Laws are rigid, often unforgiving and created to be applied equally. They exist for our protection, our safety, our well-being and the greater good. Alternatively, moral imperatives are the ideals that govern our actions — “doing the right thing.” Although a primary purpose is to reinforce that the world does not exist for our own self-centered interests alone, they are by nature inconsistent, integrating many value systems and social pressures.
While we have many environmental laws and regulations, a question I have been contemplating is: Do we have a collective moral imperative to live sustainably and to employ sustainable best practices? To explore this question, I Googled “moral imperative” and “sustainability,” yielding more than 900,000 very diverse results: business and energy models, risk assessment strategies, divestments and more.
It’s easy to deduce that not everyone has the same sustainable moral imperative, and if there’s not a common understanding of what sustainable practices are, it’s also not too difficult to fathom how — in the economic travails of today — the integration of sustainable practices could be a perceived threat to resource availability by adding yet another thing on our to-do lists.
Is sustainability even applicable to everyone? A brief survey to help assess relevance: Do you pay bills? Do you have assets? Do you use energy? Do you like to be comfortable? Do you breathe air and drink water? Do you purchase … anything? And if so, is there a more efficient way it can be done that utilizes fewer resources, impacts the environment less and adds value and long term benefits?
And so, we have the prized question: How do we — as a community — build long-term vision and strategy for accomplishing sustainable practices, where everyone sees themselves as a stakeholder and the outcomes are tangible, practical and realistic?
The answer, I believe, resides in how we approach the Next Gen. In the Talmud tractate Berachot, we read about the rabbinical interpretation of a word used in Isaiah to describe how we should educate our generations, the result of which will be peace: “Read not banayich, your children, but bonayich, your builders.”
This is the key to vitality and to our continued existence. Our children are the builders of the future. The tools we give them will influence their efficiency and effectiveness. How do we pass down the moral imperative of sustainability when we can’t agree on a common script? The answer, I believe, is that we don’t.
Our moral imperative is not to create uniform sustainable communities where we all act with the same intention but to pass on the importance of addressing these challenges and not to hide from them. Only in this way can the next gen craft viable, more resilient communities, which will in turn foster an even more sustainable world.
Aleeza Oshry is a local geologist, educator and sustainability consultant. She enjoys working with a large cross-section of the Baltimore Jewish community in which she lives with her husband and three children.