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Notes from a Small Planet: Middle-Aged and Elderly Women Can Save the World

Basia Yoffe
April 27, 2014
by Basia Yoffe [caption id="attachment_27693" align="aligncenter" width="477"]Our write being arrested at the Keystone Pipeline protests in Washington, DC Our writer being arrested at the Keystone Pipeline protests in Washington, DC in 2011.[/caption] FIVE YEARS AGO, I began writing about environmental issues for Jewish Currents. The best part of this adventure has been the new circles of friends I have acquired. I have written about the younger ones, many of them involved in farming and food activism. Today I want to write about my "Grey Khevre." These are women in their late fifties to early seventies whom I have met through the Teva Seminar, Hazon, and Eden Village Camp. Early on in my activism, I feared being perceived as a crazy, grey-haired old woman who was just trying to hang out with young kids. It was a great relief, and a surprise, to find out that there are others of my age group who are as dedicated to environmental salvation as I. Knowing them has made me a smarter, more inspired, and more aggressive activist and writer than I would have been without them. My friend Marion Stein was in a still photograph of a protest in the film Gasland II. This past fall she participated in the Israel Hazon bike ride. Marion is a very well-informed activist. She alerts me to articles and prompts me to do research for hours in order to answer her questions. My friends Cari and Donald Gardner joined the Cowboy and Indian Alliance to be arrested at the latest Keystone XL Pipeline protest in Washington DC (April 26th). Cari and Donald are also working on a project to bring composting to all of Hastings-on-Hudson. Cari has a gift for thinking through issues, which challenges me to think more deeply. She and Marion are two women I communicate with every week, sometimes several times a week. Other awesome women with whom I confer are Mirile Goldsmith of Hazon, Esther Altaras Meyers of Brotherhood Synagogue, Stacey Rifkin of the Philadlphia Jewish environmental community, and Pam Frydman, who has worked tireless for food justice in Milwaukee. ABOUT A MONTH AGO I sent an e-mail to all of them alerting them to a trend I was seeing in the news and in blogs. The first item that raised my eyebrows was the Senate's marathon filibuster to promote climate action, which Ralph Nader discussed on Democracy Now. Second was the Department of Defense's Quadrennial Review, which cited climate change as a security threat. Third was the American Association for the Advancement of Science's report, "What We Know," detailing the climate-change issue for lay people. It came out around the same time as the Royal Society and U.S. National Academy of Science's report — and the climatologist Michael E. Mann's Scientific American article, in which he warns that we may cross a dangerous climate-change threshold in 2036, just twenty-two years from now. As if all of this were not enough, Showtime has announced a climate change series entitled “Years of Living Dangerously.” My friends responded with their own observations, and one noted that she thought this was all in anticipation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fifth assessment report. This seemed to be the case, as Gina McCarthy, head of the Environmental Protection Administration, has recently been on the talk-show circuit touting the President’s climate-change agenda and making reference to scientific consensus and the IPCC report. In addition, Organizing for Action, which was created by the Obama campaign during the presidential election, has just published an list of climate-change deniers that provides an excellent tool for activists and organizers. All of these are signs of a human race that may be coming to its senses about the challenges of global climate change. CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS IMPACT, and our own possible methods of adaptation and mitigation, are complicated to understand. Yet a simple way to think of it is to consider your own bathtub as the Earth's atmosphere, and water as greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, and other heat-trapping gases). The source of these greenhouse gases is the faucet, while the drain is the "sink," the way we remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. If the faucet pours in more water than the drain takes out, we have problems. To avoid catastrophe, we have to slow the rate of water coming in — and unplug the drain. We slow the rate by transitioning to solar, wind and other renewables, by using energy more efficiently, and by making agriculture more carbon-neutral. We unclog the drain through more responsible land use, and by planting more forests and preserving the ones we have. In the U.S., the problem, to a large extent, is that before our plumber adjusts the faucet and unclogs the drain, he needs approval of the United States House of Representatives — and the Republicans there are unwilling to pay the plumber's bill. Humanity is lucky to have so many people like my “Green Khevre” ladies — and there are many more people like this around than you can possibly imagine. You could be one, too, most likely. No one becomes awesome over night — but if you can survive seeing kids through adolescence and keeping a household together, you'd be surprised at how easy saving the world can be. Basia Yoffe conducts the “Notes from a Small Planet” column in Jewish Currents; she is also a member of our magazine’s editorial board and a very active activist.