Beyond Oil: A Major Shalom Center Project

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Shalom Center intends to work especially within the Jewish community, and more broadly in a multireligious campaign as well, to go “Beyond Oil” as the dominant energy source for American society.

The Beyond Oil campaign will operate at two levels:

* Engaging Jewish and other religious celebration and practice in ending the oiloholic addiction that now undercuts change in this area, and encouraging the use of sustainable energy sources;

• Involving Jewish and other religious groups in pursuing changes in the public and corporate policies and institutions that now undergird the oil addiction.

Grants have already been received to support this from the National Religious Partnership on the Environment, the New World Foundation, and ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal. These grants and the basic framework of The Shalom Center will support some limited work on sub-projects, but the full effort as described below will require a full-time National Organizer, whose salary and benefits will cost $45,000.

The Problem: US over-consumption of oil has reached crisis proportions. The symptoms include greenhouse gas emissions leading inexorably to a climate crisis, pollution-related health problems (asthma and some environmental cancers), political corruption in the form of Big Oil influence in Washington, and the Iraq War.

These seemingly separate issues and problem should be redefined: Their common root is the addiction of the American public and political system to cheap oil, what we call America’s ‘oiloholic addiction.’

The Solution: Experts from across the political spectrum agree that the solution involves a combination of fuel efficiency, major changes in our lifestyle, and the hastened construction of an alternative and renewable energy system.

Getting there before devastating consequences arrive depends on social forces in American actively confronting the problem of oiloholic addiction and generating action at every level: individual, community, government, and industry.

The Role of The Shalom Center and other Religious Forces:

Faith communities can face in two directions to bring about social change: upholding and insisting on values that can bring about personal change in congregants, and taking social action to change public policy.

The religious and spiritual communities have considerable expertise in confronting the problem of addiction in American society, often borrowing from approaches developed by such para-spiritual communities as Alcoholics Anonymous.

In recent years they have also been tentatively exploring efforts to encourage voluntary simplicity and the encouragement of family and neighborly time over against overwork. These efforts are especially closely connected with what will be needed, to de-addict most Americans from the auto and from oil more generally.

The religious communities also have access to powerful symbols and language that lead to change at the societal level. They have taken an important part in struggles for racial justice, for peace, and for environmental sanity. The Shalom Center has more than twenty years of expertise in this kind of work.

In redefining the issues in this way, The Shalom Center stands together with a growing-edge movement of intellectuals and activists in identifying ‘oil’ as the theme for several seemingly disparate strands of social action. These include Professor Michael Klare, author of ‘Blood and Oil’; James Howard Kunstler, author of ‘The Long Emergency’; the newly formed ‘The Real Price of Oil’ nonprofit organization, the conveners of the Petropolitics conference last year, and many others.

Taking Action -- a Multireligious Effort

There are three areas where we can have a significant impact:

• Educational, liturgical, and ceremonial ways of helping people to go beyond oil in their daily lives.

• Stimulating public social action by congregations or their social-action committees.

• Drawing on the Philadelphia Beyond Oil Teach-In & Conference to shape a similar conference in another metropolitan area.

Specific Projects

1. Educational, liturgical, and ceremonial ways of helping people to go beyond Oil

• In the Jewish community, shaping Hanukkah into a time for moving beyond oil addiction in our immediate life-paths and beyond Big Oil's power in our political lives: “Sacred Oil for Light, or Oil for Global Scorching?” Drawing on both the Talmud's story about the oil for the Temple dedication and the Maccabeean resistance to unaccountable, top-down, idolatrous power.

• Formation of "Oiloholics Not-so-Anonymous" groups in religious congregations through which congregants can help each other move into using sustainable energy sources, reduce the power of oil companies, etc.

• Yearly celebrations of actions to reduce the congregations' dependence on fossil fuels, with annual actions to replace furnaces, install wind energy sources, etc.

• Kosher Kars Campaign. Persuading rabbis to persuade Jews to make the next purchase of a car with environmental and oil concerns in mind. As in, “We urge you to make your next car a hybrid."

2. Public social action by congregations or their social-action committees

• Legislative policy work on these issues has so far centered on stronger gas-mileage controls, at Federal or state levels. The Shalom Center will use its effective advocacy software to support this work and to explore possible other approaches to such legislative efforts.

• Pressure on particular auto companies to produce low-mileage cars and on oil companies to stop their lobbying and public campaigns against CO2- emissions control. .

• The Shalom Center has endorsed The Kyoto Campaign, which aims to build for large-scale mobilizations around the issue of the climate crisis. This effort is still in the planning stages. As it develops, The Shalom Center will focus on organizing support in the Jewish community.

3. The next Metro-Area Beyond Oil Teach-In & Conference:

• The Shalom Center will draw on its rich and successful experience in leading an interfaith and community-based coalition to hold the Philly Beyond Oil conference and teach-in on September 18, 2005.

• The conference brought together more than two hundred political activists, people of faith, academics and policy experts to discuss the nature of the problem and likely solutions -- at the city, state, and national levels.

• One unique aspect of this effort was the involvement of the faith community at the initial stages, ensuring that messaging includes these voices, so they appear in harmony with the other parts of our community.

• A wide variety of Philadelphia organizations and several national groups as well co-sponsored or endorsed the conference. These included the Sierra Club, Pennsylvania Interfaith Climate Change Campaign, PennFuture, PennEnvironment, Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Friends Yearly Meeting, American Friends Service Committee, Philly COEJL (Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life), and MAGNET. We expect a similarly broad support for the next metro-area conference.