Jewish environmentalists launch campaign to combat climate change

Jewish environmentalists

The Jewish Climate Change Campaign kicked off this week in honor of Jewish Social Action Month. The plan outlines ways in which the Jewish people can capitalize on its unique institutions and rituals to help fight climate change. The Jewish plan is part of a global initiative to mobilize the world's religions organized by The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), a UK-based organization founded 14 years ago by HRH Prince Philip. The UN has also expressed keen interest in the plans. They will be presented next month at Windsor, England ahead of UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December. "The Windsor summit is an exciting opportunity to move religions into the center of climate activism. Religions are a crucial and largely untapped resource and the UN recognizes this. It's a chance to forge real partnerships. We don't know what will come out of it, but we think it will be far reaching," Jewish Climate Change Campaign co-founder Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the launch. ARC asked Sinclair and US-based Jewish environmental group Hazon to spearhead the effort. Sinclair is also a rabbinical scholar at Hazon. The plan lays out a framework for action over the next seven years (to 2015) until the next shmita year in a variety of areas. Ranging from theology to greening assets and everything in between, the plan offers philosophical guidance and practical suggestions for taking uniquely Jewish action to fight climate change and promote sustainability. Some of the ideas have been so popular, other religions have incorporated them into their plans, Sinclair said. The Jews finished a draft earlier this year after having meetings in Israel, the US and the UK. "We got an early draft of the plan finished before most faiths and it was circulated out to most of the other religions. A number of them took on board things we suggested. The Sikhs in particular took large chunks of the plan. They liked the homeland and Diaspora aspect and modeled their plan on ours," Sinclair said. Now the campaign has been launched to coincide with Jewish Social Action Month and an interactive Web site has been set up ( There, the ideas are laid out and much in the way a wiki is added to by its readers, the site has the capability to incorporate specific posts and ideas into the main bodies of the sections. There is also a pledge which readers can digitally sign. The plan attempts to balance both philosophical elements with practical suggestions and ideas. "What we're trying to do is move Jewish environmentalism from a fringe sub-specialty into the mainstream. In seven years' time we won't be talking about Jewish environmentalism, we'll be talking about Judaism. Judaism will mean creating a more sustainable world. "Central Jewish teachings like Shabbat, /i>kashrut, shmita, and brachot were always about nurturing our connection to the natural world. We need to recover and renew that connection," Sinclair declared. "This is not about grafting on Jewish environmentalism - this is about environmentalism revealing what was always there and rediscovering it. It's going to become clearer and clearer that Judaism has profound things to say and people will realize that," he added. Sinclair even went so far as to compare the transformation of Jewish theology and philosophy after the Holocaust and the foundation of the State of Israel to what will emerge in light of the climate challenge. On a practical level, the plan calls for all Jewish institutions, synagogues, federations, etc., to green their buildings and their assets. Green teams should be formed at every Jewish institution within the next few months. The teams would consist of "a committee of two or more people in every Jewish institution. They would sit down and determine how the institution can be more sustainable, putting together a seven-year plan and then getting down to work. Some synagogues already have such green teams," Sinclair said. Life cycle celebrations like brit mila, bnei mitzva and weddings could also be made more sustainable through use of biodegradable plates and silverware and a whole host of other ideas, according to the plan. The plan also highlights the need for increased educational efforts. One of the more interesting goals is cutting communal meat intake in half by 2015. According to the UN, 18% of global greenhouse gases are produced by livestock. So synagogues might want to move from that meat cholent to the vegetarian one at Kiddush. The plan also calls for support of local food initiatives. Jewish organizations should reduce airline travel and replace it with video conferencing wherever available. Since Israel is the Jewish national homeland, the Jewish Climate Change Campaign also has specific goals for the country, Sinclair said. One of the most significant ones is a very ambitious goal of producing 30% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. The government has set a goal of 10% by 2020. "It is ambitious but just doable," Sinclair freely acknowledged, "There will be green parity between solar and coal by 2015, which should greatly help matters. However, this is an area in which we've been deficient and need to think outside of the box." "If it was a national priority it would be just feasible, though I freely admit it is ambitious but not off the charts," he added. The Windsor delegation will be comprised of: Sinclair, Arava Power Company President Yosef Abramowitz, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor and holder of the environmental portfolio Naomi Tsur, former MK and honorary president of Teva Ivri Rabbi Michael Melchior, and Jewish Climate Initiative founder Dr. Michael Kagan.