Earth Etude for Elul 5 — True Tikkun Olam
by Dr. Karen I. Shragg
~ Euphemisms have always hurt us. Jews have had their ears tuned in to anti-Semitic language for a long, long time and know when someone is trying to paint us in a negative picture while couching it in coded language.
But there is a new way that euphemisms are hurting the whole planet and its future. Recently the forecast of species extinctions and climate change have alarmed us and sent us running to our recycle bins, organic food and if we have time, to our laptops to write letters to the editor about the evils of using pesticides. We hear the euphemism, “Human Activity” anytime we need to blame why species are struggling to survive. From bees to giraffes, warblers to elephants, we are told that “Human Activity” is to blame. We know that we drive too many cars eat too high on the food chain and buy too many trinkets. We live in homes that are spewing out way too much carbon. This euphemism is particularly dangerous because it doesn’t paint the clear picture that our numbers matter. These numbers matter: 7.6 billion and adding over 82 million a year. Those numbers need to be repeated over and over again until they stick.
My dear parents were married 70 years ago this August in a synagogue in Omaha, Nebraska, back when the world had less than 3 billion human inhabitants. In their lifetime, exponential growth and medical advances plus the eradication of many diseases have added an unsustainable 5.5 billion more of us on our limited planet. We have become ecologically illiterate over time as we have focused on our well-being rather than on the key to survival of all species: the recognition that we must all live within our carrying capacity. Biological limits can be pushed back due to human inventions such as synthetic fertilizers but there is always a price to pay. We pay for it in pollution scarcity and suffering of all species.
Tikkun Olam is a deeply Jewish ethic that is supposed to be about valuing the repairing of the world. It too becomes a euphemism when it does not include the recognition of the oppressive nature of overpopulation. To repair our world we must open our eyes and hearts to the hard cold facts about how rapidly we are going in the opposite direction from Tikkun Olam. In the time it has taken me to write this, 10,000 new passengers have been added, net gain to Mother Earth and She now needs to find dwindling resources to support them.
Once we deeply understand the fallout from our growing human populations and the way that we deplete the very resources we need because we cannot help but consume as apex predators, we will find solutions. Smoking isn’t just dangerous, smoking kills us. We now have laws in place that have starting working because we know the true nature of the problem. We must start the journey towards true Tikkun Olam. We need to do so without euphemistically painting a picture that excludes our frighteningly high human numbers. I hope it’s not too late.
Karen I. Shragg, PhD, is a naturalist and manager of a community based nature center in Minnesota. She is an author of both children’s books and books for adults. Karen is an overpopulation activist and wrote the book Move Upstream… A Call to Solve Overpopulation in 2015.