Reform Movement Commends Senate Vote Supporting EPA

— Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Wednesday’s votes on Capitol Hill show us that it is possible to win the battle for clean air, but also how hard that battle will be.

We commend the Senate for voting against measures to prevent the EPA from doing its job of protecting the public from air pollution. At the same time, we are greatly disappointed by the House vote to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

Over the 41 years since it was first enacted, the Clean Air Act has contributed to improving our air quality, saving and enhancing untold lives that would otherwise have suffered with respiratory and other pollution-related ailments such as asthma, heart and lung disease.

Despite these successes, some in Congress are determined to strip the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouses gases under the Clean Air Act; putting polluters ahead of people. The Senate’s vote should be the start of an effort to ensure stronger energy and environmental policies – not a weakening of the laws that have been a keystone of American environmental and human health.

These attempts to undermine the Clean Air Act are an affront to the values and teachings that inspire us as Jews, chief among them the knowledge that it is our responsibility to till and tend the earth and not to exploit it. Now is the time to come together and urge, in the strongest possible terms, that Congress and the President enact and enforce effective energy and environmental policies, for ourselves and our children’s future.

Tu b’shvat


Reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog.blogspot.com.

— Rabbi  Arthur Waskow

Tonight is in Jewish tradition the midwinter time called “Tu B’Shvat”  for celebrating with a sacred meal of fruit, nuts, and wine the rebirth of trees and of the sacred Tree of Life that nourishes all the abundance of our planet.

(There is every reason for people of other religious and ethnic communities to join in celebrating the Earth that nourishes us all. And for some, this coming weekend may be a better time.)

In our world today, the flow of life that makes abundance possible is threatened by many Overdoings of the human race – especially by our pouring too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, heating and scorching the earth.

In the spirit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s teaching that “prayer is useless unless it is subversive,”  we must infuse Tu B’Shvat with some political action that protects the physical planet in which we live.  

Ideally, perhaps, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Heschel, we would hold the Seder by nonviolent direct action in the very offices of Senators who are trying to shatter the fragile defenses against climate crisis that are already in place.

But few of us are ready for that kind of action.  We propose instead, ending the Seder with a new ritual: writing, by hand, a letter to our Senators and to our local newspapers. (And you can do this any time, even without a Seder.)

We at The Shalom Center have made available a model text that our members and readers can modify and send your Senators.  You can use this letter
and we encourage you to add your own words and thoughts.

We also urge you to draw on and modify this text for a letter-to-the-editor of your own local and communal newspapers. (See the model text following the jump below.)

For more information on the mystical, intellectual, political, and physical aspects of Tu B’Shvat, see any of the articles on our website.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, peace —  Arthur
 
Sample Letter

Dear Editor,

I have just taken part in a sacred Jewish celebration of God’s creation and the rebirth in this wintry time of trees and of all life. Yet it is already clear that God’s command to protect and heal the Earth is being ignored as we pour still more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.

The rising epidemic of asthma, unprecedented floods in Pakistan and fires in Russia, extreme weather events in Nashville and other American regions, all tell us that the climate crisis is already damaging our lives and our planet.  

Some Senators and Congressmembers in the new Congress are hoping to restrict or cripple the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to carry out its court-ordered mandate to prevent emissions of  CO2 from poisoning our neighborhoods and our country.

We must join in opposing any and all efforts to restrict or cripple EPA’s authority to heal our neighborhoods and our Earth.

Shalom,

Every Economic Cloud Has a Silver Lining


National Geographic argues the need for balance across the world population in this motion graphic video.

Or at least a green one…

Dan Loeb

America is slowly coming out of a recession. That is good news.

Or is it?

Officially, the U.S. economy is in a recession when our Gross Domestic Product as measured by the U.S. Department of Commerce declines for two consecutive quarters. In other words, our economy has “failed” when we stop producing quite as much stuff as we used to. Apparantly, we Americans are not living up to our patriotic duties and through our consumption encouraging manufacturers to produce quite as much stuff.

Part of the problem with this analysis is that we are not including the depletion of our natural resources in our calculations. If we produce consumer products but deplete our national treasure of irreplaceable resources, consume natural resources at an unsustainable rate and ruin the environment for generations to come, are we really better off?

Some politicians would like a more robust recovery. However, if we keep the GDP growing at 5% per year, year after year, then the economy is growing exponentially.  This growth can only be supported so long in a finite world. At some point, the growth can no longer be sustained, and with a global population of over seven billion people can that day of reckoning be that far away,.

All publically traded companies aspire to build value for their shareholders. They try to maximize the discounted present value of their future revenue.

For example, suppose I own a piece of wooded land, I could clear cut the land, sell the wood to a lumber mill and the land to a real estate developer for an immediate payment of one million dollars. Alternatively, I could harvest only the maximum sustainable yield annual tree growth and thus produce, in a sustainable manner, a permanent revenue of, say fifty thousand dollars per year.

Anne Leonard’s Story of Stuff is a provocative tour of our consumer-driven culture – from resource extraction to iPod incineration – exposing the real cost of our use-it and lose-it approach to stuff.

Which is better?

If the million dollars in sales are invested at an interest rate of 7%, they produce permanent revenue of seventy thousand dollars per year, so a corporation mindful of their shareholders will cover the forest with asphalt as soon as they can.

If the country is in a recession and interest rates go down to 3%, the million dollars only return thirty thousand dollars per year, so a smart corporation will engage in sustainable development preserving the forest for future generations.

By this logic, people do not plan as carefully for the future if interest rates are high. However, should our stewardship of our resources and indeed this planet truly depend on interest rates? The stakes are quite high. This logic applies not only to timberland in the Northwest United States but to the Amazon rain forest as well.

Deficit hawks tells us that by running a deficit and running up a debt which future our children and grandchildren will have to pay, we are stealing from future generations. If so, then we can make an even stronger argument about our environment. Non-renewable resources such as petroleum are like bank accounts from which we are withdrawing assets but never make any deposits. The oil we withdraw from our proven reserves are gone forever and will not be available to future generations. Similarly, when we pollute, we are saddling future generations with an environmental debt, depreciating the value of our oceans and our atmosphere to our children and grandchildren.

The Gross Domestic Product should not the be-all and end-all of our society.

  • In this calculation, we fail to address the cost to the environment of removing the carbon dioxide producing forest, and burning the trees.
  • Reusing consumer goods by repairing them or reselling them on Ebay does not contribute to the GDP, but it does just as much to maintain our American standard of living without as heavy a toll on the environment.
  • If a company pollutes the environment producing a product and then spends money partially cleaning up their own mess, the GDP is increased not only by the cost of the product but also by the cost of the cleanup. Focusing on the GDP literally encourages the creation of new “Superfund” sites.

We should act as if the interest rate were truly zero. By valuing future generations – our children and our children’s children – at the same level as current generations, we may slightly reduce our gross domestic product, but we ensure adequate supplies for future generations and protect the environment.

Daniel E. Loeb publishes the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He is also a mathematician working in mathematical finance.

On 8 Days of Hanukkah, my True Love said to me…

… “Help Save The Earth”

— Rabbi Arthur Waskow

This year, the first night of Hanukkah comes unusually “early” in the solar year — Wednesday evening, December 1. As always, it comes when the moon is dark and the Earth is moving toward the winter solstice when (in the Northern Hemisphere) the night is as long as it gets, the sun is as dark as it gets.

In this time of darkness, we kindle a gathering bank of lights. If we are feeling depressed or despairing about our country, our world, our planet — now is the time to kindle new light.

There are three levels of wisdom through which Hanukkah invites us to address the planetary dangers of the global climate crisis – what some of us call “global scorching” because “warming” seems so pleasant, so comforting.

These are the deep teachings of Hanukkah:

More after the jump.

  1. The Talmud’s legend about using one day’s oil to meet eight days’ needs: a reminder that if we have the courage to change our life-styles to conserve energy, it will sustain us.
  2. The vision of Zechariah (whose prophetic passages we read on Shabbat Hanukkah) that the Temple Menorah was itself a living being, uniting the world of “nature” and “humanity” – for it was not only fashioned in the shape of a Tree of Light, as Torah teaches, but was flanked by two olive trees that fed olive oil directly into it.
  3. The memory that a community of “the powerless” can overcome a great empire, giving us courage to face our modern corporate empires of Oil and Coal when they defile our most sacred Temple: Earth itself. And the reminder (again from Zechariah) that we triumph “Not by might and not by power but by My Spirit [b’ruchi – or, “My breath,” “My wind!”], says YHWH, the Infinite Breath of Life.”

We are taught not only to light the menorah, but to publicize the miracle, to turn our individual actions outward for the rest of the world to see and to be inspired by.

So we invite you to join, this Hanukkah, in The Shalom Center’s Green Menorah Covenant for taking action – personal, communal, and political – to heal the earth from the global climate crisis.

And here is how we can encode these teachings of Hanukkah into actions we take to heal the earth, one action for each of the eight days:

After lighting your menorah each evening, dedicate yourself to making the changes in your life that will allow our limited sources of energy to last for as long as they’re needed, and with minimal impact on our climate.

No single action will solve the global climate crisis, just as no one of us alone can make enough of a difference. Yet, if we act on as many of the areas below as possible, and act together, a seemingly small group of people can overcome a seemingly intractable crisis. We can, as in days of old, turn this time of darkness into one of light.

  • Day 1: Personal/Household: Call your electric-power utility to switch to wind-powered electricity. (For each home, 100% wind-power reduces CO2 emissions the same as not driving 20,000 miles in one year.)
  • Day 2: Congregation, Hillel, JCC, retirement home, etc: Urge your congregation or community building to switch to wind-powered rather than coal-powered electricity. Call your utility company to learn how.
  • Day 3 (which this year is Shabbat): Automobile: If possible, choose today or one other day a week to not use your car at all. Other days, lessen driving. Shop on-line. Cluster errands. Carpool. Don’t idle engine beyond 20 seconds.
  • Day 4: Your network of friends, IM buddies, Facebookers, and the members of civic or professional groups you belong to: Connect with people like newspaper editors, real-estate developers, architects, bankers, etc. to urge them to strengthen the green factor in all their decisions, speeches, and actions.
  • Day 5: Workplace or College: Urge the top officials to arrange an energy audit. Check with utility company about getting one free or at low-cost.
  • Day 6: Town/City: Urge town/city officials to require greening of buildings through ordinances and executive orders. Creating change is often easier on the local level!
  • Day 7: State: Urge state legislators to reduce subsidies for highways, increase them for mass transit.In states (like Pennsylvania and New York) where high=rofit oil/ gas companies are trying to “frack” Oil Shgale deposits, demand a moratorium until we can get full inormation on
  • Day 8: National: Urge your Senators to strengthen the authority of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to regulate CO2 emissions from coal-burning plants, autos, oil refineries, etc. — for the sake of our planet’s climate, and to lessen asthma outbreaks among our children. Some Senators and Congressmembers are seeking to cripple the EPA, mostly to protect Big Coal.

Happy Hanukkah for you — and Planet Earth!

• For more information, to explore having your congregation or community becoming a partner in the Green Menorah Covenant, or to arrange for Green Menorah resource people to visit your community, please contact us at [email protected] or (215) 844-8494.