What’s Jewish about Clean Energy?

Philadelphia's downtown skyline and Schuylkill River; screenshot March for a Clean Energy Revolution.
Philadelphia’s downtown skyline and Schuylkill River; screenshot from March for a Clean Energy Revolution website.

By Mirele B. Goldsmith

On July 24 I’m going to board a bus full of Jews to go to the March for a Clean Energy Revolution in Philadelphia. I and my friends in the Jewish Climate Action Network have spent the last 6 months reaching out to New York congregations to ask them to promote the march to their members. We also raised funds to pay for the bus, organized pre-march events, and reached out to Jewish media.

I am going to the March, which is taking place the day before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, because I believe that we need political leadership for a rapid and just transition to 100% renewable energy to avert the worst projections of climate change. But why put all this effort into going as a Jew and bringing other Jews along? Why not just board one of the many buses organized by environmental groups and save myself the headache of trying to get Jews involved?

There are three answers to this question: Jewish values, Jewish faith, and Jewish community.

First, my Jewish values compel me to action. I believe that living as a Jew is not an end in itself. I believe it is to help me to live a concerned, purposeful, life. If we allow climate change to accelerate unchecked, the suffering and injustice in this world will increase exponentially. In fact it is already happening. In 2012, when Superstorm Sandy hit New York, families living in public housing lost their heat and hot water. Elderly Jews in Brighton Beach were trapped when elevators lost power. Experts estimate that 400,000 deaths were caused by climate change in 2012. As a Jew, I can’t stand by.

Second, it takes faith to change the course of history. As an environmental psychologist, I’m well aware that climate change is a frightening and overwhelming problem that can be paralyzing. Jewish beliefs and Jewish history give me hope. Jewish prayers and customs constantly remind us that ultimately the world will be perfected. And this gives us strength to confront the biggest problem humanity has ever had to overcome. As it happens, the March for a Clean Energy Revolution is taking place on the 17th of Tammuz a day or mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. I am fortified by the knowledge that my ancestors overcame this catastrophe and went on to create a new form of Judaism that has survived until today. Our Jewish faith in the future is a critical contribution to the effort to rescue humanity from climate change.

And finally, when we work together we are powerful. Whether by marching together, or using our knowhow, votes, or financial assets, we can do much more together than we can do alone. I have seen this demonstrated by Hazon’s Jewish Greening Fellowship, funded by UJA Federation of New York. The 55 participating JCCs, camps, social service agencies, schools, and camps, engaged 330,000 people in Jewish environmental programs and actions. They took many steps to become more energy efficient in order to reduce their own contribution to global warming, including by installing 13 solar energy systems. Together we have created an ongoing network dedicated to mobilizing the Jewish community to make a positive contribution to solving the problem of climate change.

The March for a Clean Energy Revolution is taking place at a critical moment in the global effort to slow the warming of the atmosphere. 2015 was the warmest year on record. Pope Francis’ commitment on this issue has captured the attention of people around the world and more Americans are worried about climate change than ever before. Most importantly, in December in Paris, 195 countries including the United States and China committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. With the elections in November, we can make this year a turning point by demonstrating the political will for action.

Jews will be marching for clean energy because Jewish values, Jewish faith, and Jewish community, can change the world. Please join us.

Mirele B. Goldsmith is an environmental psychologist, program evaluator, and activist. She will be on the Jewish Climate Action Network bus from New York to the March for a Clean Energy Revolution on July 24: tiny.cc/JEWSMARCHBUS.