Sustainability in a Time of Corona

For years the sustainability community has been calling for the world to pay attention to our wasteful, self-absorbed, destructive lifestyles. “We need a new paradigm”, we said – “this isn’t working.” The rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer, nature will diminish, more and more species will become extinct, and at some point, we will have bigger problems, if that’s even possible”. Climate change became a topic that scientists began to explore but not before late 2018* did we learn that we have an expiration date, a date after which we will hit the point of no return, and our warming planet will refuse to return to its regular temperatures, even if we say sorry and try harder to change our ways.

2019 was a global turning point, when the world started listening, especially thanks to a teenage girl who received lots of social media attention and garnered increasing mass-media attention to the upcoming crisis.

Suddenly, people started asking questions, realizing that the future they dreamed of might be different than what they had expected. Israeli decision makers on national and local levels approached the Heschel Center for advice – so what should we do? Can we do anything about this? “Begin planning for 2050,” we said. “And start now.” And they listened, but something else happened. Since change happens in a non-linear matter, as our chief educator Dr. Lia Ettinger always says, these past few weeks in the shadow of the corona virus have been the best way to show humanity that A. Life is fragile. B. Whatever you think, nature is stronger than we humans are. C. When we believe that our actions will save lives, governments are able to set rules that people will follow, no matter how drastic the change needs to be.

Last night, Israel’s prime minister announced that Israel will go into more drastic measures to stop the spreading of Covid-19, and closed businesses where people gather (including public events, coffee shops, restaurants, shopping malls, all education facilities, and fitness centers). But in my opinion, the more drastic move came a couple of weeks earlier, and it came from the Ministry of Health: They said – try to avoidflying to Italy, and reconsider the need to get on flights at all.” This outrageous call for Israelis, who have no other way to go abroad was revolutionary. Itay Ha’Cohen mentioned this unprecedented declaration in an op-ed posted in Ha’aretz asking: what if the government asked the public to try to consume less? to stop taking unnecessary car rides?, to stop unnecessary fights over unnecessary land?, Etc… Obviously, this isn’t happening yet. Though the last 24 hours gives me hope that we can change.

Covid-19 will eventually go away, but I hope that the lesson is learned. To fight climate change we must make drastic changes in our lifestyles, not short-term changes, but long-term changes that help us get the future we wish for ourselves and for our children. We need to make our communities more resilient by supporting local production. We need to reduce consumption to reduce the humongous amount of waste we created. And finally, we need to encourage businesses which contribute to society as a whole. There’s no time to lose, and we need to do it together. Are you with us?

*The U.N. IPCC report, October 2018.