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Making Earth Day meaningful

THIS year Earth Day fell on the Friday of Pesach. It was successful: the earth is still here. Of course, the earth was here before humans arrived, and will be here long after they’re gone. However, I vote for delaying our exit. How about you?

When I wrote this column, most of us were complaining about eating the bread of affliction. Complaining is good — it’s the first step toward creating change.

At the seder, we celebrated our progress since leaving poverty and affliction in ancient Egypt 3,500 years ago. We looked forward to improving our lives next year. And we used chametz deprivation to remind us of how it feels not to get enough of what we want to eat.

Off-Pesach, Americans generally over-eat (according to Civil Eats). Most people in the world under-eat. Nearly 80% of them live at some level of poverty, and despite improvements in worldwide food production since the 1950s, most are still undernourished.

We’ve dramatically degraded our environment to feed the earth’s people, and if we all hope to live healthy, well-fed lives, we’ll have to start now restoring our environment as we produce food on it.

Humans are smart animals. We learn from good as well as bad examples — often at the cost of anywhere from a couple to millions of lives. Ezekiel the prophet (20, 25) said, “Wherefore I (G-d) gave them (the Hebrews) also statutes that were not good, and ordinances whereby they should not live . . . ” We’re overwhelmed by “don’t live like this” examples worldwide. I’d prefer to live like the doctor in Henny Youngman’s joke: “A guy goes to the doctor and says, “Doc, it hurts when I go like this.” “So,” says the Doc, “don’t go like this.”

But that’s easier said than done. If we enjoy, are addicted to or make money on a bad habit, we stick with it — even when consequences are visible, tangible or calamitous. Examples:

• Despite millennia’s worth of humans drowned in floods, we still choose to live in flood plains for their rich soil and crop yields;

• Despite last year’s BP oil blowout, environmental devastation, lost lives and livelihoods, we continue to drive, fill up with Arco and BP gas, pollute and get BP stock dividends, while the government gives BP tax breaks and permits more deep-water drilling;

• Despite last month’s Japanese earthquake and tsunami, with several thousands dead, unabated nuclear radiation and threatened evacuation of Tokyo, Americans are lobbying to build nuclear plants here.

We love the energy and are willing to pretend uranium mining and nuclear waste are cleaner options than coal mining and coal plants’ carbon and mercury emissions;

• Despite last week’s report that nearly half of US beef and pork harbors antibiotic-resistant bacteria, from being raised in antibiotic-injected CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), we still love our cheap meat. And we’ll ignore human and animal health consequences, and reject more economical and nutritious vegetarian protein options to get it.

THAT’S how hard it is to change bad habits. For us to “not go like this” anymore, we prefer options that are easy and attractive, like buying products we don’t have to think about — Energy Star electronics and and low-flow plumbing.

Then comes the easier small stuff. How much time do you sit in your vehicle with the engine idling? Like on “quick stops” for errands, airport and kid drop-offs and pick-ups, and long traffic lights?

Idling engines waste about three billion gallons of gas a year — nearly 40% of America’s vehicular fuel consumption.

If you’ll be waiting more than 30 seconds, shut off your engine. It takes less gas to re-start later than to idle.

Red meat? Go ahead. Eat a little. Just make it grass-fed or organic, not high-carbon footprint, CAFO-raised.

You can transition gradually to free-range poultry, wild-caught fish and non-GMO legumes and vegetables. They’re healthier, lower-carbon, and often less costly.  Also, consider getting active with Hazon, the national Jewish group that promotes community and food sustainability.

It helps to restore the earth to eat local and organic — which, ironically, is how most of the world’s impoverished people eat, too.

To make Earth Day 2012 a success doesn’t mean we must change worldwide food production by next April.

We just need to keep our Pesach awareness, and steadily work to change our bad environmental habits.

We start by saying, “Next year in a healthier world!” then . . . we go like that.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News


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