Contributed by Machon Kaplan Intern Sam Rubin
As Jews, our sacred texts instruct us to properly dispose of waste. In Deuteronomy 23:14, we read: “And thou shalt have a paddle among thy weapons; and it shall be, when thou sittest down abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee.” In a modern context, this passage requires us to participate in moral acts like equitable discarding of raw waste and recycling. Further, we are specifically obligated to separate the noxious byproducts of waste from human dwellings. Mishnah Bava Batra 2:9 reads, “They must distance animal carcasses, graves and tanneries from a town by fifty cubits.” These historic community health practices sought to protect the townspeople through separation from hazardous biological materials. In today’s world of multinational oil and energy companies that emit industrial waste, the stakes are much higher. Both the Torah and Mishnah compel us, as Jewish people, to support efforts that expose improper, immoral pollution.
Earthworks, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to protecting communities and the environment,” has released an interactive Oil & Gas Threat Map. Separated by state and county, the Threat Map illustrates where oil and methane risk areas overlap with Americans daily lives. Earthworks’ innovative new website combines geo-specific technology, such as personalized alerts for users with active oil and gas wells near their home or school, with multimedia that visualizes otherwise invisible air pollution. The Oil & Gas Threat Map is accompanied by interviews with real people whose health has been negatively impacted by the fossil fuel industry. Together, evidence and testimonials serve to spotlight the scientific and human atrocity that is caused by fossil fuel production.
According to the Threat Map, 12.4 million Americans currently live within half a mile of an oil or gas well. With hazardous pollution and dangerous leaks often imminent, these unclean energy sources directly jeopardize 639 medical facilities and over 11,000 schools. Earthworks’ website also includes staggering cancer risk statistics. Based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “one-in-a-million” threshold level of concern, 9 million people in 238 counties spread over 21 states are subject to dangerous carcinogens from oil and gas facility emissions. Ubiquitous within urban, suburban, and rural areas alike, the threat of active oil and gas wells, compressors, and processors is dire.
Areas in which primarily communities of color constitute a sizeable portion of the populace are often subject to both deliberate and inadvertent environmental risk. To track this unjust trend, the Oil & Gas Threat Map lists African-American and Latino/a population numbers in all American counties. Unsurprisingly, Earthworks found that active wells disproportionately affect these marginalized communities, and contribute to the wider issue of multi-faceted climate injustice.
Bolstered by our tradition, we are responsible for the protection of our shared earth.
On May 12th, the EPA finalized methane standards for new and modified oil and gas facilities. The rule is expected to cut 510,000 tons of methane pollution and 3,900 tons of air toxics annually. Both are profound steps towards a sustainable, equitable planet, but these measures alone are not enough. Today, the ecological state of the earth is at constant risk from pollution. In the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the effects of this environmental degradation are already present. As corporations seek to expand offshore drilling, we encounter a germane opportunity to prevent further devastation in this sanctuary of wilderness and beauty.
Our obligation as Jews to protect and conserve must catalyze action. Tell the President and Congress to grant the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge the strongest possible protection here.
Sam Rubin is a rising Senior at Ithaca College, where he studies Music, English, and Politics. A native of Rockland County N.Y., Sam is passionate about the protection of our earth through international climate efforts.