The Jewish Energy Declaration: A pivotal moment

Rabbi David Saperstein:  Remarks @ COEJL Energy Declaration Signing Ceremony
February 6, 2012

Today represents a pivotal moment for our people and our world, and we stand today united as Jews to acknowledge our role in the struggle for environmental and climate justice.  In signing the Jewish Environmental and Energy Covenant pledge, we rededicate ourselves to reducing our community’s greenhouse gas emissions, for our health and the well-being of our environment, as well as for the survival of countless others who cannot speak for themselves in the face of climate crisis.  

As Jews, we are taught “The Earth is the Eternal’s and the fullness thereof.”  We Jews must be united by our care for this Earth for all the countless generations yet to be, in our desire to protect God’s creation entrusted to our care. And we know full well God’s call to us to protect the poor, the weak and the powerless.

Yet each day we bear witness to how the world’s most vulnerable –- those who contribute least to climate change and are the least equipped to mitigate the deleterious impact of climate change and least able to adapt to the development and implementation of new energy sources and a green economy -- are the most severely impacted by climate-related disasters.

So too in terms of access to energy: In our own nation, too many poor must choose between fuel and other necessities of life, such as medicine, food and transportation.  Around the world, in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Island nations and Bangladesh, farmers are already losing their crops because of warmer temperatures, making the scourge of world hunger and malnutrition even worse.

Indeed in the long-run, global climate change, with its risks of the spread of drought, erosion of arable land and disease – and attendant population shifts -- has enormous implications for world stability and U.S. strategic interests. At home, we are plagued by severe droughts, with forest fires increasingly rampant on the West Coast and access to drinking water compromised in areas of the South and the West. Many of our coastal regions have become more prone to flooding. The intimate relationship between poverty and climate disasters is only too clear.

No single weather event can be attributed solely to climate change. But we know from the havoc wreaked in places like New Orleans and communities along the Gulf Coast, places like Joplin, Missouri, that when disasters occur, it is the poorest in our nation who are unable to flee, losing their possessions, their homes and their lives. These events paint a vivid portrait of the vulnerability we all face when it comes to climate change.

Just this past week, a new California Public Health analysis of Los Angeles and Fresno counties affirmed that poor, urban and minority communities are most at risk for health problems and safety risks related to poor health quality, heat waves, flooding and wildfires.   

Today, we make clear that our response to climate change is rooted in our compassion for humankind and reflects our religious understanding of God’s call for us to protect the poor and the vulnerable. It is why the religious community, including the Jewish community, has played a lead role in ensuring strong adaptation and mitigation in U.S. legislation and at the various UN conferences shaping efforts at a new global treaty.  

And it is why today -– on the cusp of Tu Bish’vat  [the ReBirthDay of the Trees] -– the Jewish community embarks on a new chapter addressing the broader challenge of climate change by committing to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in the next two years and beyond.

Achieving this may prove challenging at times, but it will be central to our understanding of the meaning of our duty “to till and to tend” the Earth. Our commitment today represents a promise for tomorrow – a promise of an Earth with clean air to breathe, safe water to drink and environmental justice for all God’s children.