Category Archives: Energy Efficiency

Getting Political with Sandy

Lots of pundits are cautioning Obama and Romney against “playing politics” with the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I disagree. I’d say if there was ever a time to play politics, now is it.

As far as I can tell, neither candidate has broken their “climate silence” in relation to Hurricane Sandy – that is, explicitly connect the dots and say in no uncertain terms that Hurricane Sandy was, as George Lakoff so accurately described it, systemically caused by global warming:

Global warming systemically caused the huge and ferocious Hurricane Sandy. And consequently, it systemically caused all the loss of life, material damage, and economic loss of Hurricane Sandy. Global warming heated the water of the Gulf and Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in greatly increased energy and water vapor in the air above the water.  When that happens, extremely energetic and wet storms occur more frequently and ferociously. These systemic effects of global warming came together to produce the ferocity and magnitude of Hurricane Sandy.

The precise details of Hurricane Sandy cannot be predicted in advance, any more than when, or whether, a smoker develops lung cancer, or sex without contraception yields an unwanted pregnancy, or a drunk driver has an accident.  But systemic causation is nonetheless causal.

If we do believe that, in the wake of this devastation we must redouble our efforts to prevent future tragedies such as this from occurring, then the most important thing we can do is to play politics. And the first step is to break climate silence. Even if our leaders are unwilling, it is time for us to speak up and face down the deniers.

Please watch and share the clip above to everyone you know. Then help those who are advocating in no uncertain terms for public policies that will curb carbon emissions and promote alternative energies worldwide.

“The Largest Art Project the World Has Ever Seen…”

Here’s a pretty awesome global statement arriving just ahead of UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico: the first global art show on climate change has just opened, launching several huge art projects seen from space designed to highlight the hazards of global warming.

The massive scale of the project is fairly breathtaking. Organized by activist Bill McKibben and his 350 Earth environmental advocacy group, thousands of volunteers ranging from New Mexico to China, Egypt, India and Spain, have gathered for a week long photo-performance project – using human bodies as the main media.

Click here for some amazing pix of the projects. The picture up top was taken of the effort in Santa Fe, in which over one thousand residents held blue posters in a dry riverbed to depict what it would (should) look like if there was actually water flowing through it.

In his email to 350 Earth supporters, McKibben wrote:

We’re not going to solve the climate crisis with art. We know that–we’re deeply based in science and politics. But we’re not going to solve the climate crisis without a movement. And art is one of the ways that movements express themselves, one of the things that reach human beings in powerful and deep ways. So by next week, when the UN climate conference in Cancun opens, we’ll be focused on a new set of ideas and tactics, asking your help for all sorts of practical and political things.

But today–today just know you’re part of the largest art project the world has ever seen.

JRC Returns to New Orleans

I’ve spent the last two days participating in JRC’s second congregational trip to New Orleans. We were last here in October 2007, when we spent of our time stripping the interiors of storm damaged houses in Gentilly. It’s been fascinating to observe the difference in the city since our last visit. While there are undeniable signs of improvement and rebirth, there are clearly some areas that continue to languish – and several aspects of the city’s comeback come with no small share of controversy. And of course, there is the BP spill: a fresh wave of anguish to this already tortured region.

We spent a good portion of our first day as the guests of St. John #5 Faith Church, who welcomed us with a heartfelt hospitality and a delicious home cooked meal. St. John’s is located in the 7th Ward, an area that was hit hard by Katrina but has received little of the publicity or attention that has been paid to neighborhoods such as the Lower 9th.

The 7th Ward is plagued by poverty, gangs and rising levels of HIV/AIDS – and in many ways St. John’s seems to be one of the few institutions actually fighting to bring stability and relief to the neighborhood. The church is led by Pastor Bruce Davenport (right), a joyful, deeply religious, profoundly beloved religious leader who is committed to helping the citizens of this community one member at a time.

As we shared dinner together, Pastor Bruce was unabashedly open about his own past of gang activity and drug abuse – as were the parishoners with whom we spoke. While the realities facing the members of this community are profoundly dire, we couldn’t help but be moved by their deep commitment to God, to one another, and to their home in the 7th Ward.

At the same time, however, it is clear that they harbor a justifiable resentment over the government’s abandonment of their community. It certainly appears that if not for churches like St. John’s, there would be little significant institutional support for the 7th Ward whatsoever.

Today we spent most of our day volunteering in the Lower 9th, where we’re seeing a significant change since our last visit. In 2007 this area looked washed clean away – a once densely populated neighborhood now reduced to concrete slab foundations and abandoned rotting homes.

Today, the Lower 9th is clearly on a rebound, thanks to efforts such as Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” Foundation, which is building new green homes for former residents. It’s a noble effort that hopes to have 150 new state of the art LEED certified Platinum homes built by the end of the year.

The homes are striking and eye-catching to be sure (see above) and there is apparently some controversy that they have not been built according to the architectural vernacular of the area. It’s also hard to imagine that this project can ever replace the enormity of what was lost in the Lower 9th. On the other hand, we’ve heard from more than one resident that every act of support and kindness is welcomed and appreciated, no matter what the complexities involved.

The fifteen participants of our delegation split into work teams and mine spent the better part of the afternoon today working in the garden of a Lower 9th resident named Veronica (top pic). She and her husband (who was paralyzed) were evacuated in advance of Katrina and ended up spending over a year in Shreveport, LA where their return to their home was repeated stymied by Kafka-esque red tape. (They were told by FEMA that they did not qualify for assistance because their home, which had been completely destroyed by flood water up to the roof, was not located in a “flood zone.”) After too many painful runarounds, they received some compensation and their home was rebuilt by their son.

Of course, the BP spill is on everyone’s mind now. The timing of this latest disaster is particularly cruel: just when the city seems to beginning to rebound (winning a Super Bowl, no less), here comes yet another catastrophic communal event. The region’s fishermen, who depend upon this time of year for their livelihood – and upon whom the area depends for a large portion of its economy – have been devastated by the spill. The palpable sense of betrayal and abandonment is all too familiar – and all too tragic.

More soon.

Jewish Ritual Reinvented

If you’re in New York or are planning to be, you need to get to the Jewish Museum and check out their latest exhibit, “Reinventing Ritual, survey of “the explosion of new Jewish rituals, art, and objects that has occurred since the mid-1990s.”

The exhibit celebrates the post-modern age as a time in which Jewish ritual can be radical as well as a return to its elemental basics:

This attitude of innovation is shared by a wide range of artists inclusive of generation, nationality, and religion. Contemporary artists and designers focus on Judaism as a lived experience by transforming the physical acts of ritual into new forms.

Outstanding works of industrial design, metalwork, ceramics, video, drawing, comics, sculpture, installation, and textiles from Europe, Israel, and North America reveal the diversity within Judaism. The exhibition will present works in thematic groups and environments that suggest the spaces and situations in which ritual is performed.

Here at JRC, we’re particularly honored that our new synagogue building is included in the exhibit. The Museum was interested in our LEED Platinum rated facility because “its principle of active conservation is at the heart of the exhibition.”

If you can’t make it to NYC, you can still see and read about many amazing pieces from the exhibit at the Museum website (like artist Michael Berkowitz’s combination wedding dress/amulet, above).

Evanston in the LEED!

evanstonI’m proud to announce that my hometown of Evanston has just passed an extraordinary environmental ordinance requiring new commercial buildings over 10,00 square feet to meet the LEED Silver standard. This makes our fair city one of a small handful of municipalities in the nation that have mandated LEED building standards for privately-funded commercial buildings.

Evanston has long made environmental concern a top civic priority.  In October 2006, the city unanimously voted to sign the US Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. The city has also partnered with the Network for Evanston’s Future, a local coalition of citizens’ groups, to jointly develop a climate action plan through a citizen-based process.

Mazel Tov, Evanston – we’re proud our city is leading the way!

More JRC Kudos!


I’m told this one is pretty huge: JRC’s new synagogue building was recently chosen as one of the top ten green projects of 2009 by the American Institute of Architects.  Here’s an excerpt from their announcement:

The new synagogue for the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston, Illinois, replaces the group’s original building and is located adjacent to a residential area, public park, community center, and tracks of the Skokie Swift commuter train. The design balances the limitations of a small site with an ambitious program that promotes worship, education, and community objectives.

Offices, early childhood classrooms, and a chapel occupy the first floor; the religious school and library are on the second floor; and a sanctuary, social hall, and kitchen are on the third floor. This strategy allowed cost-effective construction of high-volume space for the sanctuary.

JRC’s commitment to the principle of tikkun olam—Hebrew for “repairing the world”—is manifest in the building’s architecture. On a modest budget, the synagogue achieved a LEED Platinum certification, a primary goal of its board of directors. JRC has become a community leader, demonstrating benefits of green design.

More Greening in the News


Just in time for spring, some spiritual greening news for you:

The AP did up a nice piece about religious environmental efforts that featured JRC. It was picked up by a number of news outlets, inluding the Washington Post.

And check out this trailer for a documentary commissioned by Chicago magazine that spotlights six local green efforts, including – that’s right – our humble shul…