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Archive for June, 2008

In memory of the late George Carlin, we’d like to present to you his take on environmental protection and, “Saving the Planet.” We’ll offer our take at the end, too. Enjoy!

(If you can’t see the video player, click here)

Absurdities aside, Mr. Carlin makes some important points:

1. Environmentalists have often inspired people to worry, not to change. Those who aren’t worried find it hard to take them seriously.

We need to acknowledge potential crises without clouding them in doom. Awareness is a good thing! The chance to live better is even better!

2. Carlin’s right- “The planet’s not going anywhere. We are.” (If we don’t make some big changes.)

As my wife’s ecology professor likes to say, when we’re gone, “The roaches will still be here,” as will many of their friends. Our fight to control climate change, desertization, water-shortages, etc. are essentially fights for our survival.

Environmentalists biggest mistake was to identify the cause as saving something called “the environment.” When they did that, they made it external to us. By calling eco-crises “of the environment,” they were placed in a class with trees and bees, whales and snails. I’m a backpacker and love mountains and trees- and bees and snails. But the ecological challenges we face today are of a very different nature than protecting Nature.

3.. Plastic is one of earth’s children.

Okay, that part’s not true. Probably not, at least.

We have a powerful role in earth’s ecosystem, and we can choose whether we want that role to be one of nurturing life or abuse and destruction.

Choose life!

A big thanks to Mr. Carlin. Rest in peace and good humor old man!

By Yannai Kranzler

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“For the Jewish community to make a difference on environmental issues, we need brutal honesty to begin with. Jews are now roughly 0.2% of the world’s population; less than the margin of error on the Indian census. If all the Jews in the world recycle their newspapers it will make… pretty much no difference whatsoever. Nor if we put a solar-powered ner tamid in every synagogue, nor, more radically, if every Jew in the world swapped their existing car for a hybrid.”

-Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon. Click here for the full article.

“Our home planet Earth is undergoing rapid and sustained destruction of its eco-systems… Muslims comprise at least one fifth of the human community and they can contribute much to the thinking that is vital to re-evaluate the future direction of the human community and save its home for itself and other life forms.”

– The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES)

What a difference one fifth of the world could make!

And us Jews? We sure are a little nation, but as history tells us, we have tremendous power to inspire ethical behavior, mobilize social change and spearhead the technology with which to bring that change about.

If our species is to control the ecological crises that we face today, then we’d best focus where we each can help, and filter out where we cannot.

I recently led a session at Green Up Your Campus, a program of Derech Hateva/Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel for gap-year students in Israel beginning college next year, on Sustainability’s “Three R’s,” Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

To introduce the discussion, each member of the group was to list one area of “green” living that they did not want to incorporate into their personal lives, or something they’d much rather not give up in the name of fixing the world.

I spoke about loving new books. The smell, their look on home’s bookshelf, the crispness of new book covers. One girl mentioned long showers. Someone else said he could never give up on driving.

And then we began to analyze: If I really love new books, maybe I can lend them to someone who doesn’t. Perhaps even to the guy who loves driving. And he can give me rides, because I don’t care that much about driving. The long showers girl can be ultra-conservative with water when she washes dishes. Or she can engage in something of a Kyoto Protocol on Hygiene- trading “Shower-water” credits with friends.

Common sense might imply that the more we negate our “Footprint” on the world the better off the world will be. But “Ecology” tells us about ecosystems-relationships between species, many to most of which we are a part. And as any good relationship goes, all sides must contribute of themselves- of what makes them individual- in order for the whole to thrive.

At Jewish Climate Initiative (JCI), we are working to develop the Jewish voice- to channel our collective passion and individual ingenuities to impact our fellow humans, to view our climate of change as an opportunity that begs us to live in a conscious harmony with the universe, its creations and resources.

We invite you to visit us at www.jewishclimateinitiative.org and learn more. The whole climate change thing is pretty terrifying- but we’re an optimistic People, and do not believe we’re given challenges we cannot handle. And if we tackle this one creatively and with a hopeful spirit, it is going to a have a happy ending, and many proud and better people to show for it.

By Yannai Kranzler

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We were there, in the Negev Desert on Thursday afternoon, June 12th 2008, when Luz 2
inaugurated its first solar energy generating plant.

Two of the JCI team, Michael Kagan and David Miron Wapner had a hand in setting up the company two years ago ago, so it was a proud day for them. For me it was somewhere between science fiction and biblical prophecy.

Luz2 has figured out how to produce solar energy more efficiently and cheaply than anyone else. The technology is dazzling. (Sorry!) In a tract of the Negev near Dimona, 1641 heliostats, 7 metre square mirrors, are geometrically arrayed around a 60 Metre high tower. Perched on the tower is a 15 meter tall boiler, containing densely packed silvered pipes. The mirrors are programmed to track the movements of the blazing desert sun so as to concentrate reflected sunlight precisely on designated spots on the boiler surface. This solar targeted energy heats water in the pipes to temperatures of over 500 C, generating steam that drives turbines that produces electricity. If you want a fuller description than my rudimentary science can provide, see Luz2’s site.

Inside the hospitality marquee we ate canapes on square plates and saw videotaped messages from venture capitalists, investment banks and customers who are backing the project. The Pacific Gas and Electicity Company has just signed a deal with Luz for a generating plant in the Mojave desert that will be the biggest solar energy source in the world, roughly 50 times bigger than the baby in the Negev. The company’s vision is huge. They aim to build hundreds of these things all around the world over the coming twelve years, producing electricity that can compete with and eventually undercut coal and gas powered plants. This is technology that can produce affordable, efficient solar power, and lots of it. It offers hope that we can switch to renewable sources of energy and avert dangerous climate change in the coming decades.

Arnold Goldman, Luz’s visionary founder observed in his speech that the site of the plant is called “Rotem”, a type of bush in Hebrew. Goldman remarked that “siach” the general name for a bush means conversation, and that the intense conversations that led to the development of this technology in a certain sense inhered in the physical plant of the mirrors and boiler themselves. In a remarkable book, “Moving Jewish Thought to the Centre of Modern Science”, Goldman develops a Kabbalistic theory of language and explains how it underlies the work of Luz. His comments about the Rotem bush were the only hints at such thinking that Goldman gave to this corporate audience.

After the speeches, the public address system played “Here comes the Sun”, by the Beatles. I thought of the Biblical verse, …”to you who fear my Name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing on its wings.” (Malachi 3:20.)

When I got home I told my technology-mad children where I’d been and what I’d seen. I suspect that one day I will be telling my grandchildren.

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In the debate between environmentalism and ecology the two can be differentiated along the male-female dialectic.

Thus the former can be loosely viewed as the identification of a problem and its attempted solution – a sort of head to head approach – a stereotypical male stance. Whereas the latter is about the welfare of the house (ecology is Greek for ‘the knowing of the House’) and the concern for the myriad complex relationships that take place in the home environment – a stereotypical female stance. So it is more about relationships than it is about problem solving or struggle or apportioning blame or lobbying.

In the scheme of the festival cycle (see the introduction to the Holistic Haggadah, Urim, 2004) Shavuot is the most overwhelmingly feminine of them all.* Its prime foci are: the ‘wedding’ at Sinai, the Book of Ruth, the eating of milk products, the greening of the synagogues, and the chanting of parts of the Zohar in the Sephardi Tradition.

Starting with the last and working backwards: in the Sephardi tradition the purpose of staying up all night (tikun liylah) is not for the sake of intellectual achievement or for the gaining of a little bit more knowledge (this should be done all year round) but rather to prepare for The Receiving by chanting (not studying) mystical texts that bypass the cerebral cortex raising the energy of the Receiver – a sort of Mystical Union. The greening of the synagogue is a visceral reminder of the Garden of Eden** – the original womb – where we roamed at peace with the animals, drinking of their milk and not of their flesh. And milk is the symbol of motherhood, of lovingkindness, of Giving which is the attribute of Ruth – the woman of lovingkindness (for isn’t ruthless the absolute lack of lovingkindness?).

So Shavuot is the bridge between now and then. And the Book of Ruth which is more than just a story about women – is the story about relationships, ALL relationships. Almost every relationship that effects one’s life is touched upon in this little book – husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, in-laws, between women, between men (David and Jonathan), between generations, between the insiders and the outsiders, between the rich and the poor, between the haves and the have-nots, between the bosses and workers, between family members, between ourselves and the land and nature, between the past, present and future, between this world and the messianic world, between life and death, between mother and child, between lovers.

And finally there is the wedding in which we reaffirm our relationship with the Creator.

Blessings for Shavuot

Michael Kagan

Some of the other festivals can be allotted as follows: Tisha B’Av is male since it is the destructive anger of the father (Av is Hebrew for father); Tu B’Av is the reconciliation of male and female; Rosh Hashannah is more male than female since it is the day judgment; Yom Kippur is more female than male since it is the day of forgiveness; and Succot is the perfected balance between male and female – sitting in the womb like succah waving around a palm fond and fondling an etrog (citrus fruit).

This connection between Shavuot and The Garden is hinted at in the use of the definitive article in the Creation story – and it was evening and morning of THE sixth day (rather than day six as with the conclusion of the previous days of Creation). Rashi asks: to what is THE sixth day referring? And answers: to THE sixth day of Sivan – Shavuot.

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Just back from an amazing trip to the US where I met some extraordinary thinkers and doers making a difference in the field of climate change and religion. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be unpacking some of the experiences and insights that I brought home with me, as well as inviting some of the people I met there to guest blog on Climate of Change.

In San Francisco, I attended a staff meeting at Saatchi S (sustainable), the green arm of the world’s largest marketing and advertising company. Their clients include Walmart and GE. Saatchi’s is a business, not a religious movement. But what I saw there is incredibly relevant to understanding what religions can do about climate change.

Saatchi S is run by Adam Werbach, environmentalist enfant terrible (he was President of the Sierra Club at 23) now turned corporate businessman. A few years ago he founded Act Now, an environmental consultancy, which was bought by Saatchi’s in January for an eye-popping amount of money. The company still occupies offices on the same dilapidated street in San Francisco’s Mission District, distinguished from the neighbours only by the gleaming green, blue and brown recycling bins standing outside the entrance.

Inside, there are a lot of bright, creative and idealistic young things, most of whom wear cheerful lapel buttons, bearing catchy messages like “I’ve met my personal health sustainability goals.” The clients are big on lapel buttons, the woman who designs them explained proudly. It gives the staff a sense of achievement about the changes they’ve managed to make.

The Personal Sustainability Plan (PSP), which the buttons celebrate, is a cornerstone of the Saatchi S philosophy. Every staff member of every client company they work with has a PSP. That commits the employee to taking small but definite steps towards making his or her own life more environmentally sustainable, whether by giving up smoking, carpooling, buying a hybrid, whatever is practical for that person. In the case of Walmart that means over 1 million people.

Employees are encouraged to make changes that reflect values they really care about. That way they are more likely to stick. This is based on another important insight of Saatchi S: everyone cares in a deep inner place about their natural environment. The challenge is to find that place in each person.

The biggest obstacle is “to detach sustainability from politics,” as Jamie, one of the trainers, put it to me. “Environmentalism is pegged as a pinko liberal, East Coast cause. We’ll go into a company in Tennessee, and ask, “come on, hands up who expected us to come here in tie-dye T-shirts, eating organic Trail Mix.” All the hands go up. Then you’ll ask the same redneck guys what they like to do in their spare time. They’ll often say “hunting, shooting and fishing,” or some combination of that list. And from there it’s a no-brainer to show that they really do care about the natural world, and are dependent on it for the things they love doing the most.”

The task is to have people articulate deeply held values that may have become occluded by politics, ideology or sheer habit, and to get them to commit to actions that will strengthen the place of those values in their lives.

Adam Werbach is a secular Jew. “Most of this I got from my grandparents,” Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, he explains. “For them, being a mensch was the most important thing there is. If you believed in something you lived it – simple as that.” I don’t want to put Jewish sources into Adam Werbach’s mouth, but the parallels that occurred to me were endless: the importance of action as an expression of your spiritual values (“do little and say much” – pirke avot), the power of deeds to effect changes in consciousness, (we will do and (then) we will understand, as the Jewish people said when they accepted Torah.)

Saatchi S’s work with Walmart has been criticized by some environmentalists as, at worst, selling your soul to the devil and, at best, rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. The argument goes, “who cares if Walmart’s cashiers carpool to work when the company’s brutally low cost, high environmental impact supply chains cause such huge damage?”

From a religious perspective these criticisms miss the point. Real change happens one person at a time. Top-down policy shifts can be reversed as fast as the winds of business fashion. Walmart and other mega-companies will go green when sustainability is part of its consciousness from top to bottom.

As Rabbi Israel Salanter, founder of the mussar movement famously said. “At first I thought I could change the world. Then I tried to change my community. Then I attempted to change my family. Finally I realized that it would be an achievement to change myself.

But in changing himself he changed the lives of hundreds of thousands who followed him.

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