Protecting Creation: A Jewish Response to Climate Change

— Dan Segal, chair of Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Rear Adm. David W. Titley, Dr. Jalone L. White-Newsome and Dan Segal.

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Rear Adm. David W. Titley, Dr. Jalone L. White-Newsome and Dan Segal.

Climate change is one of the gravest issues facing our nation and our planet. As I write, over 150 world leaders are meeting in Paris at the UN sponsored Climate Summit which hopefully will address many of the dangers brought on by excessive production of greenhouse gas emissions.

Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century, a dramatic increase compared to the last 1000 years, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6°F over the next hundred years. Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.

Many places have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, or intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. The planet’s oceans and glaciers have also experienced some big changes – oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. As these and other changes become more pronounced in the coming decades, they will likely present challenges to our society and our environment.

Our reliance on fossil fuels comes with a host of dilemmas beyond its effect on the weather. We must be sensitized to the grave national security concerns created as nations become destabilized over lack of natural resources such as water. Solutions to climate change have an uneven effect on poor nations who are far less able to cope with the damaging effects of climate change than are wealthy nations and yet are being asked to help resolve a problem many of them feel they did not help create.

And yet day after day we flip our light switches, boot up our computers, and drive our cars. What should we do? While we cannot remove ourselves from the necessity of using energy, we have a moral obligation to alleviate the proliferation of greenhouse gasses as it will affect our lives on many levels.

Rear Admiral David W. Titley

Rear Admiral David W. Titley

Most scientists agree on what needs to be done, yet there is still doubt among many world leaders that we have the political will to carry through on what the scientists propose. Indeed the politicization of the topic in our country, in which far too many refuse to even admit to the existence of the problem threaten to divide our nation and put our planet further at risk.

As U.N Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told leaders as the UN talks in Paris began last week, “The future of your people, the future of the people of the world, is in your hands. We cannot afford indecision, half measures, or merely gradual approaches. Our goal must be transformation.”

Although international commitments and legislation in Washington are critical in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and increasing energy independence, our challenge at the local level, is not to wait passively for policymakers to make their next moves. Policy makers need to hear from all of you. We need to bring our communal, institutional and personal strengths to bear now.

Lynne Iser asks participants to pair off to discuss climate change.

Lynne Iser asks participants to pair off to discuss climate change.

It is for this very reason that JCRC decided to convene a Protecting Creation Forum for our Jewish community to help us understand the relationship between energy, security and the environment and our moral obligation particularly as Jews. Not that there aren’t many wonderful organizations already deeply involved in the issue of climate change, many of whom are co-sponsoring this program. But because of the critical nature of climate change, we at JCRC felt the need to bring the various groups together so that collectively, we could face this issue as a community. Our goal is for you to take what you learn here today back to your organizations and synagogues.

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