Earth Etude for Elul 20 – In the Hands of Billionaires

by Mirele B. Goldsmith, Ph.D.~

Recently I had the opportunity to hear a presentation about the UN Sustainable Development Goals by Jeffrey Sachs, the world’s best-known economist. Sachs emphasized that poverty and climate change are interrelated. He focused on the financial cost of a “just transition” to a world of decent livelihoods and renewable energy for all. Sachs explained that the cost of this transition could easily be financed if the world’s 2,043 billionaires contributed a mere 3% of their annual income.

I find this analysis to be very encouraging. The problem is simple. Instead of changing the behavior of the 7.5 billion people on earth or even the policies of hundreds of governments, the transformation we seek can be accomplished by a handful of people. These individuals can easily afford the cost. All that is required is that they refrain from using their power for wrongdoing and instead choose to take righteous action. All that is required is that we persuade a few of our fellow human beings to follow the time-tested formula of tefillateshuva, and tzedakah (reflection, repentance, and action for justice.)

During this month of Elul I am reflecting on how Sachs’ analysis will influence my activism in the year ahead. This month of preparation for the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) is a time to focus on relationships between people. What can I do to influence those with immense power that can be used for good or evil?  How will I relate to the corporate executives, politicians, and billionaires with the power to save or destroy our world? And, as I seek to change their behavior, how can I be guided by my understanding of tochecha (rebuke,) teshuva (repentance,) and chesed (compassion)?

Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith is an environmental psychologist, educator, and activist. Mirele created the Tikkun Mayim, a ceremony of repair for our relationship with water, and founded Jews Against Hydrofracking. She directed the Jewish Greening Fellowship, a network of 55 organizations committed to sustainability.  She attended the UN Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen and was a leader in the Jewish mobilization for the People’s Climate March in New York City. Mirele’s writings on Judaism and sustainability have been published in the Jerusalem Report, Jewish Week, Forward, Shma, and Huffington Post.

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