Daniel Zaas / Lantern photographer
What do religious teachings say about climate change, recycling or organic food? Do major religions such as Christianity, Islam or Judaism agree or disagree on issues affecting the environment?
Ohio State’s School of Environment and Natural Resources opened a dialogue on these questions at the Ohio Union Wednesday night with the first in a series of lectures on “Abrahamic Faiths and the Environment,” to be held across campus this month.
The opening lecture attracted about 130 students and community members for a discussion on what the keynote speaker called “Eco-Judaism.”
Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, a Jewish environmental educator and Rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation near Washington, D.C., was the first of three lecturers on the role religion plays in shaping adherents’ views on environmental issues.
“Everything we do, from facilities to programming to sustainable food production, is how we meet the expectation that the creator wants us to take decent care of creation,” Dobb said.
Dobb leads worship at a Bethesda, Md., synagogue rated with the government’s Energy Star rating for energy efficiency.
Rabbi Ben Berger, senior Jewish educator at OSU’s Hillel Jewish Student Center, said educating college students about faith and environmental responsibility is a new passion for the center and its staff.
“Our work at OSU Hillel is to focus on issues in the lives of our emerging adult cohort on campus,” Berger said. “Faith has the power to push us to make a difference, to be the responsible people we need to be.”
Series organizer Greg Hitzhusen, environmental lecturer in the School of Environment and Natural Resources, said the event exceeded any of the organizers’ expectations.
“It was standing room only for an 80-seat room on an unexpectedly-snowy March evening,” Hitzhusen said. “Who knew that so many people would turn out to explore Jewish environmental thinking?”
Casey Slive, a second-year in environmental geography and international development, addressed the crowd on students’ perceptions about religion and environmental issues.
“I’ve gained a really great appreciation for nature and all life forms,” Slive said. “We’re starting to recognize an interconnectedness, and I’m concerned about our direction toward overconsumption.”
Slive, recipient of the Bloch Endowed Scholarship for Jewish students who are passionate about environmental issues, said the lecture series was groundbreaking for being a “zero-waste event.”
Part of the university’s commitment to sustainability, Slive said that by composting food and biodegradable waste and segregating recyclables, groups and events can now divert as much as 90 percent of waste from a landfill.
The talk about environmental Judaism was the first on campus to utilize OSU’s attempts toward a zero waste program.
Corey Hawkey, sustainability coordinator, said university departments and organizations can now apply to use the program, which provides waste bins and signage to approved campus events.
In addition to Wednesday’s Rabbinical panel, the lecture series will feature sessions focusing on the environmental teachings of Islam and Christianity, Hitzhusen said.
The second lecture will focus on environmental issues in the context of Christianity on April 5 at the St. Thomas More Newman Center on Lane Avenue. The final lecture, on Islamic perspectives on the environment and public health, is scheduled for April 12 in the Ohio Union’s Great Hall.