Category Archives: Energy Policy

Strangers on the Land

From this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Behar:

“But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me.” – Leviticus 25:23

In the middle of a litany of laws dealing with how to treat the resident alien (in Hebrew: “ger toshav“) we find this remarkable verse that suggests that at the end of the day, we are all really resident aliens after all.

This short verse has a myriad of spiritually radical implications. Just think of what our national priorities might look like if we truly took this idea to heart. Consider its impact on environmental policy, on immigration, on foreign policy, on trade…

As I mentioned in my last post, I believe this concept is absolutely intrinsic to the Jewish world view. The earth does not belong to us – it belongs to a greater and more transcendent Good. In the end, redemption will only come to the land when we truly come to realize the extent to which we are all but strangers upon it.

What’s Your Footprint?

Just finished playing an on-line quiz called “Consumer Consequences” – a test sponsored by American Public Media that helps you determine your personal environmental footprint. Based on your consumer habits in various categories (i.e. use of public transportation, energy bills, eating consumption, trash disposal) the quiz calculates how many earths it would take to sustain your personal lifestyle.

I’ll warn you ahead of time: your results will sober you up. To state the obvious, the earth simply wouldn’t be able to support its 6.6 million residents if everyone lived like a typical over-consuming American. (A critical statistic: we Americans constitute 5% of the world’s population, but consume 25% of the world’s energy).

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the test itself is actually pretty fun to take (they even let you pick a goofy avatar persona). Along the way it also includes important insights about American consumption and tips on how you can reduce your footprint. One especially interesting feature: you can compare your footprint with reporters from various American Public Media programs. (Full disclosure: mine is almost equivalent to the the footprint of Krista Tippett, host of “Speaking of Faith“).

Earth Hour 2008

If you live in the Chicagoland area, you should know that this Saturday, March 29, 8:00-9:00 pm (CST) has been designated Earth Hour – part of a global action to highlight the threat of global warming. Here’s an official description of the effort:

As World Wildlife Fund’s flagship city for the United States, Chicago, a leader in environmental initiatives, is encouraging its residents across the region to make the pledge to help fight global warming by voluntarily turning off their lights for 60 minutes. Signature skyscrapers, key landmarks, theater marquees and shops on the Magnificent Mile will voluntarily turn off their lights.

Earth Hour’s not just about cutting back for one hour. It’s about taking a stand and thinking ahead about what you, your neighbors and your city can do to slow climate change. Seize the Earth Hour moment and change some of your outdated energy-wasting light bulbs to new, efficient and inexpensive compact fluorescents. Think of other ways you can cut your energy usage and trim your electric bill after Earth Hour has passed.

Earth Hour debuted last year in Sydney and this year EH has gone global – participant cities are as far reaching as Aaloborg, Tel Aviv, Bangkok and Manila. Check out their website and click on the clip above for more info. (You will undoubtedly notice the sponsorship of several corporations not known for their love of the environment. Ah, the complexities of global activism…)

The Politics of Eco-Elitism

vanfull.jpgI recently read an incredibly thought-provoking Sun Magazine interview with activist Van Jones (right), board President and co-founder of The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Among other things, Jones has become something of a pioneer in connecting two issues that are typically viewed as separate: socio-economic inequality and environmental destruction.

In the interview, he soberly described the current environmental movement in our country as a kind of “eco-apartheid:”

“Eco-apartheid” is a situation in which you have ecological haves and have-nots. In other words, if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you visit Marin County, you’ll find hybrid vehicles, solar panels, organic food, organic everything. If you then get in your car and drive twenty minutes, you’ll be in west Oakland, where people are literally choking on the fumes of the last century’s pollution-based technologies. That’s eco-apartheid, and it’s morally wrong, because we should deliver clean jobs and health benefits not just to the wealthy, but also to the people who need them most. Eco-apartheid doesn’t work on a practical level either, because you can’t have a sustainable economy when only 20 percent of the people can afford to pay for hybrids, solar panels, and organic cuisine, while the other 80 percent are still driving pollution-based vehicles to the same pollution-based jobs and struggling to make purchases at Wal-Mart.

For the sustainable economy to be successful, it has to be a full-participation economy. Right now it is a niche economy, a lifestyle economy. Though green products are a $230 billion industry and growing, that’s still a slice of a slice of a slice of the overall pie. It is easy for the eco-elites in Massachusetts or northern California to wrap themselves in the trappings of sustainability and think that the problem has been solved, but the people who clean their houses are going back to neighborhoods that may be fifty years in the past in terms of their ecological sustainability. As we move toward a sustainable economy, if we do not take care to minimize the pain and maximize the gain for the poor, they will join forces with the polluters to derail the green revolution.

Jones also addressed insightfully how and why this “eco-elitism” has failed to reach the hearts and minds of low-income people and people of color:

Environmentalists sometimes don’t understand that what motivated them to get involved in political activism and change their lifestyle isn’t going to inspire everyone else. It’s not just a matter of their explaining louder and louder why everyone should be like them. That’s not the politics of inclusion; that’s the politics of elitism. The reality is that working people will support ecological solutions, but not for the same reasons that the eco-elites support them.

A lot of wealthy, educated people wanted to take action as a result of Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, but most low-income people and people of color I know had no interest in seeing the movie in the first place. They already have enough problems. They don’t need new crises to worry about. Around here we say that the people who already have a lot of opportunities are the ones who need to hear about the crises. So if you have a house and a car and a college degree, then, yes, you should hear about global warming, or peak oil, or dying species. But poor and low-income people need to hear about opportunities. They need to hear about the expected reduction in asthma rates when we reduce greenhouse gases. They need to hear about the wealth and health benefits of moving to a sustainable economy. Otherwise you are just telling people who are already having a bad day that they should have a worse one.

How can we bridge this gap? Jones offered several thoughts, including the creation of a “green collar” job corps – a mobilization that would train low income youth of color to help retrofit US cities to become more environmentally sustainable.

A provocative and compelling article: click here to read the entire interview.

Energy Bill Action Alert!

electricity1.jpgHere’s an important Action Alert from the Jewish Council on Public Affairs:

Last Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 235-181 to approve an energy bill that made significant strides toward reducing energy consumption while also strengthening our national economy. The House bill represented a carefully wrought compromise between the House and Senate to merge two bills into a single, comprehensive energy package. Unfortunately, the House’s accomplishment was met with immediate resistance in the Senate. In fact, the Senate voted last Friday against limiting debate, effectively barring passage of the bill.

The Senate’s vote means that the bill is now open to review and key components of the legislation will likely be removed if constituents do not speak up. In particular, some Senators are seeking to remove the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and to restore tax breaks for oil companies. The Senate is currently negotiating revisions to the bill, which would address these measures.The RES is an integral component of a comprehensive energy bill as it reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. The House bill currently includes a 15% renewable electricity mandate. This provision would prevent an average of 100 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses from entering the atmosphere annually by 2020 in addition to saving American families roughly $15 billion in cumulative consumer savings by 2020. If the bill is changed, it will be returned to the House for another vote – delaying, yet again, our adoption of a comprehensive energy plan.

The Jewish community has long advocated for energy policies that reduce our dependence on foreign oil, sustain our fragile environment and build a robust national economy. These goals are particularly meaningful during the festival of Chanukah, when we celebrate the miracle of one day’s oil that met 8 days’ needs. Help extend the miracle by urging your Senators to vote for an Energy Bill that includes the strongest elements of the House energy bill, including strong fuel economy standards, renewable fuel and renewable energy standards, and the U.S. Israel Energy Cooperation Act. Please visit here for more information.

Action Needed:

Encourage your members of Congress to vote YES on this landmark legislation and to make sure that it includes a renewable electricity mandate.

The Capitol Switchboard can be reached at (202) 224-3121. Click here for contact information for your Senators.

For further information, please contact Jennifer Kefer in JCPA’s Washington Office. She can be reached by telephone at (202) 212-6036 or by email at