Updated: Sep 6
In Judaism, we say that our task as humans is Tikkun Olam, the lifting of the sparks in creation, or what is usually translated as repair of the world. I am a biblical scholar and a researcher of religious extremism, and in these ways, I was trying to lift the sparks. Several years ago, though, my work on counter terrorism took me in a new direction that was even more urgent – doing everything I could to help prepare us for the transitions that are here, with more coming, because of climate change.
You read that right: I didn’t say stopping climate change, I said preparing for transitions that are already here and still coming because of climate change. Of course, we need to do whatever we can to slow down the rate of climate change. But even if we stopped all carbon emissions today, it would still take hundreds of years for levels of greenhouse gases to return to pre-industrial normal levels, and for a long time our global warming would continue to increase. This is happening more quickly than expected: within the next two to three years, we will hit the mark of rise in global average temperature that climate scientists from just seven years ago thought we would hit by 2070 (i.e, a 1.5° C rise). It is now widely accepted that we are on trend for a global average rise of 3.2-4.0° C by the end of the century (i.e. nearly eight degrees F higher over land and sea, and thus even higher over land), creating a domino effect of conditions once thought to be sci-fi dystopias, but which are now projected by mainstream climate science. We’ve already seen it unfold this summer in the Pacific Northwest.
In less than three decades, the impact of these changes to society will be enormous. Scientists project there will be 250,000-500,000 climate refugees by mid-century (a 300-600% increase), with unprecedented stresses on food and potable water availability, millions of homes lost, and economic impacts on the most vulnerable, resulting in civil and military unrest in many parts of the world. We have seen this demonstrated recently in the Syrian civil war, which began with a drought. The stress to animals is also severe, with one quarter of animals currently at risk for extinction in the next few decades.
This scenario is why a few years ago I partnered with two co-founders, Rodrigue Makelele and Liz Blackman, to form BioEarth, which works to prepare societies for climate change resiliency, which necessarily includes peacebuilding and education. We’ve now publicly launched with a team of ten dedicated professionals, with a GoFundMe to cover initial operational costs and some projects (such as a BioVillage in the Shenandoah Valley). Any donation would help, but whether or not you are in a position to donate, I’d like to bring your attention to our One Billion for Peace pledge, which anyone can sign.
Our One Billion for Peace pledge is an audacious attempt to eventually get one billion people to commit to peace in all its dimensions, including ecological well-being, which is a necessary step to creating broad civilizational preparedness for climate change. Knowing that we stand at genuine crossroads in human history, we cannot avoid catastrophe in our children’s world unless we first reflect deeply on choosing peace. Peace is more than the absence of violence. It is not just physical, it is also cultural / religious, ecological, material, and psychological. When any of these dimensions is missing, peace is not sustainable, and when it is missing for some peoples, it will affect us all.
The Peace pledge is necessary because the future resiliency of society depends on all of us learning and working together. Covid-19 taught us that governments may be overwhelmed by novel environmental conditions and find it difficult to cooperate during global scale emergencies, our food and energy systems are fragile, and there are differing outcomes for populations based on geographic location and class. We also can’t depend arrogantly on supernatural intervention (I have a lot to say in future blogs on the erroneous interpretation of the Bible that presumes God won’t leave us to the consequences of our actions), or on a billionaire inventor who will magically develop a machine just in the nick of time. Covid vividly showed us that we really are all in this together, that our fates are interconnected, and that our societal systems as they are currently configured are fairly frail. (Note that it also taught us that stopping our world economies for three months would only temporarily reduce carbon emissions, which have now seen a net rise as we have resumed our prior way of life).
The Peace Pledge is not an operations manual – we will disagree on how to achieve peace. It is, however, important as a shared commitment to reflect on the goal of peace. It is a reminder that all five dimensions (physical, material, cultural/religious, ecological, and psychological) are necessary for sustainable peace, or else it is not true peace. This pledge is an intention setting tool for individuals to use in their personal lives and communities. If you are moved to sign or share it, we invite you to do so.
These are our contributions to Tikkun Olam or repairing the world, and I sincerely hope you’ll read the One Billion for Peace pledge and consider signing. You can find it at www.bioearthcommunity.com (where you will also see the GoFundMe, if you are so moved and able to help in that way). Repairing the world is possible.
If you would like to learn more about The Peace Pledge, check out Episode Ten of Root.ED Conversations and join the BioEarth founders as we introduce our One Billion for Peace Pledge, and share how we choose, wage and pursue peace in our work and our daily lives.