by Rabbi Shlomo Levin
On Passover we read about the four children- the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. Each has a different attitude toward the Passover holiday, and we can often picture a stereotype of what type of person they represent. What if these same four children discussed the environment? What kinds of people could we imagine them to be?
Recently Airbus reported the sale of the first private passenger version of its A380 super jumbo jet, to be called the “flying palace.” An unidentified buyer intends to spend more than $300 million to purchase the largest commercial aircraft ever built, designed to carry 550+ passengers, for his own personal use and pleasure. That means he will be using a vehicle that requires 82,000 gallons of fuel per fill up for private transportation. From an environmental perspective, here is someone we may envision as a wicked child. He takes for himself while not considering the resources made unavailable to others or the environmental harm his actions cause and from which others will suffer. How am I supposed to feel trying to conserve gasoline when I drive while he is flying around in this giant airplane?
The Haggadah’s response to the wicked child is “You should set his teeth on edge- tell him that if he was in Egypt he wouldn’t have been redeemed.” Similarly, people that flagrantly disregard the impact of their actions on our environment need to be forcefully told that their behavior is wrong. All the better if this would be done by a government taxing away all their money. Short of that, we need to treat people that behave like this in a way that shows that we are not awed or impressed by their wealth. Rather, we hold them in contempt due to their lack of values. We should let them know that their riches are an embarrassment to them because they make their moral shortcomings more public and visible.
Who is the simple child, whose question consists only of the words, “What is this?” These may be people that are concerned about the environment but due to their limited resources and the pressures of making a living are unable to do anything to improve it, and may even make it worse. For example, one of the main causes of deforestation of tropical rainforests is impoverished farmers cutting down trees in order to increase the land available to them to grow crops. The environmental consequences of this are severe- species are driven to extinction as their natural habitats are destroyed, local climate is altered, and carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming.
Quite possibly, the individuals doing this regret the environmental consequences of their actions and would refrain from them if they felt they could. But the immediate need to support themselves and their families via the only means they know trumps all other concerns.