Religious Perspective: We must protect
our beautiful lakes
By Miriam Porter
Canadian Jewish News
Published June 21, 2005
“God led Adam around all the trees of the Garden of Eden.
And God said to Adam, ‘See my works, how good and praiseworthy
they are? And all that I have created I made for you.
But be mindful then that you do not spoil and destroy
my world, for if you spoil it, there is no one after you
to repair it’” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13, eighth century
Judaism has a balanced and rational approach to environmental
issues that could be a source of pride to Jews and an
inspiration to everyone. However, our relationship with
nature is fragile, delicate, and needs our immediate attention.
On the news recently, the weather reporter listed Toronto
area beaches that were safe for swimming. Beaches not
on the list – which changes daily due to pollution levels
– were considered unsafe and swimming was not permitted.
Water pollution is a change in the chemical, physical
and biological health of a waterway due to human activity.
Ways that humans have affected the quality of the Great
Lakes over the centuries include sewage disposal, toxic
contamination with heavy metals and pesticides, over-development
of the water’s edge, runoff from agriculture and urbanization,
and air pollution.
Pollution puts the ecosystem out of balance and causes
serious destruction to nature, animals and humans. Water
pollution is caused in part by the disposal of waste into
a river or lake. In large or small amounts, dumped intentionally
or accidentally, it may get carried away by the current,
but it doesn’t disappear. It reappears downstream, sometimes
in changed form or just diluted.
When I lived in the United States in the 1990s and drove
by Exxon gas stations, the shocking image of helpless
ducks covered in oil invaded my thoughts. On March 24,
1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled approximately
11 million gallons of oil – equivalent to 125 Olympic-sized
swimming pools – in Prince William Sound off the coast
of Alaska. The spill was accidental, but the results of
this environmental tragedy were horrific.
The oil spread slowly over open water during three days
of flat calm seas. The estimated death toll from the spill
was 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals,
250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and billions
of salmon and herring eggs.
I never filled up my car with Exxon’s gasoline.
It’s now 2005. The current water pollution statistics
for the Great Lakes are devastating. Have we not learned
anything from the Exxon Valdez spill?
Canadian Press reported on June 8, that “despite government
claims pollution is decreasing, a new study says Canada
released a billion kilograms of toxic chemicals annually
in the Great Lakes basin from 1998 to 2002, with no significant
decline. Most of the chemicals were released into the
air – now recognized as the biggest source of pollution
affecting the lakes – by industries and public utilities.
The load in 2002 included three million kilograms of carcinogens
and almost 2,000 kilograms of mercury.”
Other sources report that water pollution in the Great
Lakes is causing severe damage to the aquatic environment
and to our health. Contaminated drinking water has caused
sickness and deaths, not to mention that many of our fish
are poisoned with chemicals, and sediment at the bottom
of the lakes is becoming increasingly toxic.
Our water is being polluted by municipal, agricultural
and industrial waste, including many toxic synthetic chemicals
that can’t be broken down by natural processes. Some factories
take large amounts of water from Lake Ontario, and after
using it, dump it back into the lake with high levels
of mercury. Soaps and cleaners with harsh chemicals also
add to the destruction of the most beautiful bodies of
water in the world. The Kyoto Protocol, an international
treaty designed to decrease global warming by cutting
greenhouse gas emissions, might help to change this.
It is our obligation to prevent further damage to our
beautiful lakes – because there is no one else to repair