While I’m learning a lot of fascinating things in my first few months of graduate school, I feel like my learning is very disconnected, and I am having trouble making sense of the bigger picture. Some of the urgency to find solutions and improve lives that I felt while working in Nepal has dissipated as the pressure of finishing economics problem sets mounts. I’ve been trying to find opportunities to tie together my experiences in Nepal, my coursework and my own personal experiences, and often come up short.
But occasionally, there are moments when I feel something come together. A few weeks ago in the “Foundations of Sustainable Development” class that is part of our required curriculum, we read and learned about climate change and its impact. After attending the climate march, witnessing the massive environmental destruction in Kathmandu and spending the summer thinking about Shmita, I felt I had to give myself a chance to explore the subject a little deeper.
And so, a video on climate change and Shmita. I am certainly no expert on either subject, but I thought it would be an interesting thought experiment to put the two issues in conversation with each other. In my learning on climate change and on Shmita, I have been overwhelmed with a sense that we need to take greater responsibility for the planet and our human impact on it, but I have yet to come across a good plan for how to do this. I thought the emphasis in Shmita on social and cultural effects and outcomes of agricultural policies would make an interesting counterpoint when discussing climate sensitivity.
One of the most interesting things I discovered as I was interviewing sources (which unfortunately did not make it in to the final video because the story took a different turn), was the agreement between a Bible expert, Professor Robbie Harris at JTS, and a climate expert, Professor Shiv Someshwar of the Earth Institute, of the impact of applying Shmita to the entire planet. Immediately, both answered that people would starve because there would not be enough food.
To me, this was actually the most compelling indicator that we, a population of over 7 billion, are already pushing up against the planetary boundaries. The fact that we cannot afford not to use all the agricultural land we have available all the time, lest people starve, is scary. With the population predicted to rise over the next few decades and our resources already stretched, we do not have the luxury not to produce at as high a capacity as possible. Yet it is precisely this single-minded focus on production that is the source of our problems now.
I don’t have the solution (obviously), but I hope that this video provides a new angle on thinking about land use and planetary boundaries. Perhaps we can find solutions, or at least inspiration, in some unexpected places…