Op-Ed: Jews should work to reduce fossil fuels, not ally with gas and oil companies

NEW YORK (JTA) – Two weeks ago, JTA reported on a new alliance between Jewish leaders and domestic gas and oil companies. Called the Council for a Secure America, the alliance is based on a “common interest” between American Jews and domestic energy companies to “increase domestic oil and gas production and to decrease U.S. reliance on imported oil from the Middle East,” the report said.

But the alliance represents neither the Jewish community nor its interests.

To say that reducing our dependence on foreign oil is our No. 1 priority is not only an ineffective approach to energy policy, it is a distorted picture of the Jewish community’s concerns.

Reducing the use of all fossil fuels, not just foreign ones, must be our goal. This not only will help improve energy security in the United States, it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lessen the tremendous threats to Israel’s security posed by climate change.

Every nation already has its own supply of renewable energy. If we learn to harvest this natural inheritance, fossil fuel tyranny and energy scarcity would disappear.

Israel is at the forefront of solar energy research and commercialization, and a shift to a clean energy economy would benefit Israel in many ways. Oil is also the primary source of income for Iran, and reducing the world’s need for oil will improve Israel’s security.

Focusing on domestic fossil fuels will only make us more dependent on a system that is putting the entire natural world at risk. Furthermore, in a dirty energy future in which climate change goes unchecked, the disruption of weather patterns in the Middle East could turn most of Israel into a desert. As reported by Ben-Gurion University in the “Israel National Report” on climate change, the Negev Desert could expand as much as 200-300 miles northward, which would include most of Israel. That would be an overwhelming threat to Israel’s survival, as great as any the nation has ever faced.

The JTA report suggested that there is no communal consensus on energy policy. But there is a growing Jewish communal consensus that our desire to achieve energy independence must be linked to an urgent response to climate change. The Green Hevra, a network of 16 Jewish environmental organizations co-founded by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, is leading the call in the Jewish community for sustainability.

For many individuals and organizations across the Jewish community, Jewish values, alongside self-interest and policy concerns, are a critical factor that motivates their position.

Jewish texts and traditions highlight the importance of caring for the world and repairing the world, or tikkun olam. More directly, we are commanded to “choose life, that you and your seed will live.” The effects of climate change will heavily burden the world’s most vulnerable populations and threaten the existence of many of the Earth’s species. They also are predicted to escalate conflicts around the globe, including the Middle East.

Choosing a dirty energy future means violating the most fundamental precepts of Torah and of derech eretz, of common sense. When given alternatives, this is not the future most Jews choose. We can ensure greater security for the United States and Israel, create a cleaner and safer world, and transmit our values to future generations by choosing clean energy.

(Sybil Sanchez is the director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. David Seidenberg is the founder of NeoHasid.org. This Op-Ed has been endorsed by the following members of the Green Hevra: Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network, COEJL, Green Zionist Alliance, Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Jewish Farm School, Neohasid.org, Pearlstone Center, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Shalom Center, Eden Village, Teva Learning Alliance and Hazon. For information on the Green Hevra, visit www.greenhevra.com.)

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