Studying in Glasgow, 2021-2022 Fellow and Intern Ethel Mendius sees climate change as a local and global issue going beyond COP26.

Here she writes what the Jewish community now needs to do:

As a university student in Glasgow, it has been impossible not to confront the climate emergency. Back in November, COP26 encouraged each of us to decide how we wish to engage. My own action springs from this dialogue and is shaped by a Jewish tradition that encourages me to find sources of change in the world around me. The discussion I initiated in the Jewish student community in Glasgow has given me hope for our generation despite the challenges in store for us.

My internship at Tzedek made me recognise the need for vulnerable communities to participate in systems that insulate them from environmental devastation. I attended talks in the Green Zone at COP26 and heard activists from all over the world speak about their lived experiences of climate change, reminding us that action begins in our own communities.

Inspired by this message, I organised a session for Glasgow Jewish Society, guided by a handout of Torah sources. I wanted to gather the thoughts of the student population and lead a discussion about the Jewish values that necessitate climate activism. There were about fifteen of us, and a range of opinions and emotions between us, but also a lot of common ground.

“Much of the climate rhetoric we hear as young people is centred on the threat of extinction, but hopelessness is not in my Jewish practice.”

Much of the climate rhetoric we hear as young people is centred on the threat of extinction, but hopelessness is not in my Jewish practice. In a faith contingent on survival, with generations sustained through existential crises by the promise of descendants ‘as numerous as the stars of the sky’, it is hope for a better and fairer reality that sustains my activism. In a time when so many young people hesitate to bring children into this world, I am committed to making it inhabitable for mine.

I was encouraged by the response I heard at this session; the consensus was that carrying capacity is not the concern so much as the equitable and measured distribution of resources, which could ensure a prosperous future for all of humankind. Faced with a crisis unparalleled in Jewish history, it is our investment in generations to come that prompts us to demand change.

It is a challenge to approach a problem that requires collective action from a tradition that puts so much emphasis on individual responsibility, but I am heartened to see my peers find their footing in the larger response. Many Jewish students have since showed up demand action from the leaders who claim to represent us. Others, like myself, are seeking a professional path that will allow us to enact change.

“We demand that climate justice is seen as a Jewish issue across generations and denominations.”

As young Jewish people take the opportunity to lead where we can, we can also look within our communities and demand that climate justice is seen as a Jewish issue across generations and denominations. Our communities, in turn, must make space for this point of view. These conversations, and the action they inspire, will bring us all closer to repairing the world.


About the author

Ethel interned with Tzedek on a regular basis in 2021. During this time she reported live from Glasgow on COP26. Since, Ethel has been part of our 2022-2023 Fellowship cohort. She is currently studying a Masters in English Literature ad Linguistics and is the Vice President of the Jewish Society at the University of Glasgow.

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