Climate Change bus 248.88.
(photo credit: )
'Burning fossil fuels is as if you are burning all of the furniture in your house to stay warm. But you are running out of furniture and it's beginning to stink because of all the smoke. Oh, and the basement is flooding." That's just one of the metaphors Pesach Stadlin, 31, and the other members of a traveling troupe of teachers used to help get across their Jewish message of sustainability during a two-month odyssey traversing the continental US. The other, biggest, tool is their transportation - a topsy-turvy bus which runs on used vegetable oil.
The bus is a perfect tool for their funky educational message. Stadlin and the other four members of the project converted it to run on used vegetable oil. It has a solar oven on the roof, a worm compost and plants, Stadlin said last week by phone from San Francisco the day before they joined the Hazon food conference in Monterey Bay.
The bus itself is built with what looks like a matching bus upside down on the first one's roof, and it has a long history of activism behind it.
"The bus was first commissioned by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream to protest defense spending. After that, it was used by Daniel Bowman-Simon to advocate for an organic garden on the White House lawn. He parked it outside the White House and had a greenhouse on the top," Stadlin said.
After achieving his goal, Bowman-Simon turned the bus over to the Teva Learning Center, a Jewish environmental education center in the US. And when Hazon and others started thinking about how to spread the word of their new climate change campaign, they hit upon the idea of a road trip.
The Teva Topsy-Turvy Climate Change bus, in partnership with Hazon, has just wrapped up that two-month cross-country trip to spread the message of Jewish sustainability Five dedicated educators took to the road in the aftermath of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation summit of world religions at Windsor, England, to spread the word of the Jewish Climate Change Campaign. The campaign, which was launched last month, calls for individual and community action to encourage sustainable practices over the next several years until the next shmita year.
With a kickoff at the UN, "where we received plants and gifts from UN officials," they began to cross the US, stopping at synagogues, schools and community centers.
"There's a Jewish phrase about pursuing justice. We can't just sit back and wait for it," Stadlin explained. "We're focusing on the Jews first, so we can get our act together as a tribe and teach other tribes."
The educational idea is to pass along the Jewish Climate Change Campaign pledge, teach about climate change and offer solutions and strategies.
"What kind of light unto the nations do we want to be? We wanted to reach out to Jewish institutions and communities. We helped them form green teams in their institutions, talked to them about energy audits and converting school lawns and sports fields to gardens to grow their own food," he said.
"We spent two weeks in Texas talking to the Jewish communities there about their oil consumption."
For Stadlin, environmental messages abound in the Torah. "Joseph foresaw a global climate change. The Torah says there was a drought and a heat wave for the whole world. And what did Joseph do? He prepared during the plentiful years. He put up grain silos for locally grown food - it says in the Torah that it was locally grown. We are in that phase now.
"Our current system is oil based and that is unsustainable. There's a big movement in the Northeast about eco-Judaism. Connecting earth love, agriculture and preservation to Torah. There are Jewish farms associated with ADAMAH, at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center where Teva conducts its fall-season programming.
"We wanted to cross pollinate to let them know about it. The Texans didn't know about it and now they want a Teva education center in Texas."
STADLIN AND the other members of the project - Jonathan Dubinsky, Elizabeth Cossin, Baruch Schwadron and Rachel Playe - developed a curriculum to use with elementary and middle-school kids.
The introduction was a skit giving the basic science of global warming. Kids played the parts of the sun, the Earth, the sun's rays and the atmosphere. Since it was Hanukka, they also connected the issues of oil, Stadlin explained.
"Then there are three stations. A tour of the bus. The bus tries to exemplify a sustainable design where there is no waste.
"Let's say you eat a bag of chips that's been flown around the world to reach you. You are left with this stupid bag at the end that you don't know what to do with. That's a poor design. And that's not how God created Earth. God gave us a manual - the Torah - and placed us in a garden. We believe we are still in that garden. You can wrap it up in concrete but it wants to break through and give us its abundance," Stadlin said.
The second station was an arts-and-crafts project to build a solar oven. "The kids brought pizza boxes or shoe boxes and tinfoil. We'd bake cookies or little pizzas, and the kids would take the solar oven home with them," he said.
"The sun laughs at us as we scrounge around for energy [instead of utilizing its rays]."
The third station is the pledge station. Here they generated a debate about specific actions each child could take. Things like cutting back on meat consumption. Or riding your bike to school.
For the last part, they would come back together and each kid would get up on a chair and announce to his fellow pupils and teachers what action she had taken upon herself.
"That for me was really a highlight. Seeing these kids get up and announce in front of 100 of their peers what they will change. We spent just two to three hours with them but I could really see the blinders come off.
"The bus is a radical reality. It's about designing your own life. And then when they announced it in front of their peers - it made me feel like we were doing the right thing [with the bus tour]. It gave me a lot of hope," Stadlin declared.
Schwadron, 26, was in charge of the systems on the bus, particularly the grease system. He was responsible for locating new sources of supply of the used vegetable oil.
"The highlight for me was seeing how excited people got by seeing the bus. We connected through that excitement. It was great to see how effective a tool the bus is and how beautiful the messages it has carried are," he said.
They found the vegetable oil to run the bus by pulling up to restaurants and asking them for their used oil.
"Sushi restaurants had the best oil, so everyone got really good at spotting them every time we entered a new city and calling out," he recalled. "Traveling across country in a vegetable-oil-powered bus is a totally different framework than how we usually travel. Instead of a monetary transaction at a gas station, it was a social transaction. I would meet the managers, meet the waiters; we were building a community.
"It was also great for the Jewish people. We would go to places that basically had never had any interaction with Jews - certainly not a Jewish environmental educational organization. And they would not have had any interaction with us if not for the oil. An understanding was built and they saw Jews doing great, loving, passionate things."
This latest saga of the topsy turvy bus is drawing to a close. For now, the bus will be parked and the members will go on to partake of other struggles. But they feel good about their mission these last two months.
And "when the ice caps refreeze, the weather stabilizes and we overcome this hurdle called global warming - it might be the most amazing thing human beings have ever done," Stadlin said.
For more information about their trip, including videos, go to
For more information about the Jewish Climate Change Campaign and to sign the pledge, go to: www.jewishclimatecampaign.org