By Eva Jason
On the UC Santa Cruz campus, walking to class turns into a hike when navigating between enormous redwood trees clustered and scattered about. Coming from a big city like Los Angeles, I was excited to be in a location with
such natural beauty.
As this year has progressed, I have come to realize that my new home actually faces many threats to its existence. Even though the campus is tobacco and smoke- free, I see cigarettes littering the forest floor. California’s drought is evident from the dry, dead grass to the empty creek beds in upper campus.
As a student and a Jew, I feel a strong responsibility to take
care of the environment. Judaism emphasizes the ideal of tikkun olam, the belief that it is our duty to fix the world. Jewish tradition tells us that the Earth belongs to our descendents. As caretakers rather than owners, the land must be taken care of now so that future generations can enjoy it.
Bal taschit is a mitzvah that commands Jews not to be unnecessarily wasteful. In biblical times, it was commonplace for warring armies to decimate the land of their enemies after they had defeated them. This was done in order to ensure victory.
Bal taschit, found in the book of Exodus, prohibits this practice. It, in fact, specifies that fruit trees should not be cut down. Avoiding needless destruction, however, also applies beyond fruit trees.
Today, this concept can include not wasting water. The OPERS field and West Field have recently been closed in order to conserve water. Additionally, taking shorter showers lets more water remain in the watershed, allowing the creeks in upper campus to run all year-round.
Also, not wasting electricity upholds the same ideal. Unplugging appliances and turning off lights when they’re not in use is a great way to save energy. Many times, the means by which we power our phones come from non-renewable and non-environmentally friendly sources such as fossil fuels.
These create thick, dark brown layers of smog that hover over the horizon. When the wind blows, this layer of pollutants negatively affects us. Air pollution can lead to illnesses such as asthma. Additionally, power plants create tons of chemicals each year. These seep into the ocean and contaminate all sorts of marine life and, as a result, us.
Another important custom is shmita. This is the idea that every seven years the land needs to rest, just as we rest on Shabbat. Farmers must not plant any crops every seventh year in order that the land may rejuvenate and to allow natural resources to return.
A Jewish environmental organization by the name of Hazon encourages us to follow shmita in many different ways. They named their farm in Connecticut “Avodah”, the Hebrew word for work. The farmers there adhere to strict shmita by donating 1/7th of their produce to communities in need.
On shmita years, they discourage the Jewish community from using phones non-stop. They also encourage people to buy used clothing rather than new—resulting in a community that consumes less and therefore produces less waste.
It is evident that if left unchecked, global warming will continue to cause great damage to the world. The burning of fossil fuels is wearing away the ozone layer. As a result, the polar ice caps are melting which leads to the flooding of coastal cities.
Severe droughts, like the one experienced this year in California, devastate wildlife and ruin crops. Chemicals dumped into the ocean not only poison sea life, but also poison us.
I believe that we must first take care of nature because it sustains all life, including our own. It is useful to draw upon certain commandments from the Torah in order to guarantee that future students at UCSC enjoy the same tall redwood forests for generations to come.