Changing Our Climate: an Op-Ed by Rabbi Daniel Swartz

Our climate is changing – both literally and figuratively.  The list of weather events that may be linked to changes in the global climate is already long, and it keeps growing longer with each passing season.  Droughts, floods, record-breaking heat waves, fires, even monster snow storms are all signs that climate change is part of our present, not just our future.

But the “climate” is changing in other ways as well. Many have been focusing on negative changes – the climate of acrimony and vitriol in political discourse, or the still sour economic climate.  But there are some positive “climactic” changes as well.  For me, one of the most significant is the growing involvement of faith communities around the globe in addressing environmental concerns, including global climate change.
How is something that seems intensely scientific, like the changing composition of our atmosphere, or intensely political, like global treaties dealing with use of fossil fuels, a faith issue?  Prayers don’t yield scientific data – but once science tells us what IS happening, our faith traditions can help us figure out what we OUGHT to do about it.  And while even a close reading of such traditions won’t reveal a detailed energy policy, certain basic guiding principles are shared by many faith communities.
For example, our world is good – one might even say “very good” – and we are supposed to help tend it and protect it.  It is simple wrong to think selfishly only of ourselves and to ignore the needs of generations to come.  Making money should not be the ultimate goal of humanity – we are meant to look after each other, particularly those who need the most protection – the “widow, the orphan and the stranger” or the “least of these.” Finally, one can find even in quite ancient sources an understanding that it is better to prevent harm than to try to repair damage after it has occurred. 
Taken together, such principles do at the least suggest a course of action to address climate change.  Solutions that especially benefit the poor, like increasing energy efficiency and thus reducing the disproportionate burden from high energy costs that those in economic straights face, should be a top priority.  Even in the present political climate, it should be possible to forge tax incentives and the like to make our homes and businesses more energy efficient.
We also should take the needs of future generations into account by promoting clean and sustainable energy sources – which, as was noted in the State of the Union, also can be a wise investment in the future of our economy.  Last but certainly not least, attempts to strip EPA of its power to address CO2 emissions and thus protect public health and the environment from the various ravages of climate change is not only short-sighted, but could be viewed as immoral.
But does thinking of climate change from a faith and moral perspective actually make a difference?  After all, you don’t have to be religious to think that fairness is a good thing.  A faith perspective, however, brings not only a sense of moral authority to an issue – it also can move us beyond paralysis.  Looking at the scientific and political difficulties facing any attempts to address global climate change, one can feel downright depressed and overwhelmed – and so there is a natural tendency to want to ignore or deny the whole thing, to remain stuck with our head in the sand.  But understanding that we can bring our faith to bear on this issue first of all fills us with the added strength of knowing we are doing the right thing.  And because faith has so often triumphed against great odds – worse odds by far than those facing a lasting and just solution to climate change – we can begin to replace depression with hope, paralysis with sustained action for the good. 
That is why this weekend (February 11-13th) Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light is joining with IPL affiliates across the country in sponsoring a “preach-in” on climate change.  I’ll be addressing these concerns from a Jewish standpoint at Temple Hesed this Friday, and others across the state and nation will be doing so from a wide variety of other faith traditions.  Because we already know that the climate is changing – and we know what type of solutions are needed. The only question that remains is – do we have enough faith to make it into a change for the better?

Help Keep the EPA Working to Protect our Environment

On January 2, 2011, for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency began to regulate carbon emissions, having declared that they form a significant danger to human health and well-being. In the absence of comprehensive legislation on climate change, this is the only recourse the administration has for regulating carbon and thereby fulfilling our obligations under international law.

Now Congress wants to force the EPA to stop, and is even taking aim at the Clean Air Act, one of the most successful pieces of legislation ever. We need to let our senators know that climate change is a moral issue, and that we have an obligation to ourselves, our neighbors and to future generations to reduce carbon pollution. We just completed a successful letter-writing campaign, but we still urge you to call the senators (or your representative) and tell them to protect public health and defend the Clean Air Act.

Senator Casey’s phone numbers:
Washington, Toll Free: (866) 802-2833
Harrisburg, (717) 231-7540
Philadelphia, (215) 405-9660
Pittsburgh, (412) 803-7370
Scranton, (570) 941-0930
Erie, (814) 874-5080
Bellefonte, (814) 357-0314
Allentown, (610) 782-9470

Senator Toomey’s phone numbers:
Washington, (202) 224-4254
Harrisburg, (717) 782-3951
Philadelphia, (215) 597-7200
Erie, (814) 453-3010
Allentown, (610) 434-1444

Calling takes only a minute (you simply need to give your name, hometown, and a very brief message), but it makes a big difference.

 

 

And the children shall lead us…

Alana, a fifth grader in Scranton, PA, and an active member of dad Rabbi Daniel’s congregation, wrote the following essay for the 2010 national writing contest sponsored by the PTA.  This year’s theme for the “Reflections” contest was “Together We Can.”  I’ll let her challenge you to think about how you can reach out with others so that… together we can survive.

If you’re interested in learning more about global warming and the impact of warmer, more acidic waters on reefs and fisheries, you can start with the National Wildlife Federation or Science Daily.  Please also consider asking your faith leaders to join others in Pennsylvania and across the country to speak about global warming during the national Preach-in.  Faith- and denomination-specific resources are available on the website, but please be aware that Pennsylvania has its own letter.

Hi – I’m a coral reef.  I’d like to tell you some information about the reef and the animals that surround and live in me.  Many people don’t know that a coral reef and its animals work together.  I’m going to tell you how in coral reefs, different species benefit each other almost all the time.  Without the plants and animals working together, I can’t survive, nor can they survive either. Coral reefs do many important things.

The reef even helps you too.  Without me, the population of people would be smaller.  You ask me how this is possible? I help you find medicines for people that are ill.  In fact, hundreds and hundreds of cures come from me! Another way that I help humankind is that I give you fish.  Over a billion people get some or even all their food (seafood) from reefs like me.  Also coral reefs protect almost all tropical coasts from dangerous waves and storms at sea. Coral reefs also give people happiness and jewels. Coral reefs make people wonder what the world was like long ago, and I give them some answers. Scientists visit me to find clues of the past, like fossils bones or shipwrecks.

Did you know that coral reefs have been going strong for over 60 million years?  That’s because of our cooperation together. Slowly the coral grows. Each of the thousands of little coral animals that make up the reef build a bit more of their hard coral home. Then more fish come.  Layers and layers of coral, animals and plants build up and finally together, we can all become a beautiful, giant healthy reef! That’s how I’m formed, though that’s not all of the cooperation that goes on around here.

A reef is not a reef without all the other animals and plants. Did you know that I give homes to most of the fish and animals, and in return, they protect me from harm? One example of how reefs work together with the animals is when I work with fish called convict tangs, which are vegetarians.  They nibble away seaweeds that will hurt me.  They get tasty food and I get protected. My most important partners are microscopic algae, tiny plants that live inside the tissues of each little coral animal. The algae use sunlight to produce sugar, and that sugar is one of my main food sources.

Now I’ll tell you how the other animals and fish work together. Did you know that gobies often share their coral reef homes with bulldozer shrimp? The shrimps are nearly blind, so whenever the bulldozer shrimp ventures out of its burrow, it keeps at least one antennae on the goby. The goby helps the bulldozer shrimp with just a wave of its tail. The goby alerts the shrimp of approaching predators.  Because of this warning, the shrimp can hide in time, before it gets eaten.  In a way, the shrimp gets a bodyguard, and in return, the goby gets a neat, hygienic home without lifting a fin.

Another way that fish work together is when it’s time for a dentist appointment. I know what you’re thinking – fish don’t get dentist appointments!  But in this case, they do.  A cleaner wrasse swims right into the customers (fish’s) mouth to feed on the parasites stuck on the fish’s teeth or gums. The “customer” gets rids of the parasites, and the cleaner wrasse gets a delicious meal, at least in the cleaner wrasse’s opinion. Stuff like this takes a lot of trust!  When was the last time you swam into another person’s mouth to get food?

You know how earlier I was talking about the convict tangs?  If too many are fished out, I can’t survive.  That’s why it’s very important not to overfish.  Almost all the time, you can’t tell which animals you truly need until it is too late. Same thing with the algae – without it, I would not be able to survive.  And without me, the fish that live in and around me would also not be able to live.  It’s like life in the reef is a big chain, all connected together.  All the time someone depends on someone else’s help.  Break the chain, and many species won’t be able to survive.

Many reefs around the world are dying from ocean warming and pollution.  When the ocean gets too warm, the algae in me dies, and if it doesn’t come back quickly, I will starve to death.  I will become a ghostly white. Oceans are getting warmer because people are burning fossil fuels, producing carbon dioxide, which warms the whole planet.  Some reefs are being choked by plastic trash that collects in ocean currents. Did you know that if people don’t stop polluting the world so much that in about in 30 years there will be barely any reefs left? That means that many species in the whole world will be extinct. Some people will lose their jobs and then a whole depression could start all over again. Another problem that could happen is some of the birds that eat the reef’s fish may not survive either. It would disrupt the whole ecosystem.

  But there are many things you and your friends can do together to help make me healthier again – like not wasting energy and making sure to use less plastic and to recycle it more. Together we can make a difference — the information I told you, together with your actions, could stop all these problems — and the other reefs and I can be restored.

This is the end of my small essay of information on the coral reef.  These were just a few of the many examples of how a coral reef works together.  Because together we can survive.

Litany of Common Action

At the close of our Interfaith Convocation service Bill Thwing, an ordained United Church of Christ pastor (and a certified Energy Auditor!) led us in the rousing litany printed here.  A litany is a leader-congregation call and response common to many Christian services.  You will also detect a nod to the fact that our kickoff was held in State College on a football weekend.

As we pause this week in Thanksgiving for all that we have, may this litany remind us that we ought not allow our own experience of bounty to come at the expense of another’s “enough.”  We must respond to the bounty in our own lives by acting as faithful stewards of all we have been given, that we and our neighbors might be sustained.  As Bill led us in September, we give thanks, and we ask for guidance…. We are Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light!
Thank you, Bill.

CALL TO ALL FAITHS TO SERVE THE COMMON GOOD 
We are Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light. We are a part of Interfaith Power and Light, a movement by people of faith who are putting aside their differences and choosing to stand together against a common enemy – the Changing Climate. I invite you now to stand and join in the Litany of Common Action by responding: We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the huge task ahead of us, one that will require  Men, Women, children, families,  couples, individuals, faith community  Leaders,  faithful followers, Christians, Jews, Muslems, Hindi, Buddhists, Bahai,  Native Spiritualists, other members of unnamed faith traditions working together.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the mission ahead of us that can be daunting, potentially paralyzing, seemingly overwhelming in its magnitude and complexity, but that we must somehow accomplish to insure the continuity of civilization, nationhood, family line, Biodiversity, life itself. 
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the strength to face the changing Climate.  Change which is going to affect each of us – Our children, our grandchildren and countless generations into the future – equally.  Change which will cause all to suffer together if we simply do nothing and simply sit on our hands and wait for the worst.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For fellowship. We cannot solve this gargantuan problem by ourselves.  We must do it together.  We must put aside our fears, doubts and misunderstandings of each other and we must learn to stand together as One against this common enemy – our Changing Climate – which,  like  the Mighty Glaciers only a few  thousand earth years ago buried much of our civilization under mountains of ice,  and which, now threatens Global Scorching which is already driving the most vulnerable species into extinction and which if left unanswered could result in the kind of Mass Extinction which unseated the Dinosaurs and almost all life only 65 million earth years ago.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the beauty of the created order – majestic Mountains, crashing oceans, placid lakes, swirling rivers, gently winding streams, giant Oaks offering their shade, sweet scented roses & violets, the robin who gathers food for her young in our yards and the Grizzly bear who shuns human contact, blazing sunsets that reveals Your glory and the gentle rains that waters Your earth;… for the infinite variety of life – human and biodiverse – that breathe the sweet oxygen laden air You have provided; ..for swarming fish, soaring birds, clouds of insects and billions of microbes with whom we share this common existence.  For all these, and a thousand more unnamed blessings which You have entrusted into our care.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For men and women, children, parents and grandparents, families, couples and individuals of faith who honor their particular faith tradition with  worship, study, prayer, devotion, sacrifice, service and the common good within their families, communities and world;.. for the love, hope, wisdom, faith, trust, patience, endurance, generosity which they struggle to attain and
demonstrate to their communities and the world around them;…for their willingness to stand up, speak out, care, inspire, sacrifice, teach, enable, and learn in order to a be a force for good…For all these things we hold hands with one another and say:
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
If you believe that this is the work ahead of us, please join your voices and say:  Amen…so be it.
Amen…so be it.


We are… Pennsylvania  Interfaith Power and Light…Would you please say that with me?
We are… Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light.
Again, please
We are…Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light!
Again…
We Are Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light!
Thank you

Shabbat and Shehechiyanu

Lynn Schlow opened our Friday evening PA-IPL Interfaith Convocation service with the Shabbat prayer, offering it in both Hebrew and English, and graciously explained the ritual.

On the Sabbath the celebrant (generally the woman of the house) lights at least two candles, representing the dual commandments to remember the sabbath and to keep it holy.  After lighting, she waves her hands over the candles, welcoming in the sabbath. Then she covers her eyes, focusing more fully on the blessing, and so that she may also postpone the enjoyment of the fruits of the blessing (seeing the light) until after the blessing is recited.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam
asher kidishanu b’mitz’votav v’tzivanu
l’had’lik neir shel Shabbat. (Amein)
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe
Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us
to light the lights of Shabbat. (Amen)

She removes her hands from her eyes, and looks at the candles, completing the mitzvah of lighting the candles. You can hear the Hebrew words either sung or read here (unfortunately not in Lynn’s voice).

Later in the service Lynn shared her uncle’s love of the Shehechiyanu prayer, offered at any first (enjoying the first ripe blackberry of a summer, for example).  The Shehechiyanu is a prayer thanking God for sustaining our lives that we might enjoy each of God’s blessings, and can be heard here.

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam 
Shehehchiyahnu vekiyamanu vehegianu lazman ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, 
Who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.

What a beautiful and appropriate way to begin our first meeting of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light.  May we respond to the twin blessings of Earth and atmosphere by caring for them, that they may sustain others in the way they have sustained us.

Energy Efficiency Resource Standards

Advocate for Efficiency!

We wrapped up our mini-campaign to educate individuals and congregations and to push our senators to act in September, 2010. The project had three parts:

First, we held events at congregations in Scranton, Meadville, Pittsburgh, State College and Harrisburg in July and August to talk about PA IPL and to promote Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS).

Second, together with our friends at PennFuture, we developed a postcard, urging our senators to include EERS in legislation; we have already collected over 400 of these postcards!

Third, we took our postcards and our message to the Senators themselves. We already met with Senatorial staffs in Bellefonte and Philadelphia to tell them about our campaign, and at the end of August Joy Bergey took her godchildren to Washington D.C. to present these cards to Senators Casey and Specter.

What are Efficiency Resource Standards?

A complicated name, but a simple idea: national standards for energy efficiency, just like we have in Pennsylvania (Act 129). Like mileage requirements for cars, industry actually wants national standards instead of various state standards, and we want them because waste and inefficiency make up a huge part of our carbon footprint. For commercial buildings, like most houses of worship, the EPA estimates that 30% of the energy is wasted. Power plants also waste a tremendous amount of energy.

As in Pennsylvania, national EERS can be combined with support for more renewable energy as part of a comprehensive approach to reduce our carbon footprint.