Imagine a world where driving a car or talking on a cell phone would not harm benefit the environment. Hillel and the Jewish Council for Public affairs figured out a way to make that happen through Carbonfund.org, a non-profit that offsets carbon emissions by donating the monetary equivalent to energy-efficiency initiatives.
The Charlotte B. and Jack J. Spitzer Hillel Forum on Social Justice and the JCPA annual plenum, both held this week at the Omni Shoreham Hotel here, were “carbon-neutral.” That means that the value of carbon emissions from food and transportation were calculated and an equivalent amount of money was donated to Carbonfund.org.
Hillel donated $931 based on an “event calculator” that Carbonfund.org compiles by adding up participants, travel methods and hotel emissions. JCPA donated around $2,000.
“I hope this becomes a trend in what we do always,” Michelle Lackie, director of the Weinberg Tzedek Hillel, said at the forum’s opening session. Hillel and JCPA are the first Jewish organizations to support such an initiative.
The theme of this year’s forum was the environment and sustainability. Students attended JCPA lectures on President Bush’s “Twenty in Ten” plan to reduce oil consumption by 20 percent in the next decade, the meaning of “energy security,” environmental progress in Israel and corporate challenges in balancing environmental sustainability and the bottom line.
In her keynote speech Feb. 25 at the JCPA plenum, Debra Rowe, president of the U.S. Partnership for Sustainable Education, told listeners how to get policymakers and communities to work together to make ecosystems sustainable.
Forum participants joined JCPA members Tuesday to lobby on Capitol Hill for the environment.
Two days before, the students met in groups where they discussed bills being considered by the U.S. Senate and practice how to talk to legislators.
Claire Roby, a sophomore at American University in Washington and president of her campus’ environmental activism group Eco-Sense, co-chaired one session.
“They were a little nervous in the beginning, but in the end as I walked around, with the role play, they gave creative and reliable answers,” said Roby, who co-led the session with a legislative assistant from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “It was encouraging to see that they were empowered, persuasive agents for change.”
Rachel Ackoff, a senior at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania led a lobbying workshop with Emily Goldstein, program director of Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
JCPA delegates allowed student s to address legislative aides and even senators during the lobbying. Ackoff said it was the first time she had met a senator face to face, in her case Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.).
“Most of the lobbying I’ve done has been with student members of the Sierra Student Coalition,” she said.
Ackoff discussed the Clean Energy Act, a bill on the Senate floor, with Casey and legislative assistants to Sen. Marc Spitzer (R-Pa.). Spitzer had spoken that morning at the JCPA plenum and the Spitzer forum.
“Global warming is something I’ve been concerned about for several years,” Ackoff said. “In terms of this particular lobby, we just looked up an appropriate piece of legislation and made sure we could talk about that piece of legislation specifically that we wanted them to support.”
Another member of Ackoff’s delegation, Adrian Shanker, a sophomore at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., lobbied on hate crimes and the genocid e in Darfur, Sudan.
Shanker was impressed that the Spitzer forum and JCPA plenum put into practice some of the environmental ideas the students were lobbying for.
“It’s one thing to get up and say to Sen. Casey and Sen. Spitzer, ‘We need you to push for this bill’ ” on global warming, he said. “It’s another to say we committed to making our conference sustainable.”
Beyond working with Carbonfund.org, Hillel and JCPA instructed the hotel not to change sheets in the guestrooms or toiletries, unless requested, and not to deliver newspapers to participants. Conference material was printed on recycled paper.
“Now that I’ve seen that it can work, living a sustainable life is the way we need to move as a society,” Shanker said, adding that even before the forum, he took green measures such as printing on recycled paper, not driving and unplugging his computer when it wasn’t in use.
“Even if I’m doing a lot, I can always do more,” Shanker said. “People not doing anything see what can be done if they try, so they’ll try a little harder.”
Ackoff said some students complained about having to use plastic silverware, but the general consensus behind sustainability was positive.
Returning home, her main goal is to use some of the leadership skills she learned to generate Jewish environmental activism at Swarthmore.
“We have a really strong environmental group that is purely secular,” Ackoff said. “We’d like to get Jewish students more involved with environmental activism, and I plan on working to ensure that other students continue working on that after I leave.”