Judaism and being Green

Green Hannukia's approach are wrong to believe religion is part of problem.

air pollution 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
air pollution 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
This Hanukka representatives of nearly every nation in the world are meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali. They are there to negotiate an international agreement to avert catastrophic climate change. Two weeks ago, the top climate scientists from 140 nations published a joint report that places the dire reality of global climate change beyond any dispute. They found that global warming is proceeding according to what previously was thought to be the worst case scenario. Already thousands more are dying from climate change induced drought and flood in Africa. Rainfall in Israel is projected to drop by a precipitous 30% in the next 50 years and our coastal cities will be menaced by the threat of inundation. Bali itself and several sovereign states with seats in the United Nations are expected to disappear under rising Pacific waves within three decades. Responding to this report, the UN Secretary-General declared humankind has two or three years to act in order to avert disaster. In the light of this planetary emergency, we ought to grant that the Green Hannukia campaign to encourage every Jewish family to light one less Hanukka candle this year as a contribution to fighting climate change is well-intentioned. Let us assume that it's not a piece of gratuitous religion-bashing but is a rather a sincere effort to help prevent global warming. The organizers insist that their initiative is not merely symbolic. They claim that Hanukka candles do significant damage to the atmosphere. Every candle gives off 15 grams of CO2. I certainly hope that the organizers never have occasion to drive between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They would need to persuade over 1,400 people to reduce their Hanukka candle light to offset the carbon emitted by one such return journey. Of course it is safe to assume that the guiding lights behind Green Hannukia would never so much as step on an airplane. If 200,000 Jewish families were to heed Green Hannukia's call, which I imagine would represent a level of success beyond the organizers' wildest dreams, that would save 3 tons of CO2, precisely the amount emitted by one person's return air flight from Tel Aviv to New York. WHAT BOTHERS me about Green Hannukia's approach, however, is not their eccentric carbon calculations. Rather, it is the strong impression they give that religion is part of the problem. "Global warming is a milestone in human development that forces us to rethink the way we live our lives," explains campaign organizer Liad Otzar. "One of these paradigms is religion and the way that it fits into the current situation." If Judaism encourages ancient practices that emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, however little, then Judaism must bow before the overwhelming contemporary commandment to reduce our carbon footprints. Green Hannukia is apparently oblivious to the ways in which religion is increasingly part of the solution. In Britain the world's first Climate Change Bill mandating legally binding reductions in gases is currently before the House of Commons. Christian lobbying organizations played a major role in putting it on the parliamentary agenda. Here in Israel, Tikkun Olam - A Jewish Initiative on Climate Change was founded on the belief that Judaism and indeed all the world's major faiths are a crucial missing piece in the climate change policy puzzle. We believe that religion is uniquely able to mobilize the far-reaching changes in individual behavior, to inspire the mass lobbying campaigns of our governments and to catalyze the profound shifts in attitudes and consciousness that will be necessary to preserve a viable future on Earth for our children and grandchildren. Indeed, Green Hannukia seems unaware of the inspirational teachings that Hanukka itself can bring to bear on combating climate change. Rabbi Arthur Waskow points out that Hanukka is the original holiday of energy conservation. Just as the oil that the Maccabees found burned for eight days instead of the anticipated one, so too we must find ways, whether natural or seemingly miraculous, to reduce our fossil energy use by a similar proportion. If you want to make a meaningful gesture on climate change, Tikkun Olam suggests that you add an additional green candle to your hannukia, then leave it unlit as a symbol of your commitment to conserving energy. Above all, Hanukka is the festival of hope that the light kindled by a few can dispel darkness and despair felt by many. Hope is a resource in short supply in the contemporary climate change debates. Al Gore notes that many have passed straight from denial that climate change is a problem to despair without passing through the intermediate stage of hope. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of Britain points out that hope is a distinctively (though not exclusively) religious virtue. It is not the same as optimism. Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the belief that together we can make them better. Let us kindle all our Hanukka candles this year, and see in their light the hope that together we can act to ensure a safe climate future for ourselves, our children, the world's poorest and most vulnerable people, and all the creatures with whom we share God's earth. The writer, a rabbi, is co-founder of Tikkun Olam - Jewish Initiative on Climate Change and author of the recently released Let's Schmooze!