Don’t we want to save the planet?

Published in the Jewish Chronicle

We?re in the season of the overflow service, when banqueting suites, conference centres and even the odd church hall are suddenly transformed into temporary synagogues. The congregation of Beehive Lane in Ilford used to go one better, gathering for High Holyday services in their local Odeon.

Which gives me an idea. What if our rabbis decreed a trip to the cinema to be as compulsory as attendance in shul for Kol Nidre? Not to see just any film, but one in particular. It?s won rave reviews, broken box office records in the US and been dubbed the scariest movie of the year.

It is ?An Inconvenient Truth,? the documentary which shows Al Gore, the former Vice-President ? and winner of the popular vote in the 2000 election ? deliver his travelling, illustrated lecture on climate change.

Since Gore is a notorious bore and lectures don?t usually make great cinema, ?An Inconvenient Truth? should be one long snooze. Instead, it is one of the most gripping, most affecting films you?ll ever see. Calmly and clearly, Gore, aided by some hi-tech visuals, walks you through the ABC of global warming. He explains what it is, what?s causing it and what threat it poses to the entire human race.

He takes no knowledge for granted and makes his case in the simplest possible way, often using ?before? and ?after? photographs to show how our world is changing, thanks to the carbon dioxide we emit every time we drive a car, fly a plane or leave the TV set on stand-by.

He shows glaciers that have disappeared, icebergs that are melting, polar bears that are drowning. Ani-mated maps show what this will mean for humanity, as sea levels rise and whole swathes of land, from Shanghai to Manhattan, disappear under water.

Long-time environmentalists say that Gore isn?t saying anything new, but that?s not the point. The power of the film is that it takes facts and arguments you may well have heard and even understood in your head ? and lodges them somewhere in your gut, in the place where political convictions are formed. Even if you think you know about climate change, after 100 minutes of this film you will be determined to do something about it.

Gore himself says that this ?planetary emergency? is so great it is not a political issue at all, but a moral one. He could have gone further and called it a religious one. For if you believe that God created the heaven and the earth, then surely it can?t be right to trash His creation. And, make no mistake, that is what we are doing, stripping out all we can of the planet?s resources, burning them up and cooking the earth as a result. (Climate change deniers will cast doubt on all this, of course, but pay close attention to the contrary evidence they claim: almost all of it will come from various ?institutes? and ?foundations? subsidised by the energy industry.) The religious obligation is, surely, to treasure and look after God?s creation: instead we are ravaging it.

You would imagine this would outrage Jews; the more faithful, the greater the anger. And yet I see no such correlation. I have heard a good number of sermons in my time: hundreds on Israel, dozens on antisemitism, and plenty on the price of kosher food. But I cannot remember one urging the congregation to fly less, to walk or cycle instead of taking the car, to turn off the heating in rooms that aren?t used.

Or pushing those who run businesses to wonder if they really need office lights on all night, or computers set to ?sleep? but still gobbling up valuable energy. Or asking all of us whether we really need to buy so much stuff, to keep on consuming, depleting the assets of the earth. No doubt some rabbis have spoken on these lines, but they are the exceptions.

Nowhere is this gap between what should surely be a Jewish obligation and reality clearer than in Israel. Plenty of Israelis will go on endlessly about the sanctity of the land, insisting it was entrusted directly by God to the Jewish people. Yet how do they treat this sacred inheritance? For an answer, look just outside Tel Aviv to the man-made mountain at Hiriya: it is a rubbish dump, so large it has become a topological feature. Or note the fate of Nitzanim, a nature reserve that served as home to endangered turtles and gazelle, but was earmarked for development to make room for ex-settlers from the Gaza strip.

Green activists say we are living as if there were three planets, instead of only one. It is an inconvenient truth but at this time of atonement we should face it and do all we can to repair our gasping world.