Why Tu B’shvat Matters in 2012

The economy is in crisis across much of the USA and Europe, governments are killing their citizens in Syria and Bahrain, and organized crime is dominating Mexico and Central America… This Tu B’shvat how can we worry about environmental issues, when there are so many pressing social issues face our society?

Indeed, environmental concerns seem to be fairly low on the international priorities list these days. Look at the recent failure of the Durban conference, in which governments, (most notably my own Conservative Canadian government), were unwilling to focus on environmental concerns choosing instead to lead with economic considerations.

It’s not a surprising response from world leaders, but it is a short sighted one. What governments are missing is that environmental issues ARE social issues. Climate change will be or possibly already is, a contributing factor to famine and social unrest in developing countries such as Sudan & Congo, and will play an increasingly larger role in the social and economic stability of western countries as well.

So what can Tu B’shvat, an ancient agricultural tax holiday, teach us in this time of social, economic and environmental unrest?

In its original context, Tu B’shvat, the ‘New Year of the Trees’, is the beginning of the agricultural tax season, a reminder that we have a communal responsibility to feed and clothe others. No matter how removed we are from the natural world, Tu B’shvat acts as an annual reminder these resources come from nature and agriculture and that our relationship to God and to other people is manifested through how we utilize these natural resources. We have a responsibility to ensure that people are cared for and the land is protected.

Social, economic and environmental concerns are completely interwoven, both in Jewish values and in modern life. We cannot address one without addressing the other simultaneously. It’s a lesson of particular importance in 2012 given the current physical and political climate.

Tu B’shvat 2012 is a call to solve social and environmental issues in one. This year make your theme environmental justice. Explore the interplay of social and environmental concerns throughout Jewish social and agricultural ethics. Discover easy personal and communal solutions that help both people and the planet.

We must protect clean water, clean air, arable land, and address the myriad of environmental challenges we face. We must simultaneously ensure the rights of individuals to access these resources and address the many social woes facing people and society.

In the shadow of the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and European unrest, let this Tu B’shvat be an opportunity to explore how Judaism pioneered environmental justice and how we can apply this approach in our modern daily life.

Chag Sameach!

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