The Jewish Environmental and Energy Imperative

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) believes that effective environmental action comes from building support across a wide array of Jewish viewpoints. Therefore, it is necessary to have informed discussions about the risks and advantages of different energy sources and environmental actions. We invite you to join the The Jewish Environmental and Energy Imperative Covenant.

The Jewish Environmental and Energy Imperative
A Call to Action

We have before us a challenge of special moment for Jews, a challenge as compelling and urgent as any that humankind has ever faced before, a challenge of interest both universal and particular. We write of this planet, our home and of the pressing need to transform the world’s energy economy while addressing global climate change.

As Jews: God, we are taught, declares to us, “Look at My works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world, for if you do, there will be no one after you to repair it.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)

As people of faith: We are fully aware that the issues before us impact all Americans – indeed, all Earth’s inhabitants. We weep at the heavy burden that climate change imposes on the world’s poor, we mourn its impact on the diversity of God’s creations, we tremble at the harm we impose upon our own descendants – and we are alarmed by our own vulnerability, here and now.

As Jews: We are concerned as well with the tensions caused by the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, a finite resource that is polluting our atmosphere, and by the consequent threat to the environment both in the United States and in Israel. Moreover, as a community, the security of Israel and the United States are paramount in our decision making. For the sake of both energy security and the environment, the Jewish voice must be especially loud and clear: Because of our nation’s massive dependence on oil for transportation, the United States is susceptible to pressure from oil producing nations, many of whom are unfriendly to the Jewish community’s and our nation’s interests, and our environment is made more vulnerable to the ravages of pollution.

As concerned human beings: We recognize that around the world, a quarter of all people still lack access to electricity. Many of these same people, plus millions more of the poorest around the world, have done the least to cause climate change and yet they are its principal victims. Their food security and physical safety are savagely undermined in the face of weather-related disasters and withering fields; the rapid escalation in food costs world-wide is especially burdensome to them.

So, out of concern for the well-being of all nations, and with a particular concern for the poorest among them as well as for future generations, our support for more sources of clean, renewable energy and for energy efficiency is also a matter of justice. It is also imperative that we take the steps necessary now to enhance our national energy security. This effort should be pursued with an urgency and commitment of resources akin to that of such great efforts as NASA’s intensive program to land a man on the moon, the Marshall Plan of 1948, or the invention of the Internet via DARPA – efforts that draw on the strength and resources of both government and the private sector, working together or separately, as appropriate.

We believe that the Jewish community brings distinctive resources to the challenge we face. We are not newcomers to environmental concerns, nor to the need for the cultural, political and economic changes that are required in the face of these urgent moral and strategic dangers. Around the country, Jewish institutions and organizations have been active and effective participants in admirable efforts to repair the environment. But those efforts have, until now, not had the global impact that we believe they must. It is time to mobilize the full range of our resources and make the application of those resources a central commitment of our communal agenda.

For that to happen, we need to internalize the idea of environmental responsibility, the constant awareness that we are a people of menders, of healers, and that our fractured planet – compound fractures, at that – cries out for healing. Our readiness to take up the challenge must become part of who we are and what we are about. For in the end, the environment is not something “out there”; we ourselves are part of it. We cannot “fix” the environment unless we are prepared – nay, eager – to repair ourselves. Enlightened stewardship is not only a religious and moral imperative; it is a strategy for security and survival.

This we ask and urge on behalf of your children and grandchildren, and ours. This we ask as your neighbors, whose destiny and yours are interdependent. This we ask because we know that without an enthusiastic mandate, government’s willingness and capacity to intervene on behalf of the environment and energy security are severely constricted. And this we ask because though so very much depends on the actions of government and on the support of those actions by civil society, as much also depends on our own behavior: on the carbon footprint we generate; on our success in greening our homes, synagogues, community centers, schools, workplaces and the buildings we own; on our active efforts to become responsible consumers; and on the decision each of us takes to make the healing of our planet more than an episodic expression.

With respect to oil and its dominance in world transport, conservation and increased efficiency represent the most immediate and implementable means of reducing energy dependence. Conservation and efficiencies in energy use – in particular, through aggressive measures directed at increases in fuel economy – must therefore be achieved even at the expense of limited and reasonable increases in the short-term cost of living and personal comfort. In addition, measures to increase use and development of alternative technologies and alternative energy resources should be emphasized as well as conservation and increased efficiency.

It is with these considerations in mind that we should first and foremost set as a goal reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions by 14% by September of 2014.[1]

This three-year goal will build on recent energy efficiency efforts and be measured through electric bills. As use falls, evidence of our fealty to our values will rise. The sharp decrease in our energy usage will free up a sacred seventh of our resources for purposes such as education and Torah, and set the stage for further reductions in our impact.[2] Looking to our energy costs at the outset of this campaign and taking into consideration any relevant energy efficiency efforts that preceded the campaign, we will create an initial baseline from which to measure our full carbon footprint. We will also urge our respective communities to do the same.

With the baseline in hand, we will build on this effort in the decades ahead. For beyond the immediacy of our energy bills, our aim is to explore and decrease the true environmental impact of our Jewish institutions and individuals. Change in our lifestyles and in the ways our institutions are managed will maximize our collective contribution to the common good. Our ultimate goal is guided by science and the target put forward by the United States government: Greenhouse gases are to be reduced by 83% of 2005 levels by the year 2050. We fully share this goal, and for this we will agitate and advocate. The hour demands of us to do no less.

As leaders and teachers of the Jewish community concerned about future generations everywhere, we therefore pledge our own personal commitment to:

  • Elevate the Jewish environmental and energy imperative by calling for climate justice and environmental responsibility; by urging others to join us in that effort; and by calling for measures to reduce our dependence on oil, including increased fuel efficiency.
  • Engage in Jewish stewardship by greening our homes and buildings, our houses of worship and places of communal gathering to model the action we seek.
  • Set as a goal reduction of our own emissions of greenhouse gases by 14% by September of 2014. Including recent efforts and using our energy costs as an initial measure, we will create a comprehensive baseline with which to measure our full carbon footprint and work within this community-wide effort.

In the coming year, we will urge our institutions and all other Jewish institutions to commit to the following goals:

Elevate the Jewish environmental and energy imperative by:

  • Encouraging Jews across North America to adopt these goals in their personal and business lives, and in their residential and commercial buildings; reaching out especially to Jews in leadership positions in the public, communal and private sectors to ensure that Jewish-owned real estate, be it communal or individual, goes green;
  • Encouraging Jewish philanthropists to support Jewish environmental organizations and initiatives and to support clean technology innovation;
  • Advocating legislation and policies that promote energy security, alternative technology, alternative and renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainability;
  • Advocating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels while seeking to build a sustainable and resilient response to climate change, especially in developing nations that are most vulnerable;
  • Advocating for setting national standards that will improve fuel economy at a national level

Engage in Jewish stewardship by creating a sustainability plan for our agencies and institutions that includes the following goals for implementation:

  • Set as a goal reduction of our own emissions of greenhouse gases by 14% by September of 2014; including recent efforts and using our energy costs as an initial measure, create a comprehensive baseline with which to measure our full carbon footprint and work within this community-wide effort;
  • Conduct a comprehensive energy audit;
  • Identify a sustainability officer, team, or otherwise appropriate green contact person – with an integrated, system-wide approach in mind;
  • Connect and share resources with our Jewish, interfaith, and civic partners in such efforts, both locally and nationally;
  • Identify and commit to specific energy/greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, and to specific reporting structures to evaluate and publicize progress.

For if we do not do these things, who will do them? Though we are neither prophets nor the sons and daughters of prophets, are we not Earth’s custodians, guardians of a creation entrusted to us by God for all future generations, assigned to choose life? Call us watchmen, call us sentinels, call us your brothers and your sisters, who turn to you b’chol lashon shel bakashah, in every tongue of request: Join with us, that we may together restore what has been ruined, make straight the crooked way, preserve, protect, and cherish the bounty that is ours to tend and ours to bequeath, repaired, to those yet to come.

[1] Leaders and communities that have alternative reduction goals, such as those by the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment or those set by other standards, are still considered part of the overall 14% by 2014 goal of reducing our communal contribution to greenhouse gases and energy consumption.

[2] Shmittah and the ‘sacred seventh’: The ‘sacred seventh’ refers not only to Shabbat, of course, but to the longer cycles of Shmittah or shabbaton, in other words, sabbatical years. Leviticus 25 holds out the economic and social ideal of a world in which land, animals, workers and owners alike enjoy their rest. In the present cycle of sustainability, Fall 2014 inaugurates the next Shmittah year. Our current Creation-care effort, then, is “a seventh by the seventh”: to attain a one-seventh (or 14%) reduction in our emissions by the seventh year in the cycles of God’s Creation.



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