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Ashamnu: we have transgressed on climate change

October 12th, 2016 · No Comments

Yom Kippur … the Day of Atonement.

After the period of reflection and engagement with others between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, this is a moment to turn to internal considerations and the relationship between the individual and G-d.

As part of the prayers for the Day of Atonement, the Vidui, the Al Cheyt or recital of sins, is perhaps the most important. (Modern Judaism being what it is, there are a myriad of translations and modern variations on the Vidui/Al Chet.)

A key word: Ashamnu or “we have sinned”.

Ashamnu is a recognition of individual and communal failures. The Al Cheyt is a recognition and statement about sins by ourselves (and our community) against others, against oneself, against G-d through action … and inaction.

It is clear:

  • One can do wrong purposefully and explicitly … and one can do wrong inadvertently and indirectly.
  • One can do wrong through action and words … and one can do wrong through inaction and silence.
  • And, one can … one should … one must act to recognize the wrongs that we, all — as individuals and communities, have done, seek to redress them, and work to avoid them into the future.

This Yom Kippur comes amid a divisive and ugly American Presidential campaign.

Amid the very stark difference between the two candidates, perhaps the starkest relates to climate change.

  • Donald Trump, reflecting core GOP value streams, rejects climate science and promotes policy concepts (to the extent that he has actual policy concepts) that would worsen the problem (and, perhaps, be the final nail in the coffin on hopes to avert truly catastrophic climate change).
  • Hillary Clinton, in stark contrast, accepts (climate) science, uses it to guide her policy concepts and views, and has laid out a serious agenda to build and expand on President Barack Obama’s clean energy, energy efficiency, and other climate mitigation/adaptation programs and achievements.

Simply put, Donald Trump intends to act to worsen the climate crisis and Hillary Clinton plans to #ActOnClimate.

In our political sphere, there was once too much ‘climate silence’, a  silence in our political leadership and among too many of us in the of rabid climate science denial and on the damage we are doing to the planetary system, the risks of climate change, and the urgent necessity for meaningful change to change our path toward something that enables sustainable prosperity for humanity.  In October 2016, on this Yom Kippur, on the eve of what might be the most momentous election of U.S. (even global) history, that silence is gone.  It is replace by the stark contrast outlined above.

Yom Kippur — including the viddui — is not typically focused on politics and political action.

It is, however, a time for reflection on our relationships and actions, including setting ourselves on the paths to addressing our failures — in essence, soul-searching to lay out a self-improvement agenda.

Amid this soul-searching, the piercing challenge of climate change, one action set is clear: we must work to push the political system (politicians) to #ActOnClimate.

And, with the stark contrast in our political structure, to make that a reality requires action 8 November:

Vote #Climate.

Vote to put the Democratic Party in charge of Congress.

Vote for Hillary Clinton.

Vote to #ActOnClimate

From a Yom Kippur sermon leading into a Viddui recitation,

This is Yom Kippur.

This is a night for confession.

So let us be honest.

If ever there was a time for candor, this is it.

We humans are not good with limits.

We are pushing the planet and its animal resources to the limit.

We want what we want when we want it.

We pretty much take, hunt, fish, and consume until someone or something stops us or until there is no more to be taken.

Do you remember the Viddui we will be reciting in a few minutes? It’s the Confession prayer that lists our sins alphabetically.


We abuse. We besmirch. We consume. We destroy. We excuse ourselves. We forget the consequences of our actions. We are greedy.

I could continue through the alphabet, and I should go on because, as the saying goes, although religion ought to comfort the afflicted, religion also needs to afflict the comfortable. And we truly do need to be uncomfortable tonight. Remember an alternate name for Yom Kippur is Yom Ha-Din…the Day of Judgment. This night is meant to be a time for severity.

“a time of severity”.

We are living in a time of consequences, a time where humanity’s future (and our own, unless you are on your deathbed, futures) require confronting Inconvenient Truth, and acting in this regard.

The individual matters and we need, for Yom Kippur, to judge ourselves with “severity” — to push our own comfortable ways as to whether we ‘sin’ and damage and harm unknowingly or knowingly.

“I am doing what I can.”

I (and my family) recycle … I (and my family) walk and bike often where others are jumping in their cars … I engage with others to educate about climate issues and energy smart practices/opportunities … I have changed my career to work solely on clean energy / climate mitigation related opportunities …

But, judging in severity, there is certainty that “I” can do more.

“I” can find more droplets to carry as part of a larger effort to douse the mounting flames of Climate Chaos.

“I am doing what I can.”

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement as individual — an individual’s reckoning. Yet … yet … yet … it is also communal, the individual is part of something larger.

We live within a society. And, while each of us has a voice and role in that society, there are things that are beyond us as individuals to control. We — whether Libertarian or Socialist, Democrat or Republican, Christian or Muslim, male or female — are part of a community. Truthfully, there is no such thing as that perfect person (take a look and reflect on the Al Cheyt) nor is there such a thing as a perfect leader. But, we should recognize our own faults and seek to change our patterns. And, we should look to our leaders’ faults and seek to help them change for the better.

Most of all, we cannot afford more of the same timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now.

Who said this? Senator Barack Obama in 2007.

Sadly, during the 2012 election, our political elite provided crickets … true  without discussion of climate in debates or speeches.

Regretfully, in the 2016 election, climate change — despite Hillary Clinton’s policy laydown and the excellent speech yesterday — has barely been an afterthought in discussions.

Here we are in another political season and, yet again, the vast majority of political consultants seem to tell candidates not to talk about climate change. And, far too many follow that advice. Some — some — however don’t. These include Senator Hillary Clinton and a number Climate Hawks who are taking leadership roles to help shift the political and public discussion.

Amid our horrific political environment, where one political party is dominated and control by individuals and organizations suffering from an acute case of anti-science syndrome, real (political reality, not physical reality) barriers exist to the beneficial and cost-effective paths to mitigate Climate Chaos that should be at the centerpiece of national discussion and national investment.  Erev Yom Kippur, as Donald Trump wreaked havoc on the GOP like he would on the climate, Hillary Clinton stood up to boost climate issues in national discussion.

What has been barrier to necessary action?

That too few leaders speak truthfully and forcefully on climate change. (To be clear, there are important exceptions. For example, Senator Whitehouse a shining example to others about leaning forward to speak forcefully and thoughtfully on climate change.)

We must seek ourselves and encourage our leaders to move beyond political expediency to leadership, to truthful and forceful engagement to help move the Overton Window on climate change from delusional science denial and ridicule to realistic engagement with the risks and opportunities.

We, ourselves, must be Climate Hawks. Being able to survey the entirety of the situation and see, with eagle-eyed vision, targets meriting attention. Beyond ourselves, we must encourage leaders — whether in our churches, schools, or Halls of Congress — to be Climate Hawks.

We don’t talk about it … even though we must …

As George Marshall has so eloquently discussed, not only is climate change a ‘wicked problem’ of complex interactions but it is a ‘wicked problem’ that is fundamentally at odds with how we, as humans, engage with the world around us.

Climate Change

We sin … we do wrong through action and words.

We sin, we do wrong through inaction and silence.

“I am doing what I can.”

We sin by not doing what we can …

On Tuesday, November 8th, I can — I will — vote for climate action. I will vote for Hillary Clinton.

NOTE: This is a variation of previous posts.

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Tags: 2016 Presidential Election · Energy