Climate change: a critical problem

Climate change: a critical problem

Amidst all the other news emanating from Washington last week, you might have missed President Obama’s plan for addressing climate change, which he laid out in a speech at Georgetown University.  The president has set the goal of reducing carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It is already meeting with considerable approval in many Jewish circles.

We believe a majority of Americans — particularly, a majority of Jewish Americans — want action on climate change, and were clearly frustrated last year when neither the president nor Gov. Mitt Romney made it a major issue in the presidential campaign.   

Now that the president is addressing it again, he is finding a receptive audience among Jews.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) immediately signed on to the plan, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants and double the production of renewable energy from wind, solar and geothermal sources.

“We applaud President Obama for recognizing our urgent responsibility to stem climate change, and we look forward to the implementation of these much-needed policies,” JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said in a prepared statement.

“Currently, 589 existing coal-fired power plants account for one third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions,” Gutow continued. “Increasing renewable energy use and energy efficiency while decreasing the burning of coal are critical steps toward energy security and a cleaner environment for future generations. The United States must show leadership both in its domestic policies and in international negotiations. The president’s announcement … puts into action our collective need to act as caretakers of creation.”

Added COEJL Director Sybil Sanchez:

“The religious community is a key voice in advocating for sustainable policy, particularly with regard to protecting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable from climate change impact. Last year, COEJL mobilized Jewish communal support for regulating carbon emissions from new power plants, sending hundreds of public comments to the EPA. Through COEJL’s Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign, the Jewish community has committed to a 14 percent reduction of energy use by 2014 as a part of our national goal of an 80 percent reduction from 2005 levels of greenhouse gases by 2050.”

To be sure, the president’s plan isn’t perfect. “Perfect” would involve the president and Congress working together to draft a comprehensive plan to combat climate change. Instead, the president’s plan is using executive orders, which don’t require congressional approval. It’s not the optimal way to go, but it’s necessary since Congress seems unable (or unwilling) to pass any kind of climate change legislation. Indeed, some members of the Congress cling to the notion that climate change isn’t a problem at all.

“Perfect” would also require the president and Congress to explicitly consider at a broad level the potential trade-offs between limiting greenhouse gases and enhancing our nation’s energy security.  The president stated that he would not approve the Keystone XL pipeline if it significantly contributes to climate pollution, a stance that is generating heated criticism from supporters of Canadian tar sands oil. “Our national interest will be served only if this pipeline does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem,” Obama said. However, our national interest is also not served by being reliant on, and helping to fund, countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. In this case, we say that our country needs a complete, dispassionate analysis of the pros and cons of the pipeline.

We hope Congress and the president will soon put aside their political differences to find a way to cooperate on this critical issue. If not, then the president is right to move forward with his own plan. Even if it isn’t perfect, at least it’s something.