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Archive for the ‘Taking Action’ Category

Pass it on! This coming October 23rd-24th is Global Climate Healing Shabbat. A press release this week from a group of American Jewish organizations announced:

A number of Jewish  groups, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (the national umbrella group on public policy)  today  called for October 23-24, 2009, to be declared a “Global Climate Healing Shabbat.”

That Shabbat is in Jewish tradition Shabbat Noach, when Jews around the world read the Torah  portion about the Flood, Noah, the Ark, and the Rainbow. This reading lends  itself to focusing on the danger of destruction of life on our planet, and  also on the actions we need to take to prevent destruction and preserve the  web of life in which the human race has emerged and created  civilization….

The international observance of “Global Climate Healing Shabbat Noach”   is a prelude to the crucial United Nations conference on global warming  scheduled for Copenhagen in December, 2009. The Jewish groups are urging that  there be many global climate-related educational events that are consistent  with the laws and spirit of Shabbat on that day.

“Almost daily reports  of widespread droughts, floods, storms, wildfires and melting polar ice caps,  mountain snowcaps, and glaciers indicate that we are already in a  lot of trouble. So much trouble that I feel the words ‘global warming’ give  people a false sense of comfort, and I call the danger ‘global scorching’  instead,” commented Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center.”

The Climate Shabbat is part of a groundswell of initiatives leading up to the Copenhagen Conference. We at Jewish Climate Initiative are proud to endorse it.

The press release calls on people to mark the day with:

“Sermons,  lectures, debates, panel discussions, resolutions, special kiddushes and  meals, nature-walks, invitations to public officials and environmental activists, stories for children, and much more.”

As the date gets closer we’ll be posting ideas and resources for communities who want to be a part of this global initiative. It’s a great opportunity to awaken the Jewish people to the urgency of climate change and to make our voices heard at this pivotal moment.

Spread the word!

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In the following video, from the Vayehi Or Workshop, Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon, discusses Hazon, Jews, food and Climate Change. Nigel and Hazon have been working with JCI on the Seven Year Plan for the Jewish People on Climate Change and Sustainability, and in this piece, Nigel offers some hopeful and practical tips towards how the Seven Year Plan can be most effective. Enjoy! (And feel welcome, as always, to leave your comments and feedback).

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In the following video, Jewish Climate Initiative Co-Founder, Dr. Michael Kagan, discusses the significance of the recent Blessing of the Sun and introduces The Seven Year Plan for the Jewish People on Climate Change and Sustainability, at the Vayehi Or: Values and Vision in Energy and Climate Change Workshop in Jerusalem. (More videos from the event on the way). Enjoy!

If you can’t view the video from this page, click here.

And Dr. Kagan’s Accompanying Presentation:

If you can’t view the presentation from this page, click here.

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This past Sunday, 53 of Israel’s top scientists, business people, environmentalists, policy makers, Rabbis and educators met in Jerusalem, to develop a “Seven Year Plan for the Jewish People on Climate Change and Sustainability.” The plan, commissioned by the United Nations-affiliated Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), will be presented at Windsor Castle this coming November, along with like-plans from 11 other world faiths. The meeting was held this week, to honor the Birkat Hahama, the once-in-twenty-eight years Blessing of the Sun, which we said this (Wednesday) morning.

Jewish Climate Initiative‘s Rabbi Julian Sinclair and Hazon‘s Nigel Savage put together the first draft of “the plan,” and Sunday’s meeting presented the first opportunity for feedback, and the furthering of ideas. Among the participants were Green Movement-Meimad’s Alon Tal, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Naomi Tsur, founder of the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership, Dr. Eilon Schwartz and Professor Pinhas Alpert, head of Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of Environmental Studies.

It was a fantastic day- incredible to be in a room full of so many talented people, all who’ve accomplished so much in their respective fields. We’ll be posting some great videos of the day’s events in the near future. JCI and Hazon hope to “Kick-Off” the Seven Year Plan, at an international conference this coming Tu B’Shevat, with the help of Sunday’s guests- We’ll keep you posted on our progress!

Until then, Jewish Climate Initiative and Climate of Change wish you a Pesach full of happiness, peace, family and freedom- Chag Sameach… and a happy Birkat Hahama!

For us, Birkat Hahama has been a process of thinking about how we have used, and how we will use, the blessings of Creation. We hope your Birkat Hahama is/was meaningful, as well.

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Dear Bibi,

It was great to read about your 100 day plan in last week’s Jerusalem Post. It certainly grapples with some of Israel’s main challenges: Iran’s nuclear program, terrorism, the economy, stemming job losses and “interfacing” with the Obama administration. Good luck with all of that. You’ll certainly need it.

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Bibi Netanyahu

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu

But there was one major issue glaringly absent from the plan; one that you must deal with if you are to effectively address every other item on the list. Energy is at the core of Israel’s – and the world’s – most urgent geo-political, environmental, economic and security challenges.

Continuing reliance on oil from oppressive Middle Eastern regimes is no longer an option. The world must move rapidly to clean, renewable energy sources. Israel can, and must be at the heart of that transformation.

Let’s see how energy policy is intertwined with every one of your target issues. Take Iran and terrorism, the first two points on the list. Iran has reached the threshold of building a nuclear bomb, which you identify as an existential threat to Israel, using the proceeds of decades of petrodollars. Hamas and Hezbollah are financed by the same dirty sources of funding. Hezbollah was able to provoke the 2006 war that laid waste to Southern Lebanon because oil-funded Iranian largesse then rebuilt the country and bought off its enraged inhabitants.

Long before most people, you grasped the connection between the undemocratic nature of Arab regimes and their continuing conflict with Israel. But there’s an equally fundamental connection that you may have missed, the one between the undemocratic nature of those regimes and their huge oil revenues.

States with access to huge monopoly rents from exporting oil and natural gas have money to buy off interest groups and potential opponents. They have no incentive to invest in education for their people or to foster economic and occupational diversity. According to Larry Diamond of Stanford University, of the twenty three nations in the world that derive most of their export income from oil and gas, not one is a democracy. It’s no coincidence. Helping the Western world to kick its oil addiction is probably the single most important and practical thing we can do towards creating a more democratic and peaceful Middle East.

And we can help, in a big way. Israel has world-leading renewable energy companies like Solel, Sunday, Ormat, and Project Better Place. An Israeli firm, Brightsource-Luz2 just landed the largest ever contract for solar energy ever signed with a utility provider. (1.3 Gigawatts with South California Edison.)

What’s more, they have achieved these extraordinary successes not thanks to, but despite, the policy of successive Israeli governments. Speak to senior executives at some of Israel’s clean energy companies; you’ll hear stories of brilliant innovators waiting a decade for zoning permission to build a solar field or of encountering nightmarish administrative delays when they want to connect renewable energy generation to the National Grid.

The feed-in tariff for solar energy recently enacted by the outgoing government was a good idea, and should be implemented. But what would arguably help the renewable energy industry even more would be the ability to compete with fossil fuels on a level playing field. If you declare renewable energy to be an Israeli national security priority and blast through the bureaucracy, the ingenuity of our inventors and entrepreneurs could do the rest.

Turning to the next two items on your shopping list, the potential economic and employment benefits of encouraging Israel’s clean technology sector are huge. The world energy market is currently worth $ 5 trillion. With the prospect of a global carbon capping agreement from 2012, a large and increasing proportion of sum will be spent on renewables. This represents a huge economic opportunity for Israeli companies. Bold government policy could help Israel enterprises to capture a large share of this enormous market.

What is more, it would bring high-tech, high skill, high wage jobs to Israel. Currently there are leading Israeli clean technology companies that do their R and D in Israel but send their construction and manufacturing abroad to avoid bureaucratic entanglement. With recession cutting into the local employment base, these jobs need to come home.

And what of Obama? We all know that behind the brave talk about unshakable friendship based on deep common interests, there are major ideological gaps between the new American and Israeli governments. It’s not just about the Palestinians, but extends to broader social, geopolitical and economic policy too.

In 1996, you wowed the Republican congress with your passion for tax cuts and deregulation. Positioning yourself as the last dinosaur of Reaganite Neo-liberalism won’t win you many friends in post bailout Washington DC today. Throughout the Bush era we were considered America’s necessary ally in the War on Terror. The new administration appears to believe that there is no such thing.

But energy is one area that cries out for deep cooperation between Israel and the US. For Barack Obama has, correctly (in my opinion), identified global climate change as a major threat to the world, and pledged that the United States will take the lead in addressing it. He has accepted the challenge of revolutionizing the way America produces and uses energy. To this end, he has committed billions of dollars towards increasing energy efficiency, promoting solar and wind power and reducing the country’s reliance on oil and goal.

We need you to accept this challenge too. Lead our country towards a future of safe, clean, renewable energy, and help us to lead the world there. Then you will be able to justly claim that Israel is America’s indispensable strategic partner in the most important economic and technological transformation of our time.

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Here’s a short quiz. Read the following quote and then answer the simple question below.

This country, with God’s help, can be self-sufficient in energy. The problem lies in the failure to utilize God’s gifts to their fullest…  There is one energy source which can be made available in a very short time. Solar energy is non-polluting, cheap, and inexhaustible…it can power individual homes as well as giant factories. The United States has been blessed with plentiful sunshine, especially in the south… God has blessed this country richly, and it is our duty to use those riches to their fullest.”

Who said this, and when? Was it:

a)Al Gore in 2006.
b)Barack Obama in 2008.
c)Nigel Savage in 2009.
d)Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe, in 1981?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The answer is d). Rabbi Schneerson spoke at length about the imperative for the United States to move over to solar energy at a gathering of Chabad Hassidim in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, on April 11th 1981.

Incredible, no? Seven years before Professor Jim Hansen first alerted the world to the threat of global climate change in his testimony to the US Senate, a Hassidic Rebbe (albeit one with a degree in engineering) was informing his followers that America needed to go solar.

There are, of course, those who will tell you that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was a prophet and a genius, and that that’s why he was able to anticipate global leaders and experts on this issue by a quarter of a century.

Maybe. The Rebbe was certainly a great Jewish leader. I don’t want to pronounce on the nature of his powers. My point, however, is that he didn’t need to be a prophet or a genius to figure out in 1981 that there was something very wrong with the way that the United States was acquiring and using energy.

America was in the middle of a recession triggered by the second big oil price spike and was just recovering from the Iran hostage debacle when the newly born Islamic Republic had held the United States, literally, over a barrel. (Or more accurately, over tens of millions of barrels.) At that moment, there was something very clearly crazy about leaving our economies dependent on a fuel whose price was incredibly volatile and which was located mostly under the land of authoritarian regimes that despised us. There had to be a better way.

So why did Rabbi Schneerson get it twenty eight years ago, when so many other smart people didn’t? The date of his utterance, April 11th, 1981 provides us with a clue. The Lubavitcher Rebbe gave his speech on solar power three days after the last Birkhat Hahama celebration.

Once every twenty eight years, this rarest of Jewish holidays gives us the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the blessings of the sun.  As the key Talmud source on Birkhat Hahama describes it:

“One who sees the sun at the beginning of its cycle…should say. ‘Blessed are You who makes the works of creation.’ And when does it happen that the sun is at the beginning of its cycle? Abbaye says, ‘every twenty eight years, the cycle begins again and the Nissan equinox falls in the hour of Saturn, on the evening of the third day, the night before the fourth day (of the week.)’” Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot, 59b.

Birkhat Hahama is a once in a generation chance to give thanks for the source of the energy that feeds all of life, that makes plants grow and which, in fossilized form, drives our cars, heats our homes and powers our industries. As Rabbi Arthur Waskow points out, it is also an occasion on which to ask, “Has our generation used these gifts wisely?”

Speaking days after the last Birkhat Hahama, Rabbi Schneerson was doing just that. He was challenging his listeners to use that day, an obscure but precious resource from our tradition, to think about whether their generation was using the sun’s blessings wisely.

The next Birkhat Hahama will be in five weeks time, at sunrise on April 8th, 2009. What have we done with the sun’s gifts in these last twenty eight years?

We have used them to wreck the biosphere.  Combustion of billion year old fossilized sunlight in the form of oil, coal and gas emits greenhouse gases. Our unabated addiction to burning fossil fuels in our cars, homes and factories is causing famine and drought in Sub-Saharan Africa, flooding Bangladeshi peasants out of their homes and rates of species extinction that haven’t been seen on Earth for tens of thousands of years.  If we don’t change course soon, unprecedented weather extremes threaten to wreak havoc on our children’s lives.

If the economic and geopolitical foolishness of continuing to depend on fossil fuels was dawning on a few people twenty eight years ago it is as clear as daylight today.

Unlike the sun, which is good for at least another billion years, oil, gas and coal are finite. We need, really soon, to develop renewable energy sources that will be in place and ready to power the world the day after oil. Otherwise, the catastrophic consequences of that moment on the global economy will make the current recession look puny.

America has fought three Middle Eastern wars since 1991, at the cost of thousands of lives.  Iran has used decades of petrodollar income to reach the threshold of building a nuclear bomb. The idiocy of forking over trillions of dollars in oil revenues to oppressive terror-funding regimes has at last become too egregious for anyone to avoid.

Last Birkhat hahama, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was one of the only people to seriously confront the question “Are we using the blessings of the sun wisely?” This time around, we all must.

We need to ask ourselves, our communities and our leaders: Are we using energy as efficiently as we could be? Are we making every effort to switch to clean, renewable fuel sources derived directly from the sun’s energy? Are we doing everything we could be to persuade our governments and industries to invest in solar and wind power?

Will we continue to encourage regimes that happen to be sitting on top of stocks of fossil fuels to concentrate vast wealth in a few hands, while abusing their populations and neglecting to develop their human potential?  Will we continue to fight bloody wars over the right to control the land beneath which the dwindling supplies of fossilized sun are stored? Will we continue to actively cause global climate change?

Or will we choose a path towards energy that will be widely distributed, non-polluting and eventually, almost free. Will we invest in the development of the sophisticated technologies and learning organizations that can harness an inexhaustible plenitude of sunlight and the related, sun-driven, natural processes of wind and waves?

If we can give honest answers to these questions this April 8th and act on them, then, God willing, next Birkhat Hahama in 2037 we’ll be able to look back and say that we used the blessings of the sun to help bring peace, prosperity and healing to the Earth.

For more on Birkhat Hahama, visit www.blessthesun.org.

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By Yannai Kranzler

If you’re like me, you’re lifestyle has yet to be “Carbon Audited.” You might even be a bit put off by anything calling itself “An Audit.” But James Murray-White, a journalist and carbon or “green” auditor from Jerusalem is anything but imposing, and with a kind heart, concerned eyes and super-good humor, James is just the type of guy you’d want to come examine your lifestyle and suggest how to green it up.

Green Auditor, James Murray-White

Green Auditor, James Murray-White

Murray-White describes himself as an “Optimistic Hippie” who “Believes in the potential of people.” He was kind enough to answer some of our questions at Climate of Change.

Yannai K: Can you explain a little bit about what a Green Audit is?

James M.W.: A Green Audit is an interactive assessment of how to live one’s life more greenly – in consideration for the environment.

When an individual makes the link between human lifestyle and the shift in the planetary-environmental conditions, that’s where the carbon auditor comes in: to help individuals and families and business’s have a look at their lifestyles and how we’re all responsible for our energy use.

YK: How did you personally get into Green Auditing?

JMW: It’s relatively common in the UK. I was living in Bristol- a dynamic, green city. It’s like the bicycle capital of the UK. And I saw much of the affluent crowd opting not to own cars.

Getting inspired and coming here, I started thinking: Well, how can I make a contribution to Israeli society? I thought, I haven’t met anyone yet who gets brought in as a consultant to do carbon auditing, so I thought, I’ll do it- and I started on our house.

I officially got started with Mercaz Magshimim, part of the Hadassah Organization, which pioneered a scheme to support green activists. I began by auditing the lifestyles of the organizers of the program, Devorah Liss and Shoshana Finkelman.

YK: How does an audit work- What’s the process?

JMW: I use two existing models- a British and an American one, and am adapting them for Israel.

I go to the client’s home and use a series of questions:

How’s your yearly electricity usage? How do you shower? Do you use a dud shemesh (Solar water heater)? How much rubbish do you have per week- how many bags? Do you recycle? What do you recycle? Do you use energy bulbs? Energy bulbs around the house take out 200 kilos of carbon.

Then we move on to food- Does the individual have a meat-based diet? How much imported food do they eat?

Central heating is a big one. Is it gas or electricity? Is there insulation? What’s the condition of the boiler? A boiler 15 years old, for example, could be costing you 15% more in carbon.

Next comes transportation: Do you drive? How much do you walk? Do you own a car? How often do you fly? Many of the people I audit fly- so we then get into discussions about carbon offsetting. I recommend a few offsetters. I fly every couple of months and believe in paying for offsetting my flights- it’s the least I can do.

Eventually, I use a series of figures to translate the answers into tons of emitted carbon and water used.

Further questions involve shopping habits, cleaning products and so forth. I draw up a report of the audit, and email it back to the family, together with recommendations how they can improve energy efficiency. I bring a little cloth goodie bag with some light bulbs and little gadgets to save energy and water.

I’ve done about 12 family audits and one business audit, of an environmental organization- I won’t say which one. I had a fascinating time- The organization is a carbon disaster!

YK: Can you give us some tips?

At home, we use a “water butt,” and we got the plumber to put an outpipe from the washing machine and the dishwasher, to gather water into the water butt and we water our garden.

JMW: Assuming that not everyone’s ready to redo the plumbing, what else do you recommend?

Look at your job. Is there any way you can work at home for a day? Can you get to work a different way? Bus? CarShare? Train?

One of the most basic things, but we all do it, is leaving the heat on with the window open. It’s basic things like that.

YK: Do your audit recommendations end up saving people money?

Definitely. Completely.

YK: Is there a relationship between James the journalist, and James the Green Auditor?

JMW: As a journalist, I’m not interested in reporting on the war in Gaza, or politics. I’ve got no dreams of being a BBC war correspondent. I’m fascinated with currents of change in society, in the process of change- and that gets me to carbon auditing.

I also get to ask questions of professionals in the field. This is wonderful! I just met with Professor Pinhas Alpert, in the Geophysics Department at Tel Aviv University and the head of NASA in Israel. I got to spend a day hearing hard science, from a guy who is immersed in studying clouds, and seeing on the ground what they’re doing.

YK: From a journalist and green auditor’s perspective, what’s your prognosis of Israel from a green point of view?

JMW: There’s definitely a strong consciousness here, but I see it in pockets. I meet people on a daily basis, doing interesting green things. Massive cleantech innovations. Water research.

I think part of the problem is politics. The wider issues of security, tragically, really just get in the way, as we saw in the elections, where the green agenda was sadly wiped off the slate. Daniel Pederson summarized the environmental agendas of the different parties on Green Prophet. It was shocking to see main parties with no policy on energy and sustainability. And it looks like it’s going to be a Likud government and they don’t have an energy policy.

In England, it would be unthinkable for a party to run in a general election without it being in their written manifesto, how they will deal with climate change, and emissions. A lot of people care and migrate between parties on environmental issues. The previous Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, offered a complimentary green audit for every house in London, within his campaign for reelection last year.

But then again, that redoubles our efforts. We can cut down carbon use, and we can think about carbon reduction. And we can save water. Because we have to. We clearly have to.

James Murray-White is a freelance journalist from Cambridge, UK (“Scottish roots,” he adds), with a background as an actor, director and playwright- he’s currently engaged in a long-term documentary film project with the Bedouin of the Negev Desert. A Masters’ graduate in Human gaia-climate-changeEcology, James sees himself as an anthropologist, as well. He is a proud contributing editor and reviews editor for www.greenprophet.com, Israel’s premier English-language green website.

To contact James and to find out more about ordering a green audit for your home, business and lifestyle, contact James Murray-White at James@Sky-Larking.com.

Did you enjoy this post? We welcome you to visit our interviews page, for more great conversations with leaders and do-good-ers in the Jewish/Ecology world.

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