Growing the Green Menorah: Report on Shalom Center meeting of June 18, 2007

Report from Rabbi Arthur Waskow. See below for background and fuller exploration of an extraordinarily rich meeting on energy policy and the danger of global scorching/ climate crisis held by The Shalom Center on June 18, 2007. Out of this meeting came a new approach to personal & policy change. -- the Green Menorah Covenant Coalition.

The report follows this outline:

· List of participants.

· Waskow's introduction and statement of our intentions.

· Socolow & Komanoff presentations, with guides to their Websites and with some notes on discussions directly connected to their talks.

· Review of the problems and ethico-political needs that emerged from this exploration.

· Examination of the present state of the issue in the Jewish community.

· Draft statement of the Seven Lights of the Green Menorah - seven policy principles or orientations to guide policy choices; a summary of next steps we agreed on and notes on people who took responsibility to pursue them.


R. Arthur Waskow, chair of meeting; director, The Shalom Center

Expert Presenters:

Charles Komanoff, Carbon Tax Center
Rob Socolow, Carbon Mitigation Initiative, Princeton University

Jewish community leaders and activists:

Russ Agdern, National Organizer, Shalom Center 's Beyond Oil campaign
Nick Alpers, Program Coordinator, Shalom Center
Josh Arnow, supporter of The Shalom Center
Adam Berman, director, Isabella Freedman; founder, Adamah Fellowship; board of Hazon
Melissa Boteach, Washington staff, Jewish Council for Public Affairs for Equal Opportunity, Social Justice, and Environmental policy.
R. Nina Cardin, Rabbinical Assembly & convenor of Baltimore Jewish committee on environment & climate crisis.
R. Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Shalom Center Board, board of COEJL & Religious Witness for the Environment.
Naomi Friedman, Washington Area Green Tikkun Committee; DC Tifereth Israel Shomrei Adamah.
R. Leonard Gordon, chair of Rabbinical Assembly Social Action committee, Board of The Shalom Center.
R. Steve Gutow, executive director, Jewish Council on Public Affairs
R. Mordechai Liebling, vice-president, Jewish Funds for Justice; chair, The Shalom Center board
Jim Rosenstein, JCPA Equal Opportunity and Social Justice Task Force
Susan Saxe, chief operating officer, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
R. Barry Schwartz, co-chair, CCAR Committee on Environment
R. Jeff Sultar, board of Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assn.; consultant to Shalom Center's Beyond Oil campaign

1. Introductory Meeting Overview (Arthur Waskow)

Over the last 15-20 years the US Jewish community (through such institutions as Shomrei Adamah, The Shalom Center, and COEJL (Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) has been educated/led into limited recognition of Judaism's connection with environmental concerns. This has had some limited effect in two areas:

A. There has emerged an elementary readiness to see some Jewish festivals and some aspects of Torah as energy-concerned. (Not yet life-cycle events and not yet such areas of Jewish law as business ethics.)

B) There have been a few elementary steps toward congregational involvement in hands-on energy conservation.

C. Next necessary step in the evolution is advocacy for policy change at local, state, national, corporate, and labor-union levels. We're meeting today to address what policy changes would be most effective, and how Jewish community can bring them about.

2. Expert presentation: Rob Socolow, ethical choices and technological possibilities

Rob Socolow offered a detailed and fascinating overview of the scope of the problem of atmospheric carbon, an approach to breaking down the problem into comprehensible pieces, and policy options for slowing, stabilizing, and eventually reducing the human-generated atmospheric carbon that is heating the earth. You can download a pdf of his powerpoint presentation at

Rob began with ethical and philosophical issues - concerns likely to be important for discussion and change by a religious community.

What is certain, what is not? -- Certain that global heating is real, has a major component of human causality, and will create severe damage if unchecked. Not certain: how quickly the damage is coming, how huge it will be. Rob argued this calls for an "insurance" model, not statements of absolute certainty of immediate doom.

Morally problematic issues:

Root cause: Consumer values and ethical concerns meet a small planet that we are just getting to know.

The good life is very widely defined as exuberance, variety of experience, acquisition of material goods. These values call for high use of fossil fuels.

Inequality and emulation: half of the world's emissions come from the richest 10% of the people (500 million people, 85% in OECD today). The poorest will have far less ability to defend themselves and will suffer more from such impacts as sea-level change, desertification, droughts, intensification of hurricanes, etc. For those in the middle, the prestige of the rich brings emulation of their lifestyle; so the inequities tend to make matters worse.

2A. Needed ethico-religious-political change:

Encouraging greater equality. Subsidizing the poor to deal with the impacts of global heating, Redirection of the values of the rich especially, and restrictions (through taxation, etc.) on their wealth or its use for more material purchases.

More "Buddhist" value-system encouraging temperance and simplicity. Note: In Jewish and other religious communities, there has been a spreading attraction to emphasizing those values as they appear within each of the traditions. Goal in Jewish life: to strengthen these trends.

A newly conceived responsibility for the well-being of future generations. Goal: Emphasize those elements in Jewish life that point toward well-being, not sheer numbers, of the next generation. Use bar/bat mitzvah and confirmation moments to focus on healing the earth for the sake of future generations.

Greater willingness to prevent further population growth. Goal: Encourage women's equality (which everywhere leads to fewer children) and transformation of religious imperatives for more children (esp. strong now in Catholic & Muslim countries). Special problem for Jews: post-Holocaust panic about numbers. Need: redirection of Jewish concern to quality and depth of the Jewish life lived by greater number of Jews, rather than increase in biological numbers.]

2B. Technological Possibilities:

Rob then focused more directly on technological changes to reduce carbon emissions. He explained his work with Steven Pecala in identifying 15 policy initiatives, each of which could reduce carbon output by 1 billion tons annually by 2055. - Enacting 7 of these policy "wedges" could stabilize the output of carbon into the atmosphere at current levels. Enacting more would reduce our carbon output.

Rob identified 4 priorities:
1) Invent a carbon-smart, post-industrial society, with particular emphasis in developed countries on reducing the use of oil for transport and carbon-generated electrical power for buildings.
2) Redirect the rush to coal, using clean energy alternatives (e.g., wind, solar, possibly nuclear).
3) Where necessary, push for carbon capture (chemical binding & non-atmospheric storage) at ongoing coal facilities.
4) Engage the whole world in the effort.

3: Komanoff expert presentation: Major policy alternatives: Cap or tax?

Charles Komanoff presented his analysis of two policy alternatives to restrict carbon output into the atmosphere: cap-and-trade, on the one hand, and a carbon tax on the other.

Charles' powerpoint presentation is available on

Cap-and-trade means that a government agency sets a limit or cap on the amount of a pollutant (CO2) that can be emitted. Companies or other groups that emit the pollutant are given credits or allowances which represent the right to emit a specific amount. The total amount of credits cannot exceed the cap, limiting total emissions to that level. Companies that pollute beyond their allowances must buy credits from those who pollute less than their allowances or face heavy penalties. This transfer is referred to as a trade. In effect, the buyer is being fined for polluting, while the seller is being rewarded for having reduced emissions.

Carbon taxing means that a government taxes producers of various energy sources according to the amount of carbon their energy source emits into the atmosphere. The tax may show up in reduced profits to the producer, or in increased prices to the customer. Thus the tax tends tyo encourage non-carbon-emitting energy production.

Charles sees a carbon tax as a better alternative than the cap-and-trade systems currently being debated on Capitol Hill. He outlined his ideal carbon tax plan, which involves a tax of $37/ton of carbon ($0.10 per gallon of gasoline), implemented and then repeated each year for ten years. (That is, each year the tax goes up another $37/ ton of carbon till it reaches $370/ ton of carbon). We'd end up, then, with a $1.00 per gallon tax on gasoline and, on average, seven cents tax per kWh of electricity.

Charles favors a tax because:

1) It's progressive, especially if you invest the revenues in infrastructure or other social goods; or tax-shift by reducing present regressive taxes (e.g payroll Social-Security tax); or (like Alaska's citizen dividend on oil revenues) simply return the money to taxpayers on a per-capita basis (approx. $1,700/year, which would be more than a lower-income taxpayer would have paid in carbon taxes).
2) It creates predictable expenses for carbon output, which will make adjustment to the new system easier.
3) It's easier to prevent loopholes in a tax than in a cap-and-trade system.

The biggest drawback is the American resistance to new taxes. But Charles argued that this resistance would compel supporters of the carbon tax to challenge this reactionary hostility to taxes and the public good, and would make the campaign for a carbon tax a much more public, open, and democratic process than a campaign for a cap-and-trade system. (In cap-and-trade, the original setting of over-all caps may be in public sight by legislation, but the tug of price negotiation between buyers and sellers of emission credits will be much more opaque than passing a tax bill.)

Open discussion followed. There was some conversation about the policy alternatives, including questions about a hybrid system involving both cap-and-trade and a carbon tax. But most of the discussion involved the role of the Jewish community in this great debate, and the role of the activists and leaders assembled at our meeting within the Jewish community.

Some discussion involved the balance between public policy advocacy and private/organization behavioral changes.

We also discussed urging changes in lifestyle, such as reducing commuting and long-distance travel, urging use of public transit (and, in public policy, investment in public transit to make this more appealing). This led to a discussion about community planning and re-urbanization. We discussed how each of these goals could be one of the "wedges" from Rob Socolow's presentation.

4. Where is the Jewish community now, what is needed?
Several issues arose:

A. Connecting policy issues with rabbinic tradition: Rabbis Barry Schwartz, Nina Beth Cardin, & Leonard Gordon pointed out the need to ground our presentation of global heating and carbon policy to Jewish leaders and communities in the light of specific, persuasive parts of the Jewish tradition. Present levels of doing so (e.g. Bal Tashchit) are fairly weak. For example:

· What about business ethics, such areas of contract law and marriage law as "perot" ("fruits" : i.e., the need to protect the principle of an investment while using the product: apply this to sustainable earth.

· What about the balance between communal decision-making for the general welfare (e.g. rabbinic limits on spending for celebrations, rabbinic price controls in times of shortages), as distinct from setting communal context for private decision-making, as in business ethics?

· What about, e.g., examining the "carbon offset" practice of paying for someone else to make up for one's own use of carbon in the light of the
"Shabbos goy" and our value-system toward that?

B. What is the balance between energy transformation for climate- crisis reasons and "energy independence" from Middle East oil?

Much of present energy policy in the "official" Jewish institutions has been built around seeking US "energy independence" - as Jim Rosenstein said, presumably with that as one leg of a tripod of which the other legs are minimizing the climate crisis and protecting the economy.

The problem is that for many who espouse "energy independence," this means supporting the use of any source of energy other than Middle East oil -- including Alaskan oil, coal, corn-based ethanol - all carbon despoilers of the climate. And protection of the economy can mean dependence on the present shape of the economy instead of planning for alternatives and reconversion - so that, for example, auto companies and workers are protected from CAFÉ standards rather than assisted in reconverting to make better cars or something else.

For these reasons, The Shalom Center has chosen to focus on addressing climate crisis as the central goal. We support economic reconversion to fit into that, not protection of the economic status quo. And we look on energy independence as an additional spur to move away from using oil, not as a spur to use carbon-producing sources of energy.

C. Jewish institutional investors. We discussed the possibility of influencing them (e.g. pension funds and Federation endowments) to invest in new non-carbon technologies. This is a very uphill battle because the institutional-investment focus is on high financial yield. But it was pointed out that individual wealthy Jews can shift their investments with more ease than institutions.

D. State and local policy lobbying. Many of the important environmental innovations are happening on state and local level. Jewish community is historically a national lobby and not a state lobby. State lobbying is crucial. Some JCRCs have decent working relationships with local or state governments, but in general the JCRC's have become much weraker in the last decade.

Note that even with few Jews in place to do state-based lobbying, states can be assisted by lobbying at Federal level to prevent preemption of states from their advances.

Given the special sea-rise pressures on Florida and the large Jewish community there, should we make special efforts to engage them?

E. "Prophetic" or "far-out" demands as compared to "compromise / make it happen -oriented" voices in the Jewish and other worlds.

The role of The Shalom Center has been to clearly voice a prophetic agenda while staying in touch with many of the larger institutional structures of the Jewish (and other religious) worlds.

Policy details and/or principles: There was discussion of how fine-grained the discussion of public policy could be for various different segments of the Jewish community, now and in the future. The group agreed that some basic policy principles must be laid out now. Then, as the policy debate advances and choices emerge, the community must focus more on specifics.

The ability of the Jewish community to advocate knowledgeably on this issue is still rudimentary. For that reason, appeals to hold congregational conversation with officials may be premature until congregations know the basic policy principles they are urging.

We need a connecting / communicating body, so active people can work together at some point. No one organization has the ability to be an umbrella. But we can communicate and connect. Many of us are minority voices in our institutions, which don't have the environmental voices we like. We can be allies to help each other move our organizations along.

Arthur: We'll set up the list serve; feel free to send us information, and we'll disseminate.

Meanwhile, can we also think about reaching out to larger groups? For instance, could we replicate this discussion we're having, or at least a panel discussion with these and similar experts, in more public ways. Could we hold such public forums about global scorching in cities on the east coast corridor?

Nina Beth: Green event for 9/30 in Baltimore might do that.

Discussion of creating a PowerPoint series and training a number of PowerPoint teachers to do the kind of teaching/ organizing that today's meeting has been.

5. The seven-wedge approach

What about centering the campaign around a "seven wedge" set of principles, capped by Shabbat? (As images to communicate this, possibilities suggested were the seven-branched "Green Menorah" that The Shalom Center has already been using; or possible the magen David with six points on the periphery and Shabbat at the center. )

The group agreed to adopt this model and draw on the major proposals for policy shift that emerged in the discussion. It was agreed that R. Arthur Waskow would draft the seven lights/ wedges for discussion by a subcommittee.

The Waskow draft follows. In addition, since the meeting two other formulations were sent - see below - one by R. Nina Beth Cardin and one by R. Barry Schwartz.

Waskow approach, focused on policy as is the present priority of The Shalom Center:

Please note: These seven principles can be implemented at international, national, state, local, corporation, labor-union, congregational, and household levels. All can be affected by actions of religious, including Jewish, communities. Each would be supported by citation of Jewish texts and values, by scientific assessment, and by public-policy assessment.

A. Making carbon pay: making it public policy that carbon emissions into the atmosphere must cost the emitter, whether through a carbon tax or carbon caps, or a combination, and providing for a rising ramp of such costs. At the personal level, this means agreeing as hoiuseholds, congregations, even individuals to reduce our carbon emissions in one area of our lives if we need to increase them in another.

B. Shifting public subsidies, loans, and investments from high-carbon to low-carbon energy sources: Ending subsidies to such carbon-producing sources of energy as coal, oil, and corn-based ethanol; creating and constantly increasing subsidies for research and production of non-carbon-emitting sources of energy such as wind, solar, switch-grass. For individuals and households, this means chamging our purchasing habits, joining wind-energy plans, etc.

C. Energy conservation in buildings. Setting strong building-code regulations for new buildings and retrofitting old ones. We can make these decisions as well in our own homes, our congregational buildings, etc.

D. Energy conservation in transportation: Reducing/ ending subsidies to high-emission forms of transportation (autos and airplanes), imposing costs on them, insisting on strong conservation measures to reduce emissions from autos and airplanes, and raising subsidies to lower-energy-consuming forms of transportation (bikes, rail, walking) and for meetings by teleconferencing, etc., that use less energy. Again, what forms of transpoiration do we choose as households?

E. Whether in actual cities or in suburbs, strongly encouraging urban-style high-density living and discouraging sprawl -- with subsidies, investment in urban recreation, workplaces, etc. vs investment in suburban and low-density housing, long distances between home and workplace, etc.)

F. Focusing education, arts, and science on climate crisis. Subsidizing scientific climate-crisis analysis; climate-centered educational projects throughout school years from pre-K through grad school; support for art, literature, music, dance, film, games, etc. that address climate crisis. In religious life and specifically Jewish life, infusing celebration of festivals, life-cycle markers (esp. intergenerational markers like bar/bat mitzvah & confirmation), prayer, and Torah-study with concern for the earth and climate.

G. Shabbat: Setting aside restful time as practice and model (especially but not exclusively in Jewish life). Encouraging minimal work and use of carbon-emitting energy for the time of Shabbat itself ; and on that principle, making public policy favoring longer vacation and holiday time for family, neighborhood, and communal celebration (as against long-distance high-energy-consuming vacation time).

Fred Scherlinder/ Nina Beth Cardin approach:

Scherlinder wrote:

... leaning in a somewhat different direction for the menorah, one that empowered individuals and made sure that everyone could relate to the list by focusing more on the end-use of energy than on production and regulations, though obviously the goal is to bring people towards the latter through hyperlinks and education and other strategies

We were thinking of the 7 lights of the menorah along user-friendly lines, like "Home, Transport, Food, Shul, Work, School, Shabbat." That's not the exact ideal list, but it's close -- the idea being to divvy up people's real lives into simple, relevant, one-word-descriptor areas, and then to raise consciousness about both personal and political choices around each. Maybe we're heading toward two different menorot (or even a menorah and a star?!) -- one of advocacy, as you laid out in this early morning's email; and one of personal responsibility, organized around these consumer / end-use categories....

Cardin added: list very similar to Fred's --- accessible to the daily lives of folks, etc, but a bit different in details. it also divided into two general subjects: areas of action and advocacy, and Jewish values.

Food, Carbon Footprint (which would include home energy use, transportation, etc), buildings (which would include home, work, synagogue, Jewish institutions), Water, Te'avon and Sova (or however we would want to label the consumer appetite, exuberance, etc that needs to be re-evaluated), and Awe and Aesthetics (again, however we would want to label that), Shabbat.

Barry Schwartz approach:


Our covenant with the Creator and creation
Our covenant with future generations
The Jewish ethic of conservation
A summary of the science
From principles to policy
Think globally; act locally: home, work, community
A seven-fold call to action

I. A Pledge of Carbon Neutrality

II. A Pledge of Carbon Stabilization

III. A Pledge of Carbon Reduction

IV. A Pledge of Carbon Offsetting

V. A Pledge of Carbon True Pricing

VI. A Pledge of Education

VII. A Pledge of Shabbat