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By Yannai Kranzler

There are a few things one notices upon visiting the website of Israel’s new Green Movement-Meimad political party:
1) Everyone’s smiling.
2) Everyone looks different from one another

And it’s hard not to think: “Hey- this party just might actually be different.”
(more…)

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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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As featured on Hazon’s The Jew and the Carrot.

By Nina Budabin McQuown.

Rabbi Julian Sinclair is an author, educator, and economist. He is also the co-founder and Director of Education for Jewish Climate Initiative, a Jerusalem based NGO that is articulating and mobilizing a Jewish response to climate change.  Before starting JCI, Julian worked as an economist advising the UK Government and for a British political think tank.  Meanwhile, he authored the book Lets Schmooze: Jewish Words Today and is working on completing a Phd in the mystical thought of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.  Phew!

Sinclair lives in Jerusalem and has been featured on NPR and interviewed for the New York Times by our own Leah Koenig.  Hazon is delighted to invite Rabbi Sinclair as a presenter at this year’s Hazon Food Conference, December 25-28, 2008.

Get a sneak peek at what Julian has to say below the jump.  And find out more/ register for Hazon’s Food Conference, here!

How did the Jewish Climate Initiative begin?

RJS: It began from a conversation between Michael Kagan, a friend of mine, and a friend of his, David Miron Wapner. Michael and David both come from a business/ clean technology background. Michael is a scientist and inventor who is currently involved in an algae-for-biofuels start-up. He is also a Jewish spiritual teacher. David works on US-Israel science and technology partnerships and sits on the JNF board. They suddenly realized three things: that climate change was huge, that the response out there was nowhere near adequate, and that the Jewish people had something potentially unique to contribute. Then Michael started talking to me, I got inspired by the idea.

For a long time I’ve thought that Judaism had immensely relevant wisdom to offer on environmental and economic question: Shabbat, Shemita, the detailed talmudic system of environmental law and much more. When I was working as an economist in the UK government and studying at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard fifteen years ago, I was very, very excited about these connections. As I got more into Jewish life and learning, eventually becoming a rabbi and educator, this passion took a back seat. It just wasn’t where most of the Jewish world was at. But I always felt I would come back to it. Then when the opportunity came along to co-found JCI, I realized that this was my chance to put the pieces back together. A few months later I quit my job and started working full time for JCI.

You pose this question as the basis of one of your talks: “Jews are 0.002% of the earth’s population. Even if we all trade in our SUV’s tomorrow it will barely make a dent on the problem. What then do have to contribute to the world’s most pressing moral challenge?” How does the Jewish Climate Initiative address this issue?

RJS: I think that originally it was Nigel Savage‘s question. We address it by identifying three areas in which the Jewish people have contributed way out of proportion to our numbers. 1. Torah. Jewish teaching has quite simply been the basis of ethics and spirituality for the entire Western world. 2. Activism: Jews have been at the forefront of the big movements for social change (feminism, environmentalism, Civil Rights) in a way that is totally disproportionate to our numbers. 3. Science and Technology. 20th century science was advanced to an incredible degree by discoveries from Jewish scientists. Today that remarkable creativity is continued by the hi-tech sector in Israel, a country of six million people that is the biggest tech hub outside Silicon Valley. Each of these three interconnected areas in which the Jewish people have excelled is crucial for overcoming climate change.

The section of the Jewish Climate Initiative’s website that is devoted to ethics is large. Why is ethics such a focus of the Jewish Climate Initiative?

RJS: The practical answer is that this is the area in which JCI elected to begin working. The principled response is that climate change is an ethical issue. The lifestyles of those in the rich world are already contributing to famine, drought and devastating weather conditions in countries that have done least to cause the problem. If that’s not an ethical issue, what is?

Certainly, the solution will require governments, laws and lots of money. But 70% of the American economy is accounted for by consumer spending. The seemingly huge problem of climate change is actually made up of billions of little decisions about the way we move around, heat and air condition our homes, and eat. Each one of those is an ethical question on which Judaism has much to teach.

You spoke on NPR about the controversial Shemita year ruling in 2007. How did life change for Jews in Israel (in terms of agriculture) during this past year?

RJS: It wasn’t a transformative spiritual experience for most people. At the beginning there was a round of politicking about produce certification, then Shemita receded from general consciousness. For the religious, it was one more thing to look for on food labels. Next time around, may Shemita in Israel reach its potential as a year of economic, agricultural and spiritual renewal. For that to happen, we will need to start thinking and planning now.

What other issues face Israelis in particular as consumers of food?

RJS: One good thing is that in a small country that grows a lot of its own food, most Israelis are locavores. We don’t eat stuff that has been trucked thousands of miles across the country like most people do in the US.

How does climate change affect the sustainable agriculture movement?

RJS: According to Michael Pollan and many others, the food you eat is the largest single contributor to the average American’s carbon footprint. When you factor in the fossil fuels in chemical fertilizer, the excess methane emitted by belching, farting cows that are force-fed corn and antibiotics when they were designed to eat grass, and the gas used in transportation, it amounts to a whopping 20-25% of individuals’ greenhouse gas emissions. It’s incredible that such a basic human activity as eating can be done in a way that is so destructive. Once this fact sinks in widely, and we start to see government policy that put a price on carbon emissions, sustainable agriculture should receive a huge boost.

In your life, where does your role as an activist against climate change intersect with your role as a consumer of food?

RJS: I have started shopping at the Shuk in Machane Yehuda more. The fruit and vegetables in the market just pulsate with color, freshness and health, and the packaging and transport needed to get it there and then for me to take it home is minimal—we’ve begun bringing cloth shopping bags from home. It’s not a huge step, but at least it’s something.

Mahane Yehuda Market

Mahane Yehuda Market

What lessons can the sustainable foods movement learn from the climate change movement?

RJS: I actually think that more lessons can be learned in the opposite direction. One thing that the climate change movement does very well is apocalyptic rhetoric. Apocalyptic rhetoric is great for getting headlines, but poor at motivating action. People just become closed down and paralyzed. Maybe the sustainable foods movement needs its “Inconvenient Truth” to bring home the scale and seriousness of the issues. But more importantly, the climate change movement needs to learn positive ways of influencing people. It’s an easy-sell to show people that local, organic food is healthier, yummier and will enhance their lives. In analogous ways, climate change activists need to make the case that simpler lifestyles with less running around, less commuting and less hassle will bring better and more fulfilled lives.

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