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How Can Higher Ed Address the Biggest Sin of Our Time?

By Sharon Chen
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Echoing Pope Francis’ exhortations to act on climate change, Professor Laurie Zoloth, the director of the Center of Bioethics, Science and Society at Northwestern’s University of Medicine, has called climate change the “core moral issue of our time.” To Professor Zoloth, ignoring climate change is akin to sin; “chet,” the Jewish concept of sin, means “missing the mark.” For Zoloth, “if you understand the science and its implications, and yet, you continue to live in such a way that your (greenhouse gas) emissions are destroying the capacity of the planet to be a safe place, I would say that your actions ‘miss the mark’ if your goal is to live a decent and just life.”

You don't have to be a scientist to contribute to climate change solutions; "science can tell us why, but only policy can tell us how," Zoloth states. Higher education is uniquely positioned to both lead in science and policy: by working across disciplines, and by drawing on the vast and diverse store of talent and knowledge found on college campuses, higher education can lead on what many are increasingly seeing as the most important moral issue of our time.


Religious studies professor: Ignoring climate change akin to sin

Nathan Rubbelke | The College Fix | October 23, 2015

A Northwestern University bioethicist who has called climate change the “core moral issue of our time” said she believes ignoring the phenomenon is akin to sin.

Professor Laurie Zoloth, who directs the Center for Bioethics, Science and Society at Northwestern’s School of Medicine, told The College Fix that she agrees with the suggestion recently made by the head of the Episcopal Church that ignoring climate change is “sinful.”

Zoloth, who specializes in Jewish studies, said that sin is the language of Christianity, but that “chet” – the Jewish concept of sin – means “missing the mark,” and matches with the claims made by the Episcopal leader.

If you understand the science and its implications, and yet, you continue to live in such a way that your (Greenhouse Gas) emissions are [LaurieZoloth] destroying the capacity of the planet to be a safe place, I would say that your actions ‘miss the mark’ if your goal is to live a decent and just life,” Zoloth said.

The other peg of Zoloth’s argument is that of a sabbatical year, which she says is rooted in her studies of Jewish scriptures.

“I use the source texts of Jewish thought to make my arguments. For example, I use the practice of having a sabbatical year to argue that we, too, should take a year off every seven to let the earth rest. In concrete terms, for academics, that would mean no big conferences, and no academic flying,” she said.

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