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Archive for November, 2008

By Yannai Kranzler

When I first sat with Dr. Michael Kagan and Rabbi Julian Sinclair and listened to their plans to create a Jewish Climate Initiative, I immediately got excited about a scientist and a Rabbi joining forces to confront climate change. When I mentioned my excitement, Rabbi Sinclair smiled and said “Michael’s not just a scientist, you know.” And Dr. Kagan added, “Julian’s not really just a Rabbi, you know.” And so I did my research and learned that it wasn’t a scientist and a Rabbi confronting climate change, but a scientist/inventor/spiritual guide/mystic and a Rabbi/economist/writer/tour guide. And I realized that the Jewish Climate Initiative was going to be something special.

Dr. Michael Kagan

Dr. Michael Kagan: Co-Founder, Jewish Climate Initiative

In the following interview, Dr. Kagan explains the reasons for a Jewish Climate Initiative (JCI), expands on the directions where he hopes the initiative will go, and discusses how his life’s work of understanding the connections between apparently separate facets of the world stands behind the creation of the Jewish Climate Initiative, and is the spirit which drives it forward.

YK: Spiritual Leader, biochemist, inventor- you’ve done quite a lot in your life. How has your experience brought you to this point, where you are creating a Jewish Climate Initiative?

MK: The subject of my doctorate thesis was “Patent Formation in Dissipative Systems.” I know that sounds esoteric but it basically addresses the question, “Where does structure come from in the universe?”

I focused on thermodynamics and the question of entropy: Entropy means that everything is constantly descending to the lowest common denominator. If everything is descending into chaos, then, why do we exist? How come I have a body with fingers and arms and head? Where does order come from?

As I explored this narrow, specific subject in chemistry, I was led to such wide areas of investigation- biology, physics, philosophy, the history of science, how it connected to religion and thought and consciousness. And what I learned and experienced was the interconnectiveness between all things.

I also learned that I have a particular mindset – I think in a very eclectic and associative manner that sees the connection between things that seem to be vastly separate. This is even the heart of my inventive work: putting together techonologies nobody thought to put together before.

Jewish Climate Initiative
is the same thing. Our logo depicts three spheres- Ethics, Science/Technology and Activism/Policy or Nature, Man, and God or, more Kabbalistically, Form (din), Flow (hesed) and the synthesis that leads to Beauty (Tiferet). The interconnectiveness between the three – the nexus or overlapping of the three and the play between them is what excites me.

YK: What problem or need are you answering in creating the Jewish Climate Initiative?

MK: Our religion has deep wisdom that can be applied to the crises of today. Our ancient myths state that Torah is a blueprint for Creation. Therefore, we, as protectors of Torah and investigators of Torah need to investigate and unpack what the Torah says about the present crisis. I feel, as a conscious Jew, that it is incumbent upon me to ask the questions, and look for answers. We are part of the whole, with a responsibility to the whole, and this is for the whole.

YK: How do you see JCI as answering that need? What separates JCI from other environmental organizations?

MK: One thing is we’re not an envronmental organization. It was a friend of mine who taught me that what we face is not an environmental problem, but an ecological one.

Ecology means “The logic of the house”- Knowledge of the house. As in, I can ask you: “In your house- how are you recycling? Do you turn off electricy? What foods do you eat? How are your houses built?” That’s environmentalism.

But I ask- “How is the love in your house? How are the relationships in your house? How are you educating your children?” Ecology is a question of what type of home you have, not how do you run your house. Not that environmentalism is bad, but it asks different questions. JCI is an ecological organization looking at muslim-jewsfundamental questions about our relationship with the home, home being the earth, from the Jewish perspective. What is our home? Are we apart from Nature? Are we a part of Nature? Are we stewards? Co-creators? And part of our initiative is to ask other religions what their perspective is, and to share with them our perspective.

There are plenty of organizations dealing with the How-to and that’s great. But I need to ask the basic questions and I believe that Torah has a lot to answer that is highly contemporary.

There is a book by Thom Hartman, called the Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, about how we’re using up the remaining ancient fuel created by the sun millions of years ago. My reading of Torah is that it too is ancient but is still living. It’s fresh, and hasn’t been fossilized. Torah is not fossil fuel – It’s an Or Ganuz- a hidden light, ready to be revealed now as living light. Much like the sun is ancient but the light we receive is new.

At Jewish Climate Initiative, we want to tap into ancient wisdom to help answer contemporary ethical problems. We want to explore the ethics that have brought on this mess, and to explore how we can get out of it.

YK: And how do you think can we get ourselves out of this mess?

MK: I’m an evolutionist. I think the world is evolving, and that consciousness is evolving. Even this present crisis is the evolution of human consciousness. Evolutionary development is not guaranteed. Our continuation is not guaranteed. We can end, but we don’t have to. Perhaps if I was a more believing Jew I would say that we’ll survive no matter what or that Mashiach will come. But I don’t read Torah like that.

I look at history in the following way: The present crisis is an opportunity to make a significant leap in the evolution of human consciousness, from a “Taker” culture, to a next level- a sharing culture, or a giving culture- a different way of relating to the world. Not about, “Take as much as you can and if you don’t have the luck or fortune to take, you’re just a Misken (Unfortunate).

I look at the principles of Shabbat, the heart of Judaism according to many sages. What do we learn from Shabbat? Number one, that it’s not our earth. Number two, We need to learn how to leave things alone- not entirely alone, but to know how to have boundaries: What is available for us? What is not? What is Mutar (permissable)? What is Assur (prohibited)? This principle of Leaving exists all the way through the Jewish narrative, the biblical story and is ensconced in Halakha.

YK: So is the purpose that we go back to leaving?

MK: No. There was a civilization before to ours, which we can call The Leavers: Nomads, hunter gatherers, who lived here 10,000 years ago and before. I don’t know if they were happy here but they were here. There was no building cities, urbanization, emassing huge wealth.

From what we know of Leaver society, they had more of a symbiotic or harmonius relationship with nature, we’ll call it Ancient Wisdom, of which very little remains today. This in our story is symbolized by the Garden of Eden.  We left; we were thrown out; we can never go back; we can only go forwards; but we are spiraling around with a new Eden somewhere around the bend.  The transition from leaver to taker is epitomized by the story of Cain and Abel, in which Cain, the agriculturalist, kills his leaver/hunter-gatherer brother, Abel. And the curse arises from the Earth.

But I think we as Jews carry the knowledge of the Leaver way of life through today’s Taker way of life in order to help initiate or seed what I call The Third Way.

In my doctorate studies I learned that when you push a dynamic system through a crisis, it either explodes, or transforms itself into a new level of structures, with their own laws and constructs. It’s amazing to actually see this happen in a physical system. You put it into crisis and it evolves into a new living structure. You cannot predict this structure beforehand. You just hope it won’t explode, and you just hope for a new, steady state, a new order.

I think that’s were we’re at. Ecologically, economically- there is a crisis happening, and there is either the possibility of exploding/imploding-  or moving to a new level of consciousness or structure.

YK: Practically speaking then, what projects can JCI engange in, so as to facilitate this new or “Third Way,” and prevent “Exploding?”

MK: Last Thursday I went to the Green Economy Conference in Tel Aviv. At a session devoted to investing in cleantech, I asked the panel of investors capitalizing on the success of the cleantech industry, if their investing in green technologies was normal, just another opportunity to make money, or if they were influenced by a moral imperative considering dangers that we are facing. The younger investors all answered that practically speaking, their investments were about money, and were the profits elsewhere, they’d look elsewhere. Only one more elderly investor answered with an emphatic “No!” He said that investing in cleantech must be charged with a greater vision than the immediate bottom line; that we owed it to our children and grandchildren to push these technologies forward, with a sense of humility and courage, with the profit motive taking a back seat.

And it’s true. Life just no longer is business as usual. We can’t go on developing science, developing technology, making money and investments and relying on that structure that worked so well, ignoring the implications of that structure on life on earth, human and not human. Money can no longer be separated from ethics.

It became so evident at this conference that for the most part, we are still in the old mindset, and are not seeing the bigger picture.

Therefore, at JCI we want to bring together groups that don’t usually talk to each other: scientists, technologists, economists, investors – and sages. We want to bring them together through writing, conferences, our website and our blog and other projects, to engage in an open and ongoing discussion on where we are, how did we get here – and where are we going.

Michael Kagan, Ph.D. has been an innovator and entrepreneur for 18 years. He has Co-founded 6 high-tech companies, holds a doctorate in chemistry from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is an inventor with twelve registered patents. Michael has developed and widely taught holistic Judaism, integrating a mind/body/soul approach to spirituality. For more by Dr. Kagan, click here, or visit http://www.holistichaggadah.com/ to learn about Dr. Kagan’s original commentary on the Passover Haggadah.

For more on the Jewish Climate Initiative, please visit us at www.jewishclimateinitiative.org, or contact us.

For more interviews from Climate of Change, come and visit our interviews page.

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As we reported on climate of change last week, The Arava Power Company just announced plans to generate

Yossi Abramowitz

Yossi Abramowitz

500 MW of solar energy in the Arava Desert over the next five years, meeting 10% of Israel’s energy needs at a stroke.

Last week, Climate of Change met Yossi Abramowitz, President of the APC and explored with him the Jewish vision underlying his drive to bring solar to energy. Yossi was previously a Jewish social entrepreneur in Boston who raised $30 million for a host of new Jewish educational and cultural initiatives including shma, kol dor and Jewish Social Action Week. In August 2006, he and his family moved to Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava Desert.

Climate of Change
: One of the things we’re interested in at Jewish Climate Initiative is the spiritual vision underlying renewable energy. The way we see it, going renewable isn’t just about attaining energy independence, or even about avoiding climate change – as vital as those goals are. There are also ethical and spiritual reasons to choose wind, solar and all the rest. It looks as if that’s also part of your outlook, right?

Yossi Abramowitz: Absolutely. I can tell you, there’s a certain amount of frustration involved in working with Israeli utility regulators, and you definitely need your own supply of renewable moral and spiritual energy. For me it’s all about Jewish Peoplehood, which has been my big passion for the last decade.

Let’s ask from the business point of view, what’s the “brand equity” of Israel today, in the eyes of the Jewish people and the world. Is it an old, tarnished brand, or a new and attractive one? The answer today is complex at best. Israel had its great pioneering period, the six day war, Entebbe and all those amazing moments, but now… there’s a new generation that doesn’t remember any of that.

If we can supply 40% of Israel’s energy from renewables by 2020, and we can, leapfrogging over every other target in the world, think what that would do to Jewish pride worldwide. Young people would start to feel completely differently about this country. We’d be leading the way to saving the world.


COC:It sounds as if for you, the significance of Israel making this move is greater than that of just any country of seven million people doing this.

YA:Yes, people, whether Jewish or not, do look at us differently. We have this idea of being a light to the nations. It’s not a very fashionable or PC idea today. I developed a twenty first century mission statement for the Jewish people that goes like this: “To be an ongoing, distinct catalyst for the advancement and evolution of morality in civilization.” We’re a catalyst because we’re small. We’re distinct because we have a unique message and purpose. And the goal is the evolution of morality and civilization. Ramping up solar energy use to world leading levels would be a real step towards fulfilling that mission.

You know, we’re in negotiations with a potential supplier in Thailand. He says to me, very excited, “I come and see you in Jerusalem.” So I tried to explain to him that we’re not in Jerusalem but a small place four hours away, but he wasn’t interested: “No no, I see you in Jerusalem,” he repeated. That means something to people worldwide.

COC:You’ve spoken about solar as “the energy of peace.” What does that mean?

YA:The Arava Power Company is already in discussion with the Jordanian government about a project to bring solar power across the border. Energy integration was part of the Israel-Jordan peace agreement but it’s never been implemented. It could be a powerful impetus to regional peace-making. To realize that the same sun shines equally on all of us, is owned by none of us, and can supply our energy needs in abundance, inherently promotes peace. The sun doesn’t recognize borders.”

COC:How did you get involved in all of this?

YA:I didn’t come to Israel to do this. I thought that I was coming to Israel to take a Sabbatical from my business career and write a book on Jewish Peoplehood.  When we decided to adopt an Ethiopian child, making five in our family in all, we decided they needed a break. We’d thought about taking a year in Israel and it seemed to be the right time. I’d volunteered at Kibbutz Ketura 25 years ago so we decided to go back there.

We got off the air-conditioned van that took us from the airport to the Kibbutz and it was like walking into the airflow of some super-charged hair dryer. I figured, “at least with all this sunlight, the whole place must be powered by solar.” Well, it took me 24 hours to figure out that there was no solar power on the kibbutz. In another 24 hours I’d worked out that there almost no domestic solar power in Israel. The great Israeli solar companies were producing technology for export, but not for the home market. I thought, “you’ve got to be kidding.” So together with a couple of guys from the Kibbutz we put together a plan to set up solar panels in a field opposite and power Ketura with sunlight. We quickly ran into a whole bureaucratic battle with the Energy Regulator. After six months, I realized that if we could win this fight for the Kibbutz, we would win it for the whole country.”

But I realized this was the fulfillment of what I wanted to say on peoplehood. What matters is not how many glossy proposals you write, or how many conferences, or how many major donors you have on board. At the end of the day, you’ve just got to do it. You just have to do it.

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By Yannai Kranzler

I just finished offsetting 20,000 miles of airplane carbon emissions. I also just started. Because the whole thing took about five minutes.

I decided to offset, to counter the emissions from mine and my wife, Chana’s recent visit to my family in New York. We chose to buy carbon credits from the Heschel Center’s Good Energy Initiative, and their “Children’s Power Project,” which circulates solar-powered medical equipment to children in need.

The process went like this:

I went to www.goodenergy.org.il, and clicked on “Offset with Us!” I then chose “Flights”, entered airport codes into the site’s carbon calculator, and was told that Chana and I had 12.03 tons of CO2 to offset. We then searched through a handful of potential offsetting projects, chose Children’s Power, went to “Check Out,” and paid. Our offset charge was 120 dollars.

There are hundreds, probably thousands of offsetting projects out there. But we wanted to offset with Good Energy because their projects are about providing simply Good Energy to Israel and that’s all. No far-fetching, fund-munching projects projected to be effective in the year 2020; rather, pragmatic ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, aid in Israel’s energy independence and help Israeli communities suffering socio-economic difficulty.

And so that was it. Five minutes, 120 dollars, offset CO2 and a clear conscience.

Or not. We certainly have no regrets about flying to visit family once a year- but our conscience is far from clear. No matter how many good energy initiatives we join, our carbon emissions are”out there,” warming the earth, changing the climate.

To Chan and me, carbon offsetting is not about becoming “Carbon Neutral”- but being carbon honest. Or carbon accountable. Honest that even good actions have bad consequences, and accountable in trying to pay for them. In that sense, buying carbon credits is less of an “Offsetting,” and more of a tax that supports a less carbon reliant future.

My wish and blessing to us and other offsetters out there, is that we use carbon offsets not to absolve ourselves from responsibility for our carbon emissions, but as a measure to increase our carbon consciousness: reminding us to be more carbon efficient in daily life, encouraging us to keep track of how much we are actually emitting, and reassuring us that when important things like visiting family abroad come up- there is an easy, five-minute activity that will at the very least, do something to help.

For more on offsetting, check out Jewish Climate Initiative’s Free 2008-9 New Year’s Guide to Carbon Offsetting

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Two inspiring recent stories about solar energy advances in, or coming out of Israel. One made a big splash here; the second, a human interest story buried somewhere deep in the pages of the Jerusalem Post was, in its way, no less significant.

Story 1:
Last Monday the Arava Power Company announced that it is building solar power plants in the Negev that could soon be producing I Gigawatt of electricity. This is huge news. 1 GW is about 10% of Israel’s electricity use. At a stroke it would go half way towards meeting the government’s target of 20% of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020.

Story 2: Israeli-born Sivan Achor-Borowich has set up an organization, “Jewish Heart for Africa,” that puts up solar powers on the roofs of schools, clinics and hospitals in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. This simple step has transformative potential in Africa. As the report in the Jerusalem Post put it, to imagine life in much of Africa, you must
“Imagine a day essentially ending at sundown because there is no electricity for lights. Imagine being a doctor and treating urgent patients by candlelight. Imagine being a woman or child and spending six hours a day hauling water and searching for firewood.”

Now more children are vaccinated because vaccines can be kept chilled, people can find the clinic at night, and doctors don’t have to work by candlelight. All of the solar panels are supplied by an Israeli company, Interdan.

One thing that these stories have in common is that both of these Israeli innovators see the benefits of solar energy in ethical, or even spiritual terms.

Sure, most people understand by now that fossil fuels have two rather inconvenient properties;

1 ) When burned in large quantities, they cause potentially disastrous global warming, and

2) Large amounts of fossil fuels are buried under land controlled by regimes that don’t like the Western nations who are their main customers. (This is probably no coincidence, but explaining why would be a whole blog in itself.)

But Abramowitz and Achor-Borowich understand the benefits even more widely.
“Solar energy is the power of peace”. Abramowitz wrote in an article in Shma Magazine (June 2008) where he movingly describes watching Al Gore’s film with a group of Jewish and Arab students at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Realizing that the same sun shines equally on all of us, is owned by none of us, and can supply our energy needs in abundance could be inherently peace-making.
Similarly, Achor-Borowitz points out that there is something fundamentally democratic about solar energy:
“Most of Africa lives on $1 a day, they don’t have the money to buy fuel – the operating costs are just too high.”
“[With] solar energy, on the other hand, you always have sun. There is basically no maintenance and no operating costs – the sun is free. And it’s sustainable.”
Both of these solar pioneers intuit how, even beyond the undoubted economic, carbon-cutting and

energy-independence benefits of power from the sun, it’s abundance and universal availability point the way to a juster, fairer, more peaceful energy culture.

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Since posting, “Go Green-Earn Big: The Nice Guy Finally Wins“, we’ve been engaged in a lively debate on whether products like disposable “Eco-Shaped” bottles and hybrid SUV’s are positive trends representing a genuine fixing, or setbacks allowing people to feel good without giving attention to the real changes that need to happen.

The Heschel Center’s Dr. Jeremy Benstein fueled the discussion with the following comment:

Smaller labels on bottled water? Solar powered oil drills? Pseudo products make you *hopeful*?!

While it is true that sometimes lip service can lead to real commitments– I hate to be a pessimist- but in the commercial-industrial realm, it seems like it’s much more often the opposite. They do things for image, “greenwash” very detrimental things (SUVs, bottled water, etc.) and use it to avoid doing anything real.

If people think that SUVs and bottled water are now green(er)– then they’ll continue using them, feeling ok with themselves that they are now so environmentally-friendly. When in fact they need to do something else entirely: take back the tap, and boycott bottled water altogether; support mass transit, biking etc– and not use any form of SUV.

Let me phrase it as a question: What should we (citizens) or regulatory bodies do to make sure we, and they, the industries don’t stop there? That their image polishing needs to be based on real improvements?

Respectfully,

Jeremy Benstein

Adding to Dr. Benstein’s critique was Ant, who concluded that:

Sometimes we have to sacrifice our conveniences, not alter our conveniences, to make a real difference.

Countering was Sherri:

Just because companies are greenwashing it doesn’t mean people are fooled. Once they start thinking about these issues they’re not going to stop. The companies involved may just be doing lip service to environmental issues, but people aren’t and will think through the real environmental benefits of products rather than buy the hype someone is trying to sell them.

As another commenter, Donna, exclaimed, “Green is the New Black!”- and there is therefore lots of green “Trash” through which we need sift in order to see what really is good for the world, and what is not.

This is a super important debate, and we’d love to hear your opinion, too.

As Dr. Benstein asks,

“[Are these products] a step in the right direction, which will lead people on to bigger and better- or even the right- things? Or does it give everyone “an easy out,” so they don’t have to take the more difficult, but ultimately more meaningful, steps?”

How do you think environmentalists should be responding to an environmentally conscious world?

How do or can superficial feel good changes lead to more meaningful transformation?

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