Climate Policy: 7 Principles & a Yardstick rooted in Biblical & Jewish Wisdom

As US governmental bodies like the Senate and the world’s governments in bodies like the mid-December UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen falter and delay, it becomes ever clearer:

The governments will take vigorous action only if the grass-roots public insists on serious change. We encourage you to take action rooted in the following Seven Principles and a unified Yardstick that should underlie Jewish and interfaith efforts to shape US and world policy on healing the climate crisis.

1. Our planet has always been a living demonstration that “YHWH Echad” (“the Breathing Spirit of the universe is One”) — but the climate crisis invites us into the clearest awareness in all human history of that truth. The planet is in this as One. Policy must reflect that. (Underlying Jewish principle: The Sh’ma, especially the traditional second paragraph on rain and crops, etc.)

2. The cost of spewing CO2 & methane into the atmosphere must be greatly increased, by taxes and/ or “cap & trade” that require payment from the carbon-producers according to the damage they are causing.

(Underlying Jewish principle: Exodus 21:” “If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded.)

3. The pool of money this brings in must be used to prevent damage to the poor and middle class through higher costs of fuel and energy. The climate healing fund should be used in rebates, more for the poorer people etc. (Underlying Jewish principles: Tithing, gleaning, and obligatory tzedakah to assist the poor, orphans, widows, the landless.)

4. Big Coal and Big Oil have great political power, but their power must be limited so they cannot distort needed policy, in order to expand their own power & profits. Important example, the EPA must continue to have power to enforce CO2 limits upon coal-burning power plants. (Underlying Jewish principle: Resistance to top-down unaccountable powers: Pharaoh, Antiochus, Rome)

5. Inside the US, industries and regions that are specially endangered by climate/ energy reform (e.g. coal mining, oil drilling, autos) must be given special help for retraining in green jobs. (Underlying Jewish principle: Maimonides 8th and highest approach to tzedakah: Help the poor to end their own poverty by providing capital, etc: A fishing rod, not just a fish.)

6. Outside the US, poor nations must be given major help by the rich for two purposes: pursuing economic development thru non-fossil pathways, and meeting urgent crises already swamping / flooding/ scorching them. (Underlying Jewish principles: Again, Maimonides 8th and highest approach to tzedakah: Help the poor to end their own poverty by providing capital, etc: A fishing rod, not just a fish.)

7. Public policy must start encouraging what we usually think of as “personal” choices for non-climate-destroying practices: Much more restful and reflective time for family & neighborhood, much less “production /consumption” time. Frugality in energy use, eating less meat. Simplicity in life-path. More money for learning, arts, etc; less for making Things. Taxes, subsidies, wages /hours laws, etc., are all ways of encouraging these directions. (Underlying Jewish principle: Traditionally, Shabbat (an earth-healing as well as human-healing practice) was a communal commitment, not just individual choice.

Out of these principles, we suggest the following yardstick for measuring proposed US policies (and by extension, those of other governments):

    Do they promote American energy independence and security and the healing of our planet by:
  • Immediately ending all governmental subsidies to the production of oil and coal?
  • Radically and swiftly reducing the burning of oil and coal from all sources, foreign and domestic?
  • Simultaneously using all possible measures to build an energy base for the American economy on solar, wind, and other sources of waste-free, sustainable energy and on urgent steps for energy conservation?
  • Making “green jobs” and the creation of a green infrastructure the central focus of transition to a new American economy?
  • Giving aid to poor nations to pursue a non-fossil path for economic & social development?

If the Jewish community and other American faith communities undertake this effort, not only Hanukkah, which means "Dedication," and originally focused on Rededication of the desecrated Temple in Jerusalem, but our lives as a whole can become a practice of Rededication and Reconsecration of the universal temple of God's Presence: Earth.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Torah Portions: