Parashat Vayikra

The Pending Guilt Offering and the Global Climate

We must take responsibility for our actions even in absence of conclusive proof we have done something wrong.

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The Sin of Carelessness

Sforno writes that regardless of which piece of meat was actually consumed, even if it luckily was the right one, this person is still guilty of not paying closer attention to their actions and making sure that their food was kosher before eating.

The asham talui teaches us that we may not engage in careless or risky behavior. We must take responsibility for questionable actions even in the absence of conclusive proof that we have done something wrong.

The logic of the asham talui offering is relevant to environmental consciousness. There are many instances where the negative environmental impact of our actions is not immediately evident or scientifically verified. Does shutting the water while I brush my teeth matter? Will carpooling to work really affect air quality? These kinds of doubts often prevent well-meaning people from making changes that could positively affect the environment.

Global Carelessness

air pollutionPerhaps the most significant example is humanity's impact on the global climate. The basic premise of this impact is that modern industrial society has increased greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, with 85% of emissions caused by burning fossil fuels for energy. This increase is purported to affect the makeup of the earth's atmosphere, impacting climate.

For years, debate raged whether there was any real connection between human activity, greenhouse gas emissions, and global warming.Today, most reliable scientific sources agree that the earth is getting warmer, and human activity contributes to that warming.

The uncertainty that remains generally concerns the degree of impact and the effectiveness of our potential response to drastic change--that is, whether human adaptation (sea walls and dikes, population transfers from low-lying regions, hurricane and other disaster response and rebuilding) will be possible, or whether climate change will threaten the very fabric of human civilization.

According to the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (the most authoritative body on climate change science in the world, comprised of hundreds of scientists from tens of countries), "It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent."

The US Environmental Protection Agency states that, by the end of this century, the average surface temperature of the earth is likely to increase within the range of 2.5 to 10.4°F. This means an increase in warming up to ten times that recorded in the 20th century, potentially the highest warming in the last 10,000 years.

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Jonathan Neril

Jonathan Neril is the project manager of the Jewish Environmental Parsha Initiative. He is a rabbinical student in his fourth year of Jewish learning in Israel. He received an MA and BA at Stanford with a focus on global environmental issues.