July 31, 2001: Rabbis Across the Nation Call for “Moral Reflection” on Energy Policy and Global Warming
600 Rabbis Sign ‘Let There Be Light’: Energy Conservation and God’s Creation
July 31, 2001 (NEW YORK, NY) – Calling energy conservation “faithful stewardship” and an “intergenerational responsibility,” more than 600 rabbis have written the members of the U.S. House of Representatives to call for moral reflection on the country’s energy policy. The House is scheduled to begin debate on a major energy bill this week.
The letter, ‘Let There Be Light’: Energy Conservation and God’s Creation, cites the commandment in Genesis to ’till and to tend’ (Gen. 2:15), and concludes that there is “a moral obligation to choose the safest, cleanest and most sustainable sources of energy to protect and preserve God’s creation.” Burning oil and coal has long been a major cause of air pollution and therefore respiratory illness. It is now known to cause global warming.
The letter was first released in May with the signatures of 41 heads of denominations and senior leaders of major American faith groups, serving more than 60 million Americans. Since then, more than 600 rabbis from 36 states and every denomination have added their names to the letter. The distribution of the letter today comes on the heels of President Bush’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Kyoto Protocol, the only international framework to address climate change.
The open letter is sponsored by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) – encompassing 29 national Jewish organizations and 13 regional affiliates, along with the National Council of Churches (NCC). COEJL and NCC are organizing interfaith climate change campaigns in 20 states across the US.
The House debate on the energy bill largely based on President Bush’s energy plan is among the most important environmental debates in recent years. COEJL chair Sharon Bloome and NCC General Secretary Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar sent a letter to each House member on behalf of COEJL and NCC to convey specific concerns about the legislation. They call for changes including significantly greater increases in fuel economy standards, continued protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and increased investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The House plan “does not reflect our obligations to protect the environment and human health, nor is it prudent,” they wrote. “Now is the time to set a new and positive direction for American energy policy.”
Jewish and Christian Leaders Join in Support of Bold Energy Conservation Program
COEJL and the National Council of Churches Establish Campaigns in 21 States to Promote Energy Conservation and Climate Protection
WASHINGTON, DC (February 26, 2002) – As the U.S. Senate takes up energy legislation, rabbis and Jewish leaders nation-wide joined more than 1,000 colleagues of other faiths from 21 states today in releasing a letter to every U.S. Senator calling for “energy conservation, fuel efficiency, and alternate energy development.”
In addition to the top leadership of the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements, as well as Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women, signatories on the letter include 45 heads of such major Christian denominations as the United Methodist Church, The Episcopal Church, The Orthodox Church in America, and the American Baptist Churches.
“After many months of working together, Jews and Christians have joined together as one voice to let our Senators know that energy conservation is an urgent moral and strategic priority,” said Sharon Bloome, chair of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). “It’s a moral issue because our heavy reliance on oil pollutes our air and contributes to global warming, threatening people around the world. And it is a strategic priority because oil dependency requires us to rely on nations who are not our friends.”
The interfaith letter was organized by COEJL and the National Council of Churches. In preparation for nearly two years, “Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaigns” are now established in 21 states, from auto-manufacturing Michigan to coal-mining West Virginia to energy-producing Texas.
The diverse group of religious leaders who signed the letter ask the Senate to adopt energy policies “that embody and promote justice, stewardship, and intergenerational responsibility.” The signatories “believe that conservation and the development of the cleanest technologies possible are the wisest, more just and most prudent means to fulfill our moral obligations to ensure the health and well-being of the American people and people around the world, now and for generations to come.”
The letter makes specific policy requests, including:
- Substantially increase vehicle fuel efficiency, close the SUV loop-hole and encourage the auto industry to produce vehicles using hybrid-electric, fuel cell, and other clean technologies; and provide consumer incentives for their purchase.
- Oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.
- Invest more resources in renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal, solar, and biomass technologies.
- Include carbon dioxide as a regulated pollutant from power plants.
- Increase funds for low-income energy assistance and inner-city rail and mass transit.
The Jewish community has been advocating energy conservation and alternative energy development for more than 25 years – ever since the first Arab oil embargo in 1973. Since 1997, COEJL and many of its member organizations have increased Jewish awareness and action on energy issues, citing environmental protection, global climate change, and public health alongside energy independence as reasons to reduce U.S. reliance on oil and other fossil fuels.
“Last year light trucks and SUVs comprised more than 50 percent of automobiles sold in the United States yet their fuel economy standard has not been changed accordingly,” said Lee Wallach, chair of COEJL of Southern California, a regional affiliate of the national organization. “From the land famous for its love affair with cars, we ask that the final Senate energy bill include substantially raising fuel economy for cars and closing the loophole for light trucks and SUVs.”
In addition to playing a leadership role in interfaith effort public policy advocacy on energy issues, COEJL of Southern California is working with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to install solar-powered eternal lights at 12 area synagogues and organizing educational programs to raise awareness about the dangers of global climate change.
COEJL’s 13 regional affiliates are undertaking a wide range of community initiatives. As part of a national initiative, Michigan COEJL organized Hanukkah celebrations in December which included learning “how to make a little bit of energy go a long way.” Congregations in Oregon have used the EPA’s “EnergyStar for Congregations” program to reduce their consumption of energy. The St. Louis Jewish Environmental Initiative is planting 60,000 trees – one for every Jew in St. Louis – to help absorb carbon dioxide, which causes global warming.
In a number of smaller Jewish communities, such as those of West Virginia, Iowa, and New Mexico, the Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaigns have created a unique opportunity to build relationships with Christian communities around issues which affects all people.
“As the United States Senate debates energy legislation, Jewish and Christian leaders across New Mexico are working together to call upon Senators Bingaman and Domenici to be reverent of New Mexico’s long tradition of faithful stewardship of our lands,” said Debra Wechter Friedman, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Albuquerque. “Now is the time to guide our nation toward renewable and clean energy sources.”
Though concern about energy issues is motivated by current circumstances, Jews and Christians alike turn to their shared Biblical tradition to understand the proper role of humankind in relationship to the natural world.
“When we reflect upon “Let there be light” in Genesis,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, “we realize that God has given us sources of clean energy: sun, wind, water and the human ingenuity to devise clean, safe technologies.”
As leaders of major faith communities, we write to you, our senators, at a moment of great moral urgency for our nation and the planet – God’s children and God’s creation. We caution Congress not to adopt an energy policy based on short-term regard for long term solutions. On May 18, 2001, 41 heads of major denominations and senior religious leaders joined in issuing “Let There Be Light: An Interfaith Call for Energy Conservation and Climate Justice.” In this document, they lifted up these moral stakes of a sustainable energy policy:
“At stake are: the future of God’s creation on earth; the nature and durability of our economy; our public health and public lands; the environment and quality of life we bequeath our children and grandchildren. We are being called to consider national purpose not just policy.”
Drawing upon scripture, the statement affirmed the importance of considering long-standing principles of faith and values concerning all of creation – stewardship, covenant, justice, prudence, solidarity, and intergenerational equity. Today, more than ever, these precepts should guide our action. Recent events remind us of the intimate link between the safety of people and the reliability of our energy system. Efforts to preserve the environment are ever more clearly necessary in order to protect human life. Security and sustainability are inextricably linked.
We agree with President Bush’s statement on October 11 that said, “The less dependent we are on foreign sources of crude oil, the more secure we are at home.” Yet, it is clear that we do not have sufficient domestic reserves to replace foreign oil supplies. Conservation and reducing our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels is critical to achieving energy independence and can be accomplished in economically responsible and economically beneficial ways.
Concerning energy use, we believe that conservation and the development of the cleanest technologies possible are the wisest, most just, and most prudent means to fulfill our moral obligations to ensure the health and well-being of the American people and people around the world, now and for generations to come. We have established Interfaith Climate and Energy campaigns in 21 states that are educating congregations on the link between energy conservation and renewable energy sources that benefit climate change reduction.
Rooted in moral values and concern for God’s creation and God’s children, we support the following energy policy initiatives:
- Raise substantially vehicle fuel economy across the board in the shortest feasible timeframe, and require SUVs, minivans, and passenger cars to meet the same standard.
- Develop strategies to encourage the auto industry to further design and produce vehicles using hybrid-electric, fuel cell, and other promising clean technologies, and provide incentives for their purchase.
- Support substantially increased funding for inter-city rail and metropolitan mass transit to provide attractive and functional alternatives to single occupancy autos.
- Fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and increase it with the least possible environmental damage.
We strongly oppose policies that would allow drilling or mining in our nation’s dwindling wild lands and places important to the traditional cultures of indigenous peoples. We specifically oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Conservation is a morally superior alternative to drilling in such places. Furthermore, conservation is also more effective, providing much greater benefits that are more permanent, rather than a modest and short-lived increase in oil supply.
Alongside energy concerns that relate directly to oil, we have longstanding distress about other health and environmental effects of energy policy, including global climate change. Therefore, we support policies that would:
- Invest significantly more resources in renewable energy research and development with a focus on wind, geothermal, solar and biomass technologies.
- Include carbon dioxide as a regulated pollutant from power plants.
- Apply the strictest feasible energy efficiency standards to consumer products, including air conditioners.
- Increase funds for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program and other programs to alleviate economic hardship on low-income people caused by high energy prices.
Now is the time to embrace energy conservation and efficiency and alternative energy development as the central strategies of our nation’s energy policy. The energy policies we adopt in the coming debate must reflect our resolve as a nation to be faithful to our values and to fulfill our obligations at a time of national crisis.
God calls humans to strive toward peace, justice, and harmony for all of creation. We have called on our congregants and communities to practice energy conservation as part of our values. Now we urgently call on the United States Congress and the Administration. As this critical issue comes forward for legislative action, we call upon our senators to reflect and act as God’s stewards. The same energy policies that will help achieve peace for humankind by reducing our dependence on oil will create greater harmony within creation by protecting the environment.
Together, we can achieve energy solutions that embody and promote justice, stewardship, and intergenerational responsibility. We urge you to consider and consult these values as you evaluate the energy policy options before the nation and work to pass responsible and effective legislation.
1,200 signatures including:
ACADEMY FOR JEWISH RELIGION
Rabbi David Greenstein, President
AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Bishop McKinley Young
ALEPH: ALLIANCE FOR JEWISH RENEWAL
Rabbi Daniel Siegel, Rabbinic Director
ALLIANCE OF BAPTISTS
Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey, Executive Director
AMERICAN BAPTIST CHURCHES
Rev. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary
ANTIOCHIAN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN ARCHDIOCESE OF NORTH AMERICA
The Most. Rev. Metropolitan Philip Saliba
CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS
Rabbi Paul J. Menitoff, Executive Vice President
CHRISTIAN CHURCH (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST)
Rev. Dr. Richard L. Hamm, General Minister and President
CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN
Rev. Judy Mills Reimer, General Secretary
COMMUNITY OF CHRIST
Grant McMurray, President
EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA
Rev. Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop
GREEK ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE OF AMERICA
His Eminence Archbishop Demitrios
INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF COMMUNITY CHURCHES
Rev. Michael E. Livingston, Executive Director
KOREAN PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA
Rev. Dr. Seung K. Choi, General Secretary
MENNONITE CENTRAL COMMITTEE, U.S.
Jose Ortiz, Executive Director
Susan Mark Landis, Minister of peace and justice
MORAVIAN CHURCH – NORTHERN PROVINCE
Rev. R. Burke Johnson, President
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN
Sandra Lief Garrett, Executive Director
Bonnie Lipton, National President
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST IN THE USA
Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA
His Beatitude Metropolitan Theodosius
PATRIARCHAL PARISHES – RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
The Most Reverend Mercurius, Bishop of Zaraisk
PHILADELPHIA YEARLY MEETING
THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS
Friend Thomas Jeavons
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH USA
Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk
Rabbi Joel H. Meyers, Executive Director
Rabbi Vernon H. Kurtz, President
Rabbi Lee S. Paskind, Chair, Social Action Committee
RECONTRUCTIONIST RABBINICAL ASSOCIATION
Rabbi Richard Hirsch, Executive Director
RECONTRUCTIONIST RABBINICAL COLLEGE
Rabbi David A. Teutsch, President
Donald Shapiro, Chairman of the Board
REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA
Rev. Wesley S. Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary
RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER OF REFORM JUDAISM
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director
ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Br. David Andrews, CSC
Executive Director, National Catholic Rural Life Conference
The Most Rev. Kevin T. Boland
Bishop, Diocese of Savannah
The Most Rev. John T. Donoghue
Archbishop, Atlanta Archdiocese
The Most Rev. Kenneth E Untener
Bishop, Diocese of Saginaw
SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE USA AND CANADA
President, Episcopal Council
SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF ANTIOCH
His Eminence Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, Patriarchal vicar for the eastern U.S.
UNION OF AMERICAN HEBREW CONGREGATIONS
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President
UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION OF CONGREGATIONS
Rev. William G. Sinkford, President
UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President
UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, Ecumenical Officer, Council of Bishops
UNITED SYNAGOGUE OF CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Executive Vice President
UNIVERSITY OF JUDAISM – ZEIGLER SCHOOL OF RABBINIC STUDIES
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Dean