Thursday, April 17, 2008
At the turn of the last century scientists thought that they had almost all the pieces in place to fully understand the workings of the deterministic universe. Within a very short period of time the entire edifice of Newtonian physics crumbled as the realization dawned that we actually know very little and in fact that there are limits to what we can know for sure. This was the paradigm shift to quantum physics. So it is for the individual as they shift from being the wise aleck, the smart ass to the realization that in fact they don't know much at all and that the system was lacking. This cracking of the edifice is the start of the spiritual journey and the accompanying years of rebellion against the conventional until finally one comes to understand that silence is the highest wisdom (Pirkai Avot). In our times this realization of ignorance is hitting home stronger and stronger as we face climate change due to global warming. The assumptions that we have made up until now of the necessity of persistent economic growth, of endless resources, of nature somehow getting rid of our waste, of a stable tomorrow for our children and grandchildren, have suddenly been brought into doubt. And we thought we were so smart…
But for now it is important to understand the flow of the Haggadah story: we were idol worshippers, we found God; we descended into Mitzraim (Egypt) and forgot God; we then underwent enforced enslavement, despair and loss of hope; finally we cried out; God heard and the redemption of the Children of Israel began - the plagues, the midnight last supper, the transition to freedom, the Exodus from Mitzraim, and the crossing of the Sea. As a response to all this, we praise God through the Hallel; we celebrate our freedom through ritual foods, eating and singing; and we demonstrate our determination to continue the adventure through the gathering of the generations around the table and praying that next year we will all be together as one people in a perfected Jerusalem (world).
So what is the ecological angle on Pesach? In the Hasidic mode of interpretation, Mitzraim is a metaphor for whatever we are attached to, enslaved by, trapped in, whatever makes our lives less holy, whenever we feel squeezed by circumstances into a narrow place (literal meaning of Mitzraim). Today we recognized that we are slaves to fossil fuel and that this is squeezing us into financial discomfort; we are slaves to consumerism and that have made our wants become confused with our needs; that we have been trying to play Pharaoh by enslaving nature but now nature is freeing itself and we are in mortal danger (the enslaver is a slave to his enslavement) as the planet warms up and the climate begins to shift. Are the ten plagues waiting for us around the corner?
In this context leavened bread represents our inflated sense of anthropocentrism in which we are the rulers of the planet and everything created is for our benefit and enjoyment. Along comes matzah and says: get real; remember your place; remember your responsibilities; remember who you really are and what you should really be doing. We burn the excess pride; reduce the arrogance in the flames that turn the organics into carbon dioxide. Thus we hope to return to being members of the living planet, the consciousness of Earth.
Wishing you a wonder-filled Pesach
Michael Kagan author of the Holistic Haggadah
Saturday, April 12, 2008
arguing that technology alone won't solve Israel's looking water crisis; we will also have to change the way we use and think about the stuff too.
You saw it here first!
Monday, April 7, 2008
Researchers at the
See this fascinating report in the New York Times about Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s pioneering work applying behavioral psychology to climate change.
One of the things that interests us at Jewish Climate Initiative is the huge gap between knowing and doing in the climate change business. We all know what we’d have to do to drastically reduce our carbon footprints: fly much less, use public transport more, switch to CFL lightbulbs, buy a hybrid car, etc. etc.
But very few of us are doing it.
The good news however is that we do have a strong inclination to do the right thing for the common good if we are given the right nudges and cues.
Next time around, they added the following simple refinement to the electricity bills: a smiley face for people whose use was below the mean, and a frowning face for those above the average.
Amazingly, this caused people below the average to keep their consumption low, or reduce it still further.
The studies show that a communal norm together with positive reinforcement towards reaching that norm can have powerful impacts on behaviour, (although do I feel a bit queasy about the authors’ plan for introducing flashing lapel pins that indicate your carbon use.)
This should give pause to anyone who thinks that appealing to people’s pockets is the only way to reduce carbon footprints.
The chapter ends with a long discussion about the power of social norms to influence behaviour for good or ill, (Bava Kamma 92a-93a.) But it also stresses the pivotal power of determined and inspired individuals to reorient social norms by their example.