The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Photo by Oliver Morrison/PublicSource
“I’m fifteen years old, and a sophomore in high school. In my decade and a half living in America, I have inhaled the equivalent of about five-thousand-five-hundred cigarettes, when in reality I’ve never touched one. I’m only a teenager and that is an outrageous number. There are millions of people who have breathed this poor air for far longer than me, getting sicker and sicker with every breath they take. It is shameful that so many Americans - 150,000 - die prematurely each year from preventable pollution related causes.”
That’s how I started my testimony at the SAFE (Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient) Vehicles Proposed Rule public hearing on September 26th. This rule would lower the greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2021-2026, which could increase U.S. oil consumption by 881,000 barrels per day by 2035 and cost car owners $1,650 over the lifetime of their vehicle.
Increasingly, environmental rollbacks are happening not in Congress, but as part of the federal rulemaking process. Instead of having legislators vote on bills, departments like the EPA or HHS can change the way they interpret and implement laws. For example, the Department of Interior can change the size of national parks or the EPA can change how they determine which species are considered endangered. Since assuming office, The Trump administration has rolled back over 70 regulations this way.
Even though I’ve always cared about the environment, I had always thought of it as a scientifically technical issue detached from real people’s lives. It wasn’t until this summer at URJ GUCI that I truly started to understand climate change. A staff member who had taken classes regarding environmental justice at college during the previous school year had several discussions with my friends and I over the course of the month-long session. Those conversations were the only science classes I’ve ever truly enjoyed.
We discussed the disasters of the summer, from the fires in California and Greece to the torrential flooding in India, as well as what climate change will bring in the future. I was overwhelmed with the work that needed to be done. As Pirkei Avot says, “you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Climate change calls for our timely action; if we desist from the work to fight climate change now, no one will be able to complete it in the future.
When I got back from camp, I got involved with an environmental nonprofit, where I learned about the upcoming hearing. I soon signed up to speak and wrote my testimony. I was eager to let the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration know how I felt: the SAFE Vehicles Rule was economically irresponsible and detrimental to public health.
As my friend and I were waiting in the hotel before it started, we were approached by a reporter from a local news site who wanted to interview us. It was refreshing to see that that publication cared about the issue and that two high schoolers were involved.
The hearing started, and there were lots of truly compelling testimonies from government officials or their surrogate speakers, doctors, parents, people with pollution-related illnesses, college students, and more. Each spoke eloquently on why repealing the CAFE standards would be damaging to the health of the world and the people in it. When I spoke, it felt good to deliver my view of the proposal directly to employees of the EPA and NHTSA. Even though I only spoke for two and a half minutes, I know those words will help to shape the agencies’ final decision, and therefore our air for countless years.
Even though I testified, the work isn’t done. You can join me and the RAC in submitting your own comments to the EPA. It’s not too late to submit your own comments opposing this rule.
This week, we read Parashat Noah. After God destroys the Earth, God makes a covenant with Noah, symbolized by the rainbow, that God will never destroy the world again. While God will no longer destroy the world, we are. Our greenhouse gas emissions and other actions are hastening the impacts of climate change, and time is running out. Join us in our work to protect the environment for us and generations to come.
Abigail Segel is a 10th grader in Pittsburgh, PA. She is a member of Rodef Shalom Congregation, and is the Social Action Vice President of her temple youth group. She has attended URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute for the past 8 summers. She loves to play soccer, travel, and cook.