problem is so overwhelming and scary that this can lead to paralysis of action. Secondly, is the belief that authorities will take the necessary steps to address the issue. Finally, there are many people who would like to take action but do not know where to begin.
Climate anxiety is a significant issue that can impact on our sense of safety and optimism for the future. The challenge with this is that fear of the future is a rational response to developing an understanding of this existential issue. However, the antidote to fear is taking action in a way that allows one to be part of the solution rather than the problem. This leads to a sense of purpose and helps foster certainty about our capacity to address the emergency. This is also a very Jewish response.
This is one reason I am so proud to work in a school community that is dedicated to doing what it can to take positive action to support a better future for us all.
In partnership with the Jewish Climate Network, my school is working towards a bold goal of becoming a zero emissions school by 2025. The Jewish Climate Network has adopted a Zero Emissions Community Project that aims to encourage institutions and individuals within the Jewish community to take steps to reduce their net emissions to zero.
In order to achieve this, our school is working with an organisation called Pathzero to map our emissions across every aspect of our operations. Once we are more aware of exactly where our emissions are coming from, we will be able to seek alternatives to actively reduce these emissions or offset them where no reduction is possible.
Like so many Jewish community institutions, we have already taken a significant step to reduce our footprint through our installation of solar panels. This will be further improved through installation of batteries. We are also partnering with Waste Ninja, a company that converts biodegradable waste into energy while capturing the emissions produced in the process. We are communicating with our bank and financial services to ensure that any school funds are ethically invested and avoid the promotion of fossil fuels.
In addition to the systemic adjustments and operational decisions that will facilitate these changes, the process will enable students, staff and parents to become engaged and educated on this topic. This has already been the case with our staff from across our school working hand in hand with our tikkun olam va’ad (social justice committee) student leaders on this initiative.
Of course, our values don’t just reside in the classroom, they permeate our homes. If we are to support our children’s flourishing, enabling them to reach their every potential and dream, all members of the community have a role to play in responding to the climate emergency.
The path to zero will not be easy. However, how wonderful it is that we can make positive changes that will ensure a brighter future for our children.
Marc Light is principal of The King David School and a director of the Jewish Ecological Coalition, which operates the Jewish Climate Network.