Judaism and the Green New Deal: Not a match made in Heaven

The push to link Jewish faith with the most extreme claims and the most extreme remedies for climate change does neither faith nor the environment much good.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks on the Green New Deal with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to her right in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 7 2019. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks on the Green New Deal with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to her right in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 7 2019. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) unveiled the outline for a Green New Deal last month to deal with the threat of climate change, the proposal immediately became a touchstone for the changing climate in Washington. The GND almost immediately became a political dividing line that split Republican skeptics from its advocates, as well as more moderate Democrats from liberal enthusiasts who scorned their caution. AOC’s stand helped to create a schism between those who balked at the astronomical cost and the economic implications of the ambitious scheme that would, in theory, ultimately eliminate carbon emissions and those who embraced it as an “aspirational” goal to be embraced, if not a detailed road map.

But the GND’s greatest supporters were liberal Jewish groups that have long sought to engage Jewish youth by emphasizing their stands on issues like environmentalism. Indeed, convincing young people that going green is an essentially Jewish thing to do has been part of the national conversation in the Jewish world for the past 30 years.

That means some who claim to speak for Judaism and the Jews are aligning both with a set of ideas that will, among other thing, require the upgrading or replacement of every building in the United States for energy efficiency by 2030; replacing all current cars with electric ones (with charging stations everywhere); an overhaul of the U.S. transportation system; and the building of boondoggles like high-speed rail lines to the point where air travel will stop or rather be stopped. The original draft also memorably included a suggestion about eliminating flatulence by livestock (which creates methane gas) that fit in with the ideas of some environmentalists about all Americans going vegetarian. The price associated with all this might be as high as $93 trillion, with an extra $3 trillion in extra regulatory costs that will vastly increase the size and the power of the federal government.

There is, of course, a strong basis to root caring for the environment in Jewish faith. Basic Jewish texts enjoin us to be good stewards for the world our Creator gave us and to take action to preserve it. Various laws exist to protect fruit trees, to prevent the land from being exhausted by continuous cultivation, as well as prohibit cruelty to animals.

But while it is one thing to assert that concern for the environment is part of Judaism as well as Zionism, which is similarly concerned with the land of Israel, it is quite another to link Judaism or Jewish identity with the most hysterical predictions of imminent doom unless the most extreme remedies proposed to deal with it are adopted. Nor is there anything essentially Jewish about supporting a political agenda that seems based more in antipathy for capitalism and the adoption of what is, for all intents and purposes, a sort of high-tech animism that fetishizes nature in ways antithetical to core Jewish beliefs.

To be skeptical about the Green New Deal or the religious fervor its adherents have adopted is not the same thing as the denial of climate change or indifference to the search for ways to preserve the planet. Yet while the theological tone of much of the debate about global warming bears a superficial resemblance to Jewish teachings that some in the environmental movement have embraced, they should be more wary of the rhetoric of apocalypse.

There is a clear consensus among scientists that the climate is warming, and that human activity is at least partially responsible. But the notion that the most extreme predictions of catastrophe, including the one put forward by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that said Armageddon beckoned if massive taxes and restrictions on carbon emissions were not put in place by 2030 is backed by anything like the same sort of scientific consensus is not true. It was the IPCC’s hysterical prediction that AOC has been quoting when she says the world is going to come to end soon unless the country submits to her GND demands. And when groups adopt the same sort of hysteria to justify their attempt to put a kosher seal of approval on such radical schemes, then it’s time for sensible people to ask them to start pumping the brakes on their green Jewish rhetoric.

Using Judaism as a cudgel with which to beat those who oppose the GND puts your faith in computer models, which is a risky business. Climate alarmists have already been proved wrong in most of their predictions about the impact of warming during the last two decades. But such forecasts keep coming because those who care about the issue seem to think that the only way they can get our attention is by exaggerating or scaring us in ways not backed up by science. That’s something that disturbs many serious climate scientists.

That’s why although most Americans consistently say that they believe the planet is warming, most don’t support the plans put forward that would—as is true of both the IPCC recommendation and the Green New Deal—cripple the economies of the developed world and cause suffering that we can’t fully comprehend.

This is not so much a contradiction between Judaism’s environmental commandments and capitalism, but between the facts about the climate and the quasi-religious belief that countries like America deserve to be punished for its success. The unfounded assumption that humanity isn’t damaging, but actually destroying the planet and will in turn face the possibility of extinction along with the earth’s flora and the fauna, is a discussion that seems to be rooted in biblical ideas about the punishments God will visit on humans for their bad behavior, rather than on science.

That fits an era when faith is no longer universal, and both politics and environmentalism serve as replacements for some of us. The catechism of environmental alarmism demands that we denounce the sinful nature of “destructive capitalism” for which punishment is envisioned by extremists as not so much inevitable as it is richly deserved. The talk of extinction from those who accept the gospel of this sort of environmentalism is not based on any realistic scientific scenario, but merely a new age version of biblical warnings that First Temple-era Jews would be vomited out of the land of Israel if they worshipped false gods. But that has little to do with either science or Judaism.

While Jewish precepts deserve a place in environmental discussions, using them to justify radical political schemes like the GND, which will transform our society for the worse on the basis of unverified alarmist predictions, does neither the Jews nor the planet any good.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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