Q. What does Judaism say about climate change?
A. Judaism believes that the world and all that is in it, including man, was brought into being by a wise and generous Creator, who placed the whole creation in man’s hands “to work it and to guard it” (B’reshit 2:15).
In working with and on the world, man has achieved great things, but he has not always protected his environment and its resources from despoilment, destruction and devastation. It is not only that the growth of the human population, beginning with one Adam and rising to the present figure of more than seven billion, has placed a strain on the environment, but man has often over-exploited the world’s resources even to the point of near extinction, for the sake of financial, industrial and political gain.
The result has sometimes been blithe neglect of the interests of future generations, who look to their predecessors for a functioning, good quality world. A famous Talmudic story about concern for future generations refers specifically to one who plants a tree even though the planter will not personally benefit from its fruit.
The Bible insists that we do not own nature or the world. It says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). We are merely tenants and trustees, with a moral responsibility to maintain global sustainability.
This involves preserving the balance of nature. Animals, trees, crops and even the sunshine and rain must not be placed in jeopardy. The balance of the climate must also be protected. After the destruction of the great flood, Noah and mankind were promised, “seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter and day and night shall not cease” (B’reshit 8:22). This verse prescribes an obligation on humanity as much as a serving as a Divine promise.