On Saturday, February 11th, the programming committee of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas will be leading us in a Tu Bish’vat program. We hope that our local congregants will come out to celebrate this important holiday, and that each of our chai members, off-island, and sponsor members will be engaging in some form of celebration in your own communities. Tu Bish’vat (the 15th day of the month of Sh’vat) is often called the New Year for the Trees. What is a new year for a tree? The age of trees is outlined in the Torah in regards to tithing. According to Leviticus 19:23-25, fruits from trees are not to be eaten during the first three years; the fruit during the fourth year is to be given to God; and after that, we are allowed to eat the fruit. Tu Bish’vat was, then, invented as a way to keep count of how old each tree is, thus enabling us to know what to do with the fruit. After the 16th century, more formal ways to celebrate and observe the holiday were put in place. For modern-day Jews, who no longer tithe, Tu Bish’vat has become a day to remember and connect to the earth. It is a time to think about the environment, the climate, and our effect on nature.
This past month, I ordered and received a special-order book by one of my favorite authors, Seth Godin. Godin is a teacher, an author of 18 books, and a daily blogger. He holds seminars and lectures that have been attended by more than 500,000 people. He is the founder of Yoyodyne and Squidoo (companies that helped innovate online marketing and communication) and he’s the founder of altMBA, an online workshop for entrepreneurs, marketers, and business owners hoping to learn and improve their businesses. When I got the book, it was big. It’s as tall as a coffee table book and as thick as a dictionary. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautifully illustrated, high quality, with incredible writings inside and I can’t wait to read it. But with Tu Bish’vat around the corner, I thought, “C’mon Seth, isn’t this a lot of paper?” Of course, I should know better than to ask questions like that, as Godin was already ahead of me. When you open his book to the second page (the first says “Go, Make Your Ruckus”), you see a beautiful picture of a tree, and on the opposite page it reads:
Carbon Neutral: Working with Terrapass, we have published an offset of 229.02 mT CO2. We are planting twice as many trees necessary to be carbon neutral in the creation of this book.
Usually, when I read Seth Godin books or writings, I learn a lot, but I’m usually pretty on top of what he’s saying. This was one was tougher, and I was only two pages in! Who was Terrapass and what the heck is mT CO2? It turns out, mT CO2 is metric tons of Carbon Dioxide, used to compare the greenhouse emissions based on their global warming potential (GWP). Terrapass, founded in 2004 by Dr. Kaul Ulrich and his students at the University of Pennsylvania, is an organization that helps to provide education and tools to calculate businesses’ and institutions’ carbon footprint, create and operate emission reduction projects, and to develop new and renewable energy solutions. As for my Seth Godin book, Terrapass helped offset over 200 metric tons of CO2 so that we could read the book guilt free. According to Terrapass’ website, emissions reduction projects are the only way to negate the impact of the remaining CO2 emissions, after the ones we try to reduce ourselves. Therefore, when you give to Terrapass, they use money from your “offset” to fund renewable energy projects and methane capture projects. One of the coolest things I saw on their website was that they can calculate your monthly or yearly carbon footprint, and then calculate the cost to them to get your carbon neutral each month. This works for businesses and individuals.
So, back to Tu Bish’vat. I hope that this New Year of the Trees reminds us that we, like Godin, can individually and collectively create carbon footprints that add to the greenhouse gasses and climate change, and that we have the power to reduce them. Thanks to organizations like Terrapass, we can neutralize them by helping to fund projects that ultimately reduce our global carbon footprint. I encourage our congregants (on and off island) to go to http://www.terrapass.com and calculate your own carbon footprint. And for all of our chai members and sponsor members, perhaps this Tu Bish’vat you can chat with your rabbi, and your board of representatives, and see how your synagogue can reduce or neutralize their carbon footprints. I can think of no greater gift to give to the trees on their New Year’s Day.