Image: In normally cool and foggy San Francisco, temperatures reached 106 degrees Friday afternoon, smashing records all the way back to 1874 when they began keeping records. In this photo of a bicyclist near Sausalito, the San Francisco skyline, normally visible, is obscured by smog from the fires burning in Northern California and the Sierras. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
“Look at God’s work – for who can straighten what He has twisted?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13). When the Blessed Holy One created the first human, He took him and led him round all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “Look at My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! And all that I have created, it was for you that I created it. Pay attention that you do not corrupt and destroy My world: if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you. – Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 7:13
I live in a neighborhood above the San Francisco Bay that is known for its mild weather. In a bitter winter, we might see freezing temperatures once or twice. In the warm months, we all begin to whine if the temperature exceeds 80°F (26.6C.)
This summer has been different. A stretch of days around 100°F killed several California native plants in my garden. Yesterday and today we had the sort of heat I associate with Death Valley. The high today was 111°F, or 43.8°C.
The dogs and I decamped at 105° and went to stay with a friend who has air conditioning. I have been monitoring the temp at home remotely with horror. My garden is the least of it; this sort of heat can be lethal for people and animals and most people in this area lack A/C.
Meanwhile I’ve kept track of the slow unfolding of stories from Hurricane Harvey and the flooding in South Asia. A tropical storm is battering Baja California, and more hurricanes are forming in the Atlantic.
Also in the news and on the air: firefighters are battling dozens of fires in Northern California and some people in Southern California are packing to evacuate as fires threaten the suburbs north of L.A. The same east wind bringing burning winds to my neighborhood carries with it the smoke from fires in the Sierra. Usually I can see San Francisco from my patio; today I can’t see San Leandro High, less than a mile away. Our air is gritty, nasty, and dangerous to asthmatics.
I might be forgiven, then, for a somewhat apocalyptic mood as this past Shabbat drew to a close. I know there is controversy about how much of the storms and heat can be traced to climate change. But I also know that some climate scientists warn us that these storms may be a new normal.
I refuse to accept that the damage is done, or that any connection to human activity is just politics. The Torah teaches that individually and communally, human beings are responsible for the preservation of the earth.
What can we do? This season of Elul, let us each look around our own lives for ways to be good stewards of the earth. Some possible questions:
- What can I do personally to preserve the quality of air and water where I live?
- Do I waste resources? What can I do to waste less?
- Is there a way I can reuse or recycle things I have been putting in the garbage?
- Are there ways I can partner with others to be a better steward of the earth?
- Are there organizations that will provide me opportunities for action in the right direction?
- Do I encourage local elected officials in their good programs, and let them know when I disapprove?
★ Can I identify one single, specific change in behavior I am willing to commit to for the year 5778?
3 thoughts on “111°F: Steward of the Earth”
Here in East Tennessee, we had a break from 90+ degree weather today as it was around 20 degrees cooler. It felt like Fall. We’re getting odd weather fluctuations here too.
We are pretty lucky here, we pay less than $10 a month for recycling pick up provided by the city. Most often, we only need take our trash to the curb once a month (but do so more in Summer months) because we recycle so much. I started using reusable shopping bags for grocery runs again.
My old stomping grounds! I went to college at UTK. I have family and friends all over that end of the state. Where are you in East Tennessee?
I live in Delaware and we too have a drop in temperature of 20 or less than 20 degrees. And it is a nice change from the summer heat. I pray and try to help my fellow brothers and sisters down south because of the storms destruction, and with another one on its way, well I believe we humans are to blame for the weather changes. We have a tendency to trash our environment. I am a scrapper, I recycle metal and other throw away items I find in the streets and in peoples trash cans. I notice that cigarette buds and UBCs (Used Beverage Cans) are everywhere, People are just plain trashy. We are creatures of bad habits. I am appalled at what we have done to our planet, and so is Hashem.