Small step in right direction
Rabbi Warren Stone knew just what he would do when he saw the long chain of windmills jutting out from the Baltic Sea.
Shofar in hand, he raised the ram’s horn to his lips and blew — an “awakening” call, he said, for Jews and non-Jews alike, to curb climate change before it cripples the global environment.
“I was [also] able to blow it at the session and in the center of Copenhagen in a circle of 35 world religious leaders,” said Stone, who chairs the environmental committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
The windmills were on the Middelgrunden Offshore Wind Farm near Copenhagen, Denmark — one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world — and the conference Stone referred to was the just-concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Stone and other delegates visited the wind farm during the conference.
After two weeks of frustrating debate (Dec. 7 to 18), delegates from developed, developing and underdeveloped nations around the world adjourned last week after adopting a 12-paragraph nonbinding statement expressing intent to begin taking action on global warming.
It was a disappointing conclusion to a conference that many delegates and observers hoped would produce concrete pledges to reduce carbon emissions.
But Stone, a Reform rabbi from Kensington, Md., who also was an NGO (nongovernmental organization) representative to the 1997 global environmental conference in Kyoto, Japan, said he left Copenhagen feeling optimistic.
“I was hoping for better, but I wasn’t surprised at the outcome,” he said. “I felt it was a first step, I wouldn’t call it a failure, but I would call it an incremental step in diplomacy.”
Since Kyoto, he said, the American Jewish attitudes about climate change have morphed.
During Kyoto, “it wasn’t really on the radar screen,” Stone said. “It seemed other issues were more significant in terms of Jewish unity. Today, it’s been transformed dramatically. Caring about the earth as a Jew has become very much mainstream.”
Especially among younger Jews.
“I can see a whole generation of young people who are engaged and excited and becoming voices in the environmental movement,” Stone said, “and doing it as Jews.”
Stone was one of many Jewish leaders analyzing the results of the Copenhagen conference and speculating on where American Jews engaged on this issue go from here.
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) issued a brief statement on its Web site urging its supporters to renew their efforts.
“For two weeks they (world leaders at Copenhagen) worked tirelessly toward an international treaty to confront global climate change and emerged with the Copenhagen Accord,” it read. “However, the international climate negotiations are not over. At this critical time for our climate and energy future, use these resources to join the call for clean and equitable energy solutions.”
Specifically, COEJL and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism asked their supporters to back three climate bills before the U.S. Senate: the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S.1733), the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act (S. 2877, or the CLEAR Act), and a “tri-partisan” compromise bill.
Locally, Pittsburgh Jews took positions running the spectrum on climate change.
“For me, the key issue is we’re moving in the right direction,” said Bernie Goldstein, former dean and professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. “But it was disappointing seeing how little we accomplished. Global warming is real; it will affect nations around the world.”
That includes Israel.
“There’s certainly enough to worry about that it may be a profound effect (on Israel),” said Goldstein, who acts as an advisor to the Environmental Health Foundation there.
The impact on the water supply there will be a major issue, he predicted, but you also look at trees; there’s a fair amount of data out there suggesting forests will become more vulnerable, particularly forests at the edge of desert climates.
Jeffrey Cohan, United Jewish Federation director of Community and Public Affairs, said Copenhagen “left a lot of work unfinished.
“It remains to be seen how the United States and international community respond to climate change because no rock solid agreements came out of Copenhagen,” he said.
In Pittsburgh, “we’re really concentrating on what we can do collectively and as individuals on the climate change issue. … That is within our control.”
Rick “Rocky” Wice, a hydrogeologist and a former chair of the UJF Environmental Committee, said he was disappointed by several developments at Copenhagen.
“I had mixed feelings,” said Wice, a self-described “middle of the roader” when it comes to climate change. “I hoped there would be more consensus on addressing the problem.”
He also balked at the U.S. plan to transfer as much as billions of dollars to underdeveloped nations to help them cope with the impact of climate change.
“I’d rather see the United States invest the money here and become the world leader in established green and sustainable technologies,” he said.
Wice added that the climate change is now overshadowing other, more immediate environmental issues.
For example, he cited the Indian Ocean Basin, where 200,000 to 300,000 people a year, including many children, die from contaminated water supplies.
“That’s not a perceived threat,” he said, “that’s a body count.”
Not everyone in the Jewish community is onboard yet.
“I think there is some resistance to seeing this as a Jewish issue,” Stone said. “It’s slowly changing. We have concerns about Iran and the nuclear issue and Hamas — that fear of the world should not prevent us from engaging the world.”
One local critic of climate change, Hirsh Dlinn, said global warming is myth and referred readers to an online video by John Coleman, the founder of The Weather Channel, who makes a detailed presentation against the climate change position.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-687-1005.)