Notes from Limmud 2009
Should Jews Stop Flying To Israel?
Dan Bereloitz, R. Natan Levy, Hannah Weisfeld, Jess Gold
[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]
In recent years it has been acknowledged that climate change is a major threat. If the temperature rises more than two degrees, billions of people will be affected. We have between now and 2020 to peak our global emissions. We're currently on course to rise over four degrees. The general consensus is that this means our grandchildren will not have a nice time.
This is consensus amongst the 4000 scientists (nearly all climate scientists) on the IPCC that climate change is a reality, but in the UK, 60% of people do not believe in man-made climate change. Only a small minority of scientists is sceptical about climate change; much of the scepticism comes from big oil lobbies in the States. When the emails were leaked recently, the first country to come out and say the issue's been overblown was Saudi Arabia.
According to Nicholas Stern, the author of the government-commissioned Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, we need to invest 1% of our GDP [now upped to 2%] per annum in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and that failure to do so could knock global GDP down by up to 20%. 2003 was the hottest summer on record, until it was surpassed by 2006.
There is much more consensus in the IPCC than is portrayed in the media... but as an audience member [who rapidly turned out to be a climate sceptic] pointed out, the sceptics in the IPCC have either resigned or asked for their names to be removed from the report.
R. Levy said that though as an Orthodox rabbi he was very much in favour of doing something, his congregants do not prioritise the issue compared to their children's education, and so forth.
Can we as individuals do anything, or give in to our urges and let someone else deal with it? Jess: Yes, definitely. R. Levy made a difference by becoming a communal minister; Jess makes a difference with her songs; someone founded Greenpeace, someone founded Friends of the Earth.
Britain has the world's first climate change act. Britain has led the way in showing that there is an alternative. But we need the right policy and fiscal incentives: Businesses wanted a level playing field: they didn't want to be put at a disadvantage by being green if the company down the road wasn't. As Jews we need to make our views known, and made our government act.
Flying is about 5% of world climate impact. To Jess, every percentage point counts, though. How we heat our homes, and local transport, is actually more important. If every car in America was as efficient as in Europe, they would cut their emissions by 6%, which is equivalent to 50% of the UK's emissions. For us as individuals, though, flights make up a huge proportion of the carbon dioxide we are responsible for.
The problem about flying is that no one wants to take responsibility for the emissions—which country. But it does matter. If you fly for work, does your work take responsibility for it, or do you? If you have your wedding abroad, do you take responsibility for the emissions incurred by your guests flying there? [When I went to the wedding of my UK-based cousin and his fiancée in Nice the other year, I was the only wedding guest I spoke to who went there by train.]
It's much tougher giving up flying than to start cycling to work. We've grown up in a world which allows you to jump on a 'plane and see other cultures. This has been a positive thing overall. But until someone comes up with a way of flying without incurring huge carbon dioxide emissions, we should have to take reponsibility. And there will come a time when we will be forced to, because we all have our own personal carbon count.
So, should we stop flying to Israel?
No, but we should be more careful about how often we do so. We do it too much at the moment. Go for longer periods less often. Hannah used to go to Israel for a youth movement four times a year! We have to match our desire to go to Israel with the consideration of whether it is necessary. For example, do we need to go to Israel for a meeting, when we have Skype and can do videoconferencing?
Jess says she cannot justify any longer getting on the 'plane for herself. She had a friend who went to Israel by coach. It took him six days and he had a great time. Whilst she hasn't looked into the figures, she thinks it would be only a quarter of the emissions incurred by flying.
Freighting bananas from the Bahamas in a boat is still only a quarter of the carbon dioxide of flying.
Israel is predicted to suffer a 30% decrease in rainfall by 2050 [as a consequence of climate change, so the flying to Israel you do has a real contributory effect on the future of Israel].
R. Levy: Often there is an ideal in Judaism, and then the real. The ideal is get below two degrees' rise in temperature. It seems justice to demand that each of us drops from 15 tonnes of carbon a year to 2–3, and spread that load around the world:
Flying to Israel from the UK accounts for 1 tonne of carbon. That means if you want to fly to Israel, you have to save up your carbon usage for you and your family, intensively, over a period of time. Go once every ten years and make it a big deal.
The reality: The Chief Rabbi said, "Do not in any circumstances tell that to your community." R. Levy said, "What should I tell them?" The Chief Rabbi replied, "Buy one-way tickets."
There is a principle of לֹא מַלְאָכִים: we are not angels. We can't make laws we can't keep. It's better to do something [that's short of perfection] than to do something that's wrong. The spiritual welfare of our children depends on exposing them to Israel. But we need to wean ourselves off the idea that Israel is there for us to fall back on. UJIA currently sends children to Israel three times on average.
Until the time comes of going once every ten years, we have to make people deeply aware of the impact they have, and its consequences. When they go to Israel, they should call the JNF and the JNF would tell them plant so many trees, install solar energy and so forth.
An audience member from the UJIA: This is a business risk for the UJIA: one of the measures of their success is getting kids on aeroplane seats.
The best way to use our carbon budget is to go to Israel. Also, mitigation. (This is very difficult.) By changing all incandescent bulbs [in the UJIA office], that provided the equivalent of eight return flights to Israel. By moving their office to Camden Town, people switched to taking public transport their, saving the equivalent of forty return flights to Israel.
They're also working on the possibility of overland trips to Israel, but they're not very cost-effective.
Hannah: It's also a community issue: If UJIA stopped Israel trips, people would be banging their fists on the table saying we want trips to Israel.
Audience member: Israelis would be appalled to hear all this; they'd say we're being victimised again.
Audience member: Giving up flying to Israel would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces. What if tourism to Israel stops, and Israel collapses? Do we want a British Jewish community and an Israel? The audience member's daughter lives in Israel, his son lives in the UK; is he never to see one of them again?
Audience member: What climate change targets should the Jewish community set itself?
Audience member: We should do a lot more within the Jewish community on food miles.
Audience member: What is justifying your flight to Israel? If you're just using it to sit in a resort in Eilat, how can you call yourself an Israel lover?
Finally, I have a reference in my notes to This page refers to it as an NGO, but if so, it's very low profile: I can't find any reference to it on googling or by searching at the organisation that set it up.], "a cross-communal statement by rabbis on sustainability and environmentalism." [