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Jews Can Do Their Part in Effort to Roll Back Global Climate Change

October 12, 2006
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Global climate change is arguably the greatest threat to humanity, and one of the greatest moral issues of our time. Almost daily, we receive reports of problems related to climate change, including record heat waves, widespread forest fires, an increase in the number and intensity of storms, severe droughts and the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps.

While these events were caused by an average global temperature increase of slightly more than one degree Fahrenheit over the past century, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group composed of the world’s leading climate scientists, has projected an average temperature increase of 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 100 years.

Even more frightening, some renowned climate scientists, such as James Hansen of NASA, are warning that if we don’t make major changes in our behavior soon, global climate change may reach a “tipping point” and spiral out of control within a decade, with disastrous consequences.

Because of the urgency of the threat, a Climate Crisis Coalition of environmental groups ( is organizing an International Day of Climate Action for Nov. 4. The day of action will be held on the eve of the United Nations Climate Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, where delegates from more than 175 countries will meet Nov. 6-17.

I was very happy to learn about this important event, but I was disappointed that the day chosen for it is a Shabbat, when many Jews will be unable to take part. Then I thought: Why not try to have the Jewish community, or as many segments as possible, declare that Shabbat as a “Global Climate Change Shabbat,” a day set aside to ponder global climate change and what we can do to reduce its threat.

The day would involve synagogue events consistent with Shabbat observance and the spirit of Shabbat, such as sermons, talks, panel discussions, debates, learning sessions, nature walks, environmentally conscious meals and kiddushes and exhibitions related to climate change. There could be a consideration of how Jewish individuals and groups can apply Jewish values to reduce global warming.

Alternately, since Shabbat ends at a relatively early hour in November, synagogues and other Jewish institutions could have after-Shabbat events related to global warming. One example would be a movie such as HBO’s “Too Hot Not to Handle,” the Interfaith Power & Light’s short film, “Lighten Up!” or the Al Gore documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” followed by a talk, panel discussion or debate.

Another possibility is to have a daylong event the following day with films, panel discussions by rabbis, environmentalists and young people, debates and literature distributions.

Such events would allow the Jewish community to fulfill its role as a “light unto the nations” and apply Jewish values to moving our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.

In addition to the threats to humanity from global climate change, there are several additional reasons why Jews should be especially concerned about the issue:

An Israeli government study in 2000 indicated that global warming could significantly raise the Mediterranean Sea level, threatening Israel’s densely populated coastal strip. It also could reduce rainfall and threaten Israeli’s forests, agricultural production and other domestic water needs.

Israel recently has had unusually warm weather, including two days with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Tel Aviv in late September.

While Jews traditionally have been concerned about providing a better future for their children and grandchildren, everyone’s future is threatened by global climate change.

While Jews historically have been committed to helping less fortunate people, those most likely to be negatively affected by global warming are the poor and disadvantaged, who generally live in areas most likely to be impacted by global warming and are least likely to be able to adapt to environmental changes.

Among steps Jews can take to reduce global climate change are shifting to more fuel-efficient cars and home appliances; installing fluorescent light bulbs; using less (and more efficient forms of) energy in mass transit, driving, lawnmowing and long-distance travel; reducing or eliminating meat and other animal products from our diets, since it takes an enormous amount of energy to produce meat; making our houses, synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions more “green” and energy-efficient; planting more trees; and advocating for public policies in the United States and Israel that reduce greenhouse gases and turn our societies toward conservation and wise use of resources.

Jewish teachings on global warming and other environmental issues can be found at the Web site of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, at The coalition has launched a nationwide campaign, “How Many Jews Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?” to engage the community in education, advocacy and concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The campaign has received enthusiastic support from all of the major Jewish denominations and numerous Jewish institutions.

Further information on global warming and ways to respond can be found from Interfaith Power and Light at the following Web sites: or

For more information on international developments related to the International Day of Climate Action, go to:

For more information on plans for the International Day of Climate Action in the United States, go to, write or call 973-338-5398.

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