Rabbis for Climate Action

  • Rabbi Jonathon Keren-Black is the rabbi at Leo Baeck centre.  He established JECO (the Jewish Ecological Coalition) and was instrumental in establishing GreenFaith Australia.

About a month ago, Rabbis across Melbourne were invited to meet with Scott Morrison, who I note is still described as ‘Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison’, in case you might think that the position has changed hands again whilst you weren’t tuned in!

I had a discussion with my wife about whether I should dress in a suit, or wear my ‘Stop Adani’ T shirt… we decided that if I did, I may not be invited back!  I put on a white short instead.  But then I took my 19 year old son to the station, and had the same conversation with him…  and he said ‘but what is the point of being invited back if you don’t get the message across either time?’  So I went home, put the T shirt on, and put on a black jacket to look a bit smarter.

I sat in the second row.  The Prime Minister kept trying not to look at me!

In his speech, he said that, as people of faith, we’d appreciate that the Bible tells us that God has given us Free Will and choice.  I had never heard the concept of choice used so clearly as a foundation for ‘Liberalism’ before!

Afterwards I went up to him and said ‘PM, the Torah says ‘I set before you Life and Death – blessing and curse – Choose life – so you and your descendants may live (Deut 30:19).  That’s why we have to Stop Adani, stop burning coal, and give the future a chance.’  He thanked me, and moved on!

71 years ago, almost to the day, Churchill said in the House of Commons, that democracy was the worst form of Government – except for all the others.  And he was quoting a predecessor, probably Benjamin Franklin.  But in Churchill’s time, all the biggest economies of the world were countries, trying to deal with a pallet of responsibilities, like health, welfare, water, agriculture, defence, education….

In 2016, The world’s largest 100 economies comprised 31 countries and 69 corporations.  And companies only have to make money for their shareholders!

A couple of years ago, I was part of a delegation of faith leaders who are part of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change.  Over 3 days we had appointments to meet with MPs, senators and advisors.  They were worthwhile discussions.  We got the strong impression we were the first group to have gone and discussed climate change from an ethical and religious perspective.  Then we went to hold an interfaith service for the environment outside the Minerals Council of Australia, and to deliver them a letter.  It is not coincidence that they are literally five minutes’ walk from Parliament House! 

Today, democracy is under siege from lobby groups and multinationals who will bully and threaten to move their mines or factories elsewhere, if they don’t like the conditions, the tax, the subsidies, the legal environment.  We have to wake up.

Democracy seems to be becoming more and more short term.  Most politicians seem mainly to be concerned with being re-elected. Look at the amounts of money handed out just before the elections!  And many people seem to be influenced to vote by promises of tax cuts, more money, even if that means less services for the elderly, the sick, the needy, less care for refugees – indeed, in many parts of the world, we seem to be becoming a more selfish, less caring society. Where is the political vision that can save the environment, make us open our doors and hearts to refugees, teach love and compassion, and put honesty and integrity above all?

AJDS ‘Jews for Climate Action’ at the People’s Climate March, 2015

What have these questions to do with us? Everything.  I believe all religions share a simple goal… to make a better world.  That’s my test of religious integrity.  If someone kills people in the name of religion, or rejoices when another human being is murdered, that is not religion but a travesty of religion, and should be called out for what it is!  But religions teach about protecting the environment, sharing what we have fairly, welcoming the stranger, assisting the sick, demonstrating love and tenderness and forgiveness and integrity – and not just when it is convenient.  We don’t usurp and accumulate land that we don’t own – we seek to live in harmony with it and with each other, as our indigenous peoples have understood and practiced for 60,000 years and more.

So to bring this together, I want to propose that Religion is an antidote to short term politics.  We should be working together – indeed in 2009 Melbourne hosted the Parliament of World’s Religions, and there has just been another one earlier this month in Toronto.  In gatherings like that – and in smaller groups such as ours here at the Interfaith Centre for Melbourne, which has been awarded such prestigious prize and recognition, we have to redouble our efforts to show how much we have in common – and make clear the vision we have of a healthy and equitable future for all the inhabitants, human and animal as well as trees, seas and air, safe and clean and protected, so that future generations we will never know will continue to enjoy life as we do here in Australia, in safety and security, in health and happiness, always!


This article appeared in the AJDS Magazine Just Voices, issue 17, 2019: Environmentalism.