Archive for the ‘Religious Leaders on Climate Change’ Category

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, as published on www.GreenProphet.com

Twenty years, ago, Sally Bingham went to her local bishop and announced that she wanted to be ordained so that she could become the world’s first priest for the environment.

She was received with some skepticism. Undeterred, she embarked on almost a decade of study and became an Episcopalian minister in 1998. She went on to found Interfaith Power and Light (what a great name for an organization). Today IPL has some 2000 affiliated congregations in 26 states of the US.

In her recent book “Love God, Heal the Earth”, Bingham has brought together 21 leading voices speaking out about the about the religious duty to protect the environment. All are doers in the field, not just thinkers. Some are inspirational leaders. There a couple each of Muslims, Buddhists and Jews, and 15 Christians of all stripes and persuasions.

The tone of the essays is personal, often confessional. Each tells of a personal journey towards placing creation at the center of his or her faith and activism.

Some tell of mystical experiences in nature, others of a progression from a passion for feminism or civil rights to environmentalism.

Among the most interesting are the accounts of Richard Cizik and Joel Hunter, leaders of the Evangelical Climate Initiative for whom accepting the reality of anthropogenic climate change and the urgency of doing something about it was a struggle, and ultimately, a conversion.

Their stories vividly document the suspicion of science, of government and the mainstream media in the evangelical movement.

They show just how counter-cultural acceptance of climate change was within their churches. (This is what makes the Evangelical response to global warming politically very significant. It removes climate change from the leftish pigeon hole in which it was in danger of becoming stuck and elevates it to the status of an ethical issue that transcends party lines.)

One of the common themes of all the essays is that, as Bingham puts it,

The contributors all in different ways trace the transformation that begins with spiritual stirrings of love and reverence for God’s world and eventuates in action.

Rev. Sally Bingham, Author of Love God, Heal the Earth

Sally Bingham, Author of Love God, Heal Earth

As Pastor Clare Butterfield writes:

What we are trying to do is not to change light bulbs. We are trying to change people – with the assumption that they will then be the kind of people who will change their own light bulbs.

This heart-light bulb nexus touches on the unique and necessary contribution that religions can make in the struggle to avert climate change. Environmentalists are realizing that knowing what we must do may not be enough. We also need to find the moral passion to do it and the strength to overcome inner obstacles.

In the words of Gus Speth, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and the Environment, quoted in the book by Richard Cizik:

“Thirty years ago, I thought that with enough good science, we would be able to solve the environmental crisis. I was wrong. I used to think the greatest problems threatening the planet were species extinction, pollution and climate change. I was wrong there too. I now believe that the greatest problems are pride, apathy and greed.”

“Love God, Heal the World” is an impressive and sometimes moving collection of testimonies from leaders of the environmental religious movement. It sheds light on the actions and the souls of people who are not only bringing new life and hope to environmentalism, but are also rethinking their religious faith and traditions in the light of the challenges environmentalism levels.

To be sure, the authors present their views in engagingly broad strokes that raise a lot of questions. As many of the writers acknowledge, the world’s religions have arrived late to this issue.

As the book shows, they are catching up fast.


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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

I spent last Wednesday at Wind Dancer Rancher, an organic farm in Northern California. The day was cold, wet and blustery. Together with 25 others, I had volunteered to take part in the slaughtering, plucking, evisceration, koshering and packing of the Turkeys that were to be eaten for Shabbat dinner at the Hazon food conference the following weekend.

Lisa Leonard, the farmer, cradled the first bird in her arms as Roger Studley, the organizer explained the order of the day. Someone asked Lisa her opinion about the intelligence of Turkeys.  “Well, let’s say they ain’t the sharpest tools in the shed,”  she answered. “But they do have personalities. Like this one here, he just hates cell phones. Like he’d attack anyone who he saw using one. “I know the feeling,” I murmured empathetically.

Then we gathered around Andy Kastner, the shochet. Andy is 28, a rabbinical student with curly brown hair and soulful eyes. He learned to be a kosher slaughter because he loved animals, but he also loved

Shochet, Andy Kastner

Shochet, Andy Kastner

meat. He decided that he needed to be able to take responsibility for the way animals were killed if he was to continue as a carnivore.

Lisa’s partner Jim held the Turkey. (Lisa doesn’t like to watch when the birds she has raised from chicks are killed.) Andy said the blessing, gently extended the animal’s neck and with two swift back and forth strokes severed its trachea and main arteries. Blood spurted on to Andy’s white coat and on to the wet ground.  Jim placed the dying bird upside down in a metal traffic cone. It kicked for a few seconds (reflex actions, said Jim) and was still.

Then we hung the dead Turkey by its feet from a bar in an open barn and started plucking. The downy belly feathers came away in clumps in your hands, exposing white, pimply skin. Within seconds the resplendent Heritage Breed bird was starting to look like meat.

When the carcass was thoroughly bald, Rabbi Seth Mandel, the Chief Kashrut Supervisor of the Orthodox Union opened up the body cavity. He removed the intestines, checked them for cuts or lesions, and then examined a lung for signs of disease. “Fine, healthy animal,” he pronounced of the free range, barley-fed bird. Next the turkey was soaked in cold water, salted inside and out, then rinsed, and placed in a polythene bag that was signed with Rabbi Mandel’s seal of kosher certification, and placed in an icebox.

Then we did the same thing 24 more times.

The goal was to produce meat that was not just kosher but also organic and local. Hazon wanted to ensure that the animals it served had lived Turkey-like lives and, so far as possible, met with humane deaths. These birds were pesticide and  antibiotic free. They were not treated with the brutality inherent in the mass production of meat, either in life or in death.

The mass production of meat is a major factor in global climate change. The UN recently estimated that a staggering 18% of greenhouse gases are produced by the meat industry. Pesticides and fertilizers for animal feed together with transportation together emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases. The average item of food on an American dinner plate has traveled 1500 miles to get there. The preparation these turkeys all took place within a 30 foot by 30 foot area of farm. In an industrial system they would have been trucked all over the country to undergo the same process.

Of course, there are big questions about whether this kind of meat could ever be produced on a larger scale. The farmers sold it to Hazon for $6 a pound. The same day (Christmas Eve) turkey in Safeways, San Francisco was marked at $1.50 a pound. The meat we helped make was just about as humane and sustainable as meat can be. Whether it could be more than a middle class indulgence is another question. (I hope to look at that next week.)  But if meat did cost more, we’d eat less of it and that would be a good thing for the earth.

Did I eat the turkey? Sure. Given that I sometimes do eat meat, it didn’t seem to make sense to turn down probably the most eco-friendly flesh I’d ever had. But when I took my first bite, I shuddered involuntarily. The mental mechitzas that we erect between meat and dead animals were ripped away as I alternately recalled and repressed the images of that wet Wednesday morning. And I tried not to leave any of it over.

Bensching, saying grace, on that meal was an entirely different experience. Normally I’m just saying thanks for the food on my plate. Heaven knows where it came from. This time I fervently thanked God for the farm, for Andy, Lisa and Jim, for the wet, muddy ground, for the proud, dignified birds pecking in the dirt when we arrived, for the wind and rain that had flayed my face the whole day and for all of the elements with which I was connected through that one act of eating.

Knowing the costs involved in producing even those most sustainably raised and humanely slaughtered animals will probably lead me to eat less meat in future. And that’s no bad thing.

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

On my recent trip to the US I encountered a lot of inspiring people, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims working at the frontier of religion and climate change. They are creating new ecological vision rooted in ancient traditions, and mobilizing their communities as forces for change.

Two of the most impressive Jewish activist leaders whom I met were Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Avi Weiss. They have been engaged with ecological issues for sixty years and for a few months respectively. In different ways, the very length and briefness of their involvement is inspiring.

Rabbi Waskow

Rabbi Waskow

Rabbi Waskow, a Jewish Renewal teacher, is a volcano of sixties activist passion. He was imprisoned for anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, and claims the honor of being the first to be arrested demonstrating for Soviet Jewry. He describes Martin Luther King’s assassination a few days before Pesach in 1968 as a key moment in his return to Judaism. Over the door way of his home in suburban Philadelphia is a sign that reads “you are now entering a nuclear-free zone.”

Rabbi Waskow founded the Shalom center, which speaks out on climate change, in 1982. It was primarily a Jewish voice of protest against the nuclear-arms race. Back then, Waskow said, he saw potential atomic warfare as an ecological issue. “Nuclear winter threatened to make life impossible over large swathes of the earth’s surface.”

His involvement with the issue goes back four decades earlier. “My Bar Mitzva fell almost a year to the day after the first bomb was dropped at Hiroshima. Even then I knew it changed everything. I gave a speech about how this awesome human power to destroy needed to be a new reverence for the world and for all its people, if we were not to end up annihilating ourselves.” In different ways, Rabbi Waskow has been teaching the same message ever since. Over recent years, climate change has become the focus of that warning.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, an Open Orthodox Rabbi from the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York, is one of the Jewish world’s most courageous and indefatigable Jewish activist leaders. Over the past forty years he has stood at the forefront of countless campaigns: for Soviet Jewry, against the siting of a convent at Auschwitz, against Former Mayor of New York David Dinkins for his indifference to the murder of a Chabad student and many more. In 2002 he was instrumental in putting together a mass rally for Israeli victims of Terror when the organized American Jewish community was largely silent on the issue. He has incurred plenty of establishment anger over his career, but Rabbi Weiss’s principle is to speak out when it is right to do so, not when it’s popular.

Rabbi Weiss

Rabbi Weiss

I asked Rabbi Weiss whether global climate change was an issue for Jewish concern and activism.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “This is an issue of great moral importance. I have been slow in getting on to the issue myself, but my students (at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah) have taught me a lot, and now I see its great significance. It’s an obligation on us from the Torah to nurture and protect the beautiful world that Hashem made.”

When I asked Rabbi Weiss why this wasn’t a more prominent concern for him earlier, he answered:

“I grew up in a different time. It was after the Holocaust. It seemed as if only Jews had suffered. The most important thing was to safeguard Jewish lives and rights, because the world hadn’t done so during the Shoah. But over the years, although Jews are still the main focus of my activism I have seen that we need to extend concern to other peoples and now to the planet itself.”

Rabbi Weiss demonstrated this commitment by agreeing to serve on the advisory Board of Jewish Climate Initiative!

Two powerful, but very different moral voices in the Jewish world: One shows the importance of ecological issues by his commitment to them over decades; the other by arriving at a conviction about their vital significance after a long journey.

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