Thursday, January 20

With the planet in danger, religious leaders must tell the truth to power | Jonathan Wittenberg

Two thousand years ago, Ecclesiastes taught that even a king is subordinate to the ground. That includes prime ministers and foreign ministers; we are all dependent and an interdependent part of nature.

Never before has there been a time when budgeting for the Earth is so urgent. I am one of the millions who imagined that Boris Johnson’s promise last year to “rebuild greener” was truly intentional. He hoped that the government of the country, in charge of hosting Cop26, the most important meeting for the future of our planet, would show that it means what it says and put its money where its slogans are.

Wednesday’s budget dashed these hopes. A member of the congregation told me: “I couldn’t bear to listen after hearing that the fuel tax would be reduced on internal flights.” It is difficult to understand why flying would be rewarded precisely on those trips that could and should be made by train. It undermines the justification for building HS2, with the enormous damage inflicted on ancient forests, if train travel is not prioritized. Equally incomprehensible is the continuing freeze on car fuel, when the infrastructure for electric cars and trucks so badly needs adequate financing. One of the key demands of Faith for the weather It is the end of subsidies and support for fossil fuels, in the country and around the world. Why give the opposite message?

No less daunting is what is missing from the budget: serious incentives for the development of the green economy and the much-needed jobs it promises to provide. Countless business leaders have urged the government to offer such encouragement, including members of the government’s own Climate Change Committee and its top scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance. The money that is urgently needed to enable the world’s poorest and most affected countries to adapt to climate change is also not obvious.

Rishi Sunak outside 11 Downing Street ahead of his fall budget, October 27
Rishi Sunak outside 11 Downing Street ahead of his fall budget, October 27 Photography: Tayfun Salcı / Zuma / Rex

As the founding rabbi of EcoSynagogue, working closely with Ecological church and senior religious and environmental leaders around the world, I am passionately committed to climate justice, global warming and biodiversity. The Hebrew Bible sees human beings as guardians of the Earth, charged with working it for the benefit of all life. The core values ​​of the Bible are justice and compassion. The Torah repeatedly reminds us of our responsibility to our children. We owe them the legacy of a viable and sustainable planet rich in life. We have no right to commodify, monetize and exploit creation. We do not have the right to pursue short-term self-interest only. It is not a case of “tomorrow we can die”, but of “tomorrow they, the children of the world, will die”. The future of all life is in our hands.

These principles, by which I seek to live as a Jew, are shared by all religions and countless faithless people alike.

Deeper than anger is the anguish and fear that I experience and share with so many. I feel desperate because while what we know we have to do is being properly talked about, in the UK and around the world, government actions are pointing in a different direction. Where the money goes is what sends the real message.

However, it is the right time for change. Covid has led to a deeper awareness of our interdependence as a society; We have learned to value the people whose work we take for granted: hospital teams, the men and women who line store shelves, keep buses on the road, and collect our trash. We have been vividly presented with the interconnectedness of the destiny of humanity around the world. We have experienced our interconnectedness and interdependence with nature more closely than before. These are learnings that we cannot afford to waste.

Religious leaders will be strongly represented at Cop26; Pope Francis himself will attend. We will work together in all of our religions, determined to live by our values ​​and speak truth to power. We are not about to give up.

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