Of course not! The very idea that the Earth is capable of emotion is anathema to Jewish thought. But that idea that humans could commit acts which would cause the earth to respond by vomiting is not. Think Leviticus 18:28 — If you defile the land, it will vomit you out.
These lines are a warning addressed to the ancient Israelites and speak to the notion that the land of Israel is itself sacred and will not tolerate defiling behavior. They also put into play the notion that land is sacred independent of who lives there or what happens there. The image of earth which cannot tolerate that which abuses it is a powerful one, and one that deserves attention especially today, Earth Day 2010.
Valuing the environment, seeing our relationship with it as a sacred trust is hardly a radical or novel concept. It is as old as the Genesis story itself. We are, in the words of that story (Genesis 2:15) blessed by God and charged with the task of both working the Earth and protecting it. The challenge lies in balancing both of those obligations, something we often do quite poorly.
Too often those who appreciate the sacredness of the Earth itself fail to appreciate the equal obligation to work the Earth, or perhaps even better, to make it work for us. They are also too often given to wildly apocalyptic forecasts about the future of our planet, virtually condemning us all too immanent destruction.
On the other hand, the idea that the Earth, physically finite resource can simply be used with little or no regard for the future, simply assuming that all will be well because it always has been, is nuts. It’s kind of like the guy who jumps out of a 30 story building and shouts out “so far, so good” as he passes the 15th floor!
It seems to me that this is one of those things about which more than a little humility should be practiced by those who find themselves squarely on either side of the ongoing environmental debates raging across the nation and the world. And we might start by acknowledging the fact that forecasting the future of our planet based on 150 years worth of climate data is like the four blind men who touched different parts of the elephant and thought they understood the animal. It just ain’t so.
But instead of continuing an argument which neither side can win nor in which neither side ever takes seriously the evidence offered by their opponents, let’s try this: Both sides should admit there are no perfect solutions to the challenges facing our environment. Greening is harder, more costly, and offers fewer assured benefits than the Greenies claim. Failing to pay attention to green issues however, is more dangerous than those who do so admit.
In general, consuming natural resources more modestly is always wise, especially for Americans, given our consumption of oil. That is both a Green issue and a national security issue over which all Americans should come together. In fact, there is probably no issue around which alliances could be more effectively created than on breaking our nation’s cycle of addiction to fuels which often come from countries who are anything but friends.
I celebrate Earth Day as a good time to strengthen those alliances and to ask what it means to be a steward of the earth. Regardless of our politics we can all do better in that regard, and we must. For the Earth’s sake, and security’s sake, and for the sake of learning how to live the oldest blessing we humans have been granted.