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Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Climate Initiative’

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!

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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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Jewish Climate Initiative/Hazon‘s recent Vayehi Or event was recently featured in the Jerusalem Post, in an article by Ehud Zion Waldoks, entitled “The Jewish People’s New Challenge: Climate Change.” Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Can Judaism provide a solution to global climate change? Jews have tackled many challenges over the past millennia, but none quite as titanic as this.

This week, 55 select experts in a variety of fields kicked off their first session in Jerusalem, with the aim of drawing up what has been called a “Seven Year Plan for the Jewish People on Climate Change and Sustainability.”

The initiative is being spearheaded by the New York-based Jewish environmental organization, Hazon (“vision”), and the Israel-based Jewish Climate Initiative (JCI).

Click Here for the full story.

In addition, JCI’s Rabbi Sinclair and Hazon’s Nigel Savage wrote a piece for the Jewish Chronicle: “Let’s Think Big. Shabbat can Save the Plant.Click Here to read their article.

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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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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

What sort of damages are environmental damages? What sort of restitution is necessary to put them right? This is a foundational question for environmental theory and practice. We will argue that Talmudic thought provides a very useful set of tools and concepts for thinking about the question.

The main means of compensation for environmental damage is money. Yet we instinctively feel that monetary compensation, though necessary, is not always sufficient.

Part 1

Suppose a polluting factory causes a generally non-fatal variety of cancer in its vicinity. Imagine too that the factory owners are sued, and end up paying full financial compensation to the victims for their suffering, medical bills and unemployment. Have they thereby cleared their moral obligation? We would tend to think not. There is something about causing people to contract cancer that money alone cannot put right.

Or suppose that a rare species of butterfly lives in a nature reserve and that visitors pay to come and see this natural wonder. What if toxic emissions cause the butterfly to become extinct? Then what if the emitters fully compensate the reserve owners for loss of revenue? Have they made good the extinction of the butterflies? It’s pretty clear that they haven’t. There’s a dimension of damage involved in destroying a unique species that is unquantifiable and cannot be made up for with money.

Policy discussions on global climate change, which has emerged as the most serious and urgent environmental threat, provide some striking examples of this issue. The Stern review was a major report commissioned by the UK government from Sir Nicholas Stern, Chief Economic Adviser to the Treasury, to assess the economic implications of climate change. It found that the global cost of unrestrained climate change in the 21st century would range between 5% and 20% of world GDP over the 21st century. Conversely, the Review estimated the cost of taking preventative action to mitigate the effects of climate change as 1% of global GDP over the same period. Stern proved that it is unequivocally cheaper to run the world than to wreck it.

This was welcome news to those who wish to see action on climate change. However, the basis of Stern’s calculations is complex and problematic. Stern himself acknowledges the immense difficulties in estimating global costs of climate change impacts where the uncertainties are great, the time scale is long and the distribution of effects is highly unequal.

Chapter 2 of the Stern Review is a fascinating exploration of how this task runs up against some of the key unresolved questions in economic theory. The Chapter goes on to describe and justify the positions which the Review decided to take on some of these issues.

To take three brief examples: firstly, the distribution of impacts from climate change is likely to be extremely unfair. The poorest countries in the world will suffer first and they will suffer most, both because they tended to be located in areas where weather changes will be most severe and which are already susceptible to droughts and floods, and because they have far fewer resources with which to take mitigating measures. Moreover a given dollar reduction in consumption for the rich is clearly far less serious for their well-being than the same loss would be for the poor. This runs into the well-know problem in welfare economics of aggregating social preferences. Stern takes the enlightened view that the welfare of the world’s poorest, many of whom are currently on the verge of subsistence, should be given greater weight in the calculation.

Secondly assessing the long term impacts requires welfare comparisons of present with future generations. The worst effects of climate change will strike in the life time of our children and grandchildren. Mainstream economic theory makes an assumption of “pure time preference;” that rational, maximizing individuals would rather have a given utility today than the same utility tomorrow, next year or next century. This is the main principle that underlies the discounting of future wellbeing against the present by around 5% per year. Applying that discount rate to the effects of climate change would imply that impacts due to occur in fifty years are of negligible significance in present day decision making. The “pure time preference” assumption was severely criticized by some of the twentieth century’s leading economists. Stern rejects the assumption as immoral and gives the same weight to the wellbeing of future generations as to our own.

Thirdly, the assessment requires finding ways to incorporate radical uncertainty. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) whose findings are the scientific basis for the Stern Review estimates that average global temperatures will rise by somewhere between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees centigrade over the 21st century. These figures span a range from the unpleasant but manageable to the unimaginably catastrophic. Outcomes towards the top end of that estimate would be way outside anything humans have ever experienced on Earth. This makes it very difficult to know what the real impacts of such a huge rise in temperatures would be and so to attach costs to those consequences. Here Stern invokes a distinction made by J.M.Keynes between risk and uncertainty. Risk is a measure of the uncertainty in decision making about the future in a case where we can assign probabilities and hence expected values to the different possible outcomes. Uncertainty is the corresponding situation in which it is impossible to estimate probabilities and expected values. Based on recent theoretical work extending Keynes distinction by the French economist Claude Henry, Stern posits plausibly that decision makers are “uncertainty averse”. They will give greater weight in their deliberations to the worst foreseeable consequences even if precisely because of uncertainty, expected values cannot be placed on those outcomes.

Stern recognizes where his project bumps up against the limits of economic theory. He sees the serious problems involved in assigning monetary values to consequences that are unknowable and in comparing damages that are incommensurable. Yet, despite his understanding of the complexities and his humane instincts in addressing them, in the end he lumps together all of the costs into one monetary sum. The 5-20% figure includes economically quantifiable costs such as physical damage to property, together with estimated dollar costs for the destruction of eco-systems and human communities, death from hunger, thirst and disease. All these are combined in a figure that he calls “equivalent to a reduction in consumption.”

Whatever its advantages in presenting Stern’s findings to policy-makers, this reduction of non-monetary costs to cold numbers is ethically problematic. What if the calculations had come out differently? Would Stern then have proved that it is economically worthwhile to destroy a certain number of lives and ecosystems rather than to invest a lot of money in technologies that would help us avoid dangerous climate change? And does he mean to imply that death and destruction of irreplaceable species and ecosystems could, after the fact, be adequately compensated by money? Both conclusions would seem to miss an important distinction between monetary and non-monetary damage.

George Monbiot, a British political journalist, makes the same point. He wonders what exactly the British Department of Transport means when it suggests that the aviation industry should pay the (climate change) external costs its activities impose on society at large.

“This is an interesting proposal, but unfortunately, the department does not explain how it could be arranged. Should a steward be sacrificed every time someone in Ethiopia dies of hunger? As Bangladesh goes under water, will the government demand the drowning of a commensurate number of airline executives? The idea is strangely attractive. But the only suggestion it makes is that aviation fuel might be taxed.”

Monbiot humorously but incisively points out that while money is the main means we have of compensating for environmental damage, we often feel that it is wholly inadequate.

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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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