Let’s Take a Cue from MLK and Radicalize Tu Bishvat

We must embrace the Jewish values, the radical values, of the sanctity of life and fight for it.

Let’s be real. Millions, if not billions, of people are all going to die very soon if we don’t do something about climate change. Millions of people are already dying due to the climate crisis. As much as I wish this statement was a gross hyperbole, it isn’t. It’s a truth, backed up by scientific research that we have ignored for decades.

And, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I feel strongly that we should challenge ourselves to tell and face this truth, especially on a holiday that has already been diluted from the revolutionary and radical goals of its namesake, who once said that, “The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve.”

These words ring as true today as they did in 1967, when King dared to utter them. As Americans, we love to brag about our contributions to the world. But we must face the fact that our main contribution has been one of destruction; America has caused more climate change than any other country in the world.  

For me, it’s also significant that the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat (The New Year for Trees) falls on MLK Day this year — which could be one of the most critical years for the kind of dramatic environmental reform required to mitigate this crisis. Believe me, I wish Tu Bishvat could remain as it’s been, a fun holiday about trees that you almost forget about, if you knew about it at all. But with a looming and bleak future of destruction staring us directly in the face, I feel we have a responsibility, as Jews, to make this holiday infinitely more radical.

We have been entrusted with the care of a planet that we are rapidly destroying, which means that we are also rapidly destroying any chance that future generations have at life and happiness. I cannot think of anything more antithetical to Jewish values. I want my future children and grandchildren to grow old, not die in a natural disaster caused by human error and pride.

This moment that we’re in, this movement that we must join, requires great bravery and sacrifice. It requires a revolutionary way of thinking, much like the way of thinking that the anti-capitalist Martin Luther King Jr. possessed. It requires a great deal of maturity, as we can’t keep putting action off. The crisis is here now, with climate change reportedly killing up to 300,000 people a year.

So Monday, on MLK Day and Tu Bishvat, I challenge you to become radical. I challenge you to connect our current ecological crisis to the social, political, and economic forces that give the crisis life. I challenge you to embrace the Jewish values, the radical values, of the sanctity of life and fight for it.

For you, that may look like several different things. Maybe it’s donating money for hundreds of trees to be planted to offset our carbon imprint. Maybe it’s reducing air travel or eating much less meat. Maybe it’s protesting at the Capitol, demanding that our politicians support the Green New Deal that freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sponsored. Maybe it’s providing support for refugees of climate crises, who disproportionately experience sexual and domestic violence.

Whatever your radical action looks like, I urge you to take it. We’re running out of time. For many, it’s already too late. But we can always change our course.

Nylah Burton

Nylah Burton is a writer of good journalism and mediocre poetry. She has been described by racists and anti-Semites as “emotional, disrespectful, and volatile.” She thinks this is the best review of her writing she’s ever received. Her grandma has it on the Fridgidaire.

Read More