By Rabbi Joshua Stanton
When I was a senior in college, a friend came into the dining hall one evening filled with excitement. She had been working on her honors thesis in economics and had come to a surprising conclusion: environmental education and awareness among young people might be changing what they bought. Their consumption patterns were being altered by their care for the environment.
While I am not sure how robust my friend’s findings were, I have found my own choices impacted by an awareness of the environment, and I sense a similar awareness in many colleagues and friends. Perhaps an unrepresentative sample, it may also suggest a major change in the way that people across many segments of society choose to consume — namely with an eye towards green products.
This year, my spouse Mirah and I were presented with a new question about our relationship to the environment: what kind of car should we drive? We had just moved to New Jersey, and it was clear that I would need a car to get to and from work every day. Public transportation was not an option. The question was whether or not to spend more money on a hybrid.
The car dealer (who was incredibly helpful and nice!) said that unless we were to drive about 20,000 miles per year in the car, it likely would not pay for us to buy a hybrid with current gas prices. We were very unlikely to approach the 20,000 mile mark in any year. Our decision would be impacted by other factors, namely how much we would pay to get ten or fifteen more miles per gallon.
Thinking it through together, Mirah identified a number of factors. First, we suspected that the price of gas might go up over the course of the car’s lifetime. While it was not financially worthwhile to purchase the car at the present price of gas, that might change in the future. Second, we did care enough about conserving fuel to pay the extra way. On the margin, at the border between making a green and making a financially expedient choice, we chose the former.
Perhaps it related to the newly public role I would be playing as a congregational rabbi and the conception of myself that I would try to live into. Perhaps it related to our concern about the presence of oil money in conflict areas. But more than anything, I sense it related to an underlying care for the environment — one that had been cultivated within us since our youths.
Mirah and I are part of the “Captain Planet” generation, which saw the perilous state of our environment. We also grew up with the understanding that personal choices could significantly impact our environment. Personals decisions could, if undertaken by enough people, help protect our environment.
We got the hybrid.
As we continue on in 5774, the new Jewish year, I sense that many others are beginning to make individual choices that are greener. The number of electric and hybrid cars that I’ve seen on the street each day is staggering. People seem to be conserving more and focusing on energy-efficient housing.
Yet the sea change is most present in our attitudes, which are still only beginning to be translated within our actions. Many more actions are likely to follow. Individual action is no longer seen as ineffectual. Though insufficient to change the environment as a whole, these actions are changing the marketplace — leading to a surge in the design, production, and research into low- and no-gas vehicles, among so many other kinds of products.
It feels like a New Year in so many ways. One of them may well be in how individuals are beginning to relate to the environment.
Rabbi Joshua Stanton was ordained in May 2013 by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where he also received his Masters in Hebrew Literature in 2012 and studied as a Schusterman Rabbinical Fellow. He has had the transformational experience of serving congregations and institutions as a rabbinical intern, chaplaincy intern, and student rabbi during the course of his studies. He feels blessed to serve as an Assistant Rabbi at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey.
Josh’s articles represent only his personal views and do not reflect the views held by the organizations of which he is or was a part.
Previously, Josh served as Associate Director of the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College and Director of Communications for the Coexist Foundation. He was a Founding co-Editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, as well as O.N. Scripture — The Torah, a weekly online Torah commentary featured on the Huffington Post.
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