CCAR Resolution on Climate Justice
October 27, 2015
Our sages of old articulated human responsibility to care for the Earth, placing these words in the mouth of God: “See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. Everything I have created has been for your sake. Think of this, and neither corrupt nor destroy My world; for if you corrupt it, there will be no one to set it right after you.”[i]
As early as 1977, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) called for “the swift development of an effective national energy policy in consonance with the needs of an environment which will nurture life on earth.”[ii] Mindful that sacrifices would be required to achieve an end to what was then called “the energy crisis,” and that the burden of both that crisis and potential steps to address it might fall disproportionately on vulnerable populations, our 1977 resolution insisted: “All sacrifices necessary to achieve our goals should be borne equitably by all segments of our society commensurate with their ability to bear such burdens.”[iii]
Subsequently, the CCAR and Union for Reform Judaism have repeatedly resolved to support measures to address environmental crises domestically and globally, often acknowledging the disproportionate negative impact that environmental changes place upon the poor in North America and internationally.[iv]
Concern for the future of our planet has become increasingly urgent in recent years. Global climate change has already caused negative impacts predicted by scientists in the past, and scientists foresee devastating results in the years ahead. Sea levels are rising; animal habitats are changing and in some cases disappearing; and climate disruption is increasing in North America and around the world.[v] An overwhelming consensus of scientists finds that climate change is accelerating and is largely due to human activity.[vi]
Today, it is widely agreed by the scientific community that climate change is already a reality. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that human activities are altering our climate system and will continue to do so. Over the past century, surface temperatures have increased and associated impacts on physical and biological systems are increasingly being observed. Science tells us that climate change will bring about gradual changes, such as sea level rise, and shifts of climactic zones due to increased temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns. Also, climate change is very likely to increase the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and storms. While there is uncertainty in the projections with regard to the exact magnitude, rate, and regional patterns of climate change, its consequences will change the fate of many generations to come and particularly impact on the poor if no appropriate measures are taken.[vii]
Climate change is particularly threatening to poor and vulnerable populations worldwide:
Climate Change will further reduce access to drinking water, negatively affect the health of poor people, and will pose a real threat to food security in many countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In some areas where livelihood choices are limited, decreasing crop yields threaten famines, or where loss of landmass in coastal areas is anticipated, migration might be the only solution.[viii]
As a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, United States leadership through a meaningful commitment to reduce this nation’s carbon footprint would both have an impact and lead the world by example. To that end, President Obama has detailed a Climate Action Plan, including, among other initiatives:
The Green Climate Fund (GCF), conceived in 2009, is intended to help poor and vulnerable countries address the challenges and negative impacts of climate change like flooding, sea level rise, drought, and decreased crop production. More than thirty countries have pledged $10.2 billion to initiate the GCF. President Obama has proposed a U.S. contribution of $500 million, which has yet to be approved by Congress.
Lamentably, states and industry often challenge EPA regulations in court, sometimes successfully.[xi] They argue, not without merit, that environmental regulations are costly. As early as 1977, the CCAR acknowledged that environmental solutions would indeed require sacrifice. We are taught not to imitate Esau, spurning the birthright for a mess of pottage.[xii] Instead, we are commanded to protect the birthright that is planet Earth, with eagerness to bear our blessed nation’s disproportionate share of the short-term burden to stem the tide of global climate change.
For too long, warnings about climate change and its devastating potential consequences have been ignored. We may derive hope from polls indicating that America’s youngest voters consider the environment to be a much greater priority than do their parents and grandparents.[xiii] While the CCAR has long recognized this problem and advocated for needed change, we have not made these issues our priority to the extent now being demanded by our youngest colleagues and by young adults in our communities.
Therefore Be It Resolved, that the Central Conference of American Rabbis:
1. Articulates global climate justice as a priority social justice initiative.2. Calls upon the United States of America to lead the world in addressing the climate justice crisis by:Dramatically reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and then a. Leveraging U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to seek similar reductions worldwide. b. Endorses The Clean Power Plan.
3. Asserts that the Executive Branch possesses authority under the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act to implement The Clean Power Plan and other initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.4. Appreciates the new emissions standards for large trucks.5. Applauds President Obama’s Executive Order reducing the Federal Government’s carbon footprint.6. Advocates that Congress:Immediately approve seed funding of the Global Climate Fund in the amount of $500 million.7. Adopt legislation to make the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit permanent and refundable. a. Urges state governments and industry to abide by federal environmental regulations and/or to adopt their own comparable plans to reduce greenhouse emissions. b. Prevails upon all U.S. Presidential candidates to:Acknowledge the scientific consensus that global climate change is real and primarily the result of human activity.
8. Propose a plan to reduce U.S. greenhouse emissions.9. Articulate a commitment to reducing the impact of global climate change on the world’s poor.10. Commits itself to working in concert with leaders of other faiths who share our commitment to climate justice. 11. Urges its members to advocate within the congregations and communities we serve to reduce our own carbon footprints, as institutions and as individuals.12. Pledges to continue reminding ourselves, our communities and our leaders the teaching of our tradition that, if we corrupt this Earth, “there will be no one to set it right thereafter.”[xiv]
[i] Ecclesiastes Rabbah, Chapter 7, Section 13.
[ii] Resolution on Energy, Adopted at the 88th Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1977.
[iv] Resolution on Toxic Substances, Adopted at the 95th Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, June, 1984; Resolution on Environment, Adopted by the 101st Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, June, 1990; Resolution on Environment, Adopted by the 103rd Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, April, 1992; Resolution on Endangered Species, Adopted by the 107th Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Submitted by the Commission on Social Action to the Union for Reform Judaism’s 70th General Assembly, 2009.Rabbis, 1996; Resolution Opposing the Practice of Environmental Racism, Adopted by the 107th Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, March, 1996; Resolution on the Environment, Adopted at the 61st General Assembly of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, November, 1991; Resolution on Climate Change and Energy, Submitted by the Commission on Social Action to the Union for Reform Judaism’s 70th General Assembly, 2009.
[v] climate.nasa.gov/effects, accessed July 4, 2015.
[vi] This consensus includes American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Medical Association, American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, The Geological Society of America, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, U.S. Global Change Research Program, and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among others; climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/, accessed July 4, 2015.
[vii] Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation, prepared by African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank; Department for International Development, United Kingdom; Directorate-General for Development, European Commission; Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany; Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Development Cooperation, The Netherlands; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, United National Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, The World Bank, 2015, p. ix.
[x] Energy, Climate Change, and Our Environment, https://www.whitehouse.gov/energy/securing-american-energy, accessed July 4, 2015.
[xi] Michigan et al v. Environmental Protection Agency, decided by the Supreme Court in June, 2015, was the most recent example.
[xii] Genesis 25:34.
[xiii] Wendy Koch, “Poll Finds Generation Gap on Energy Issues as Millennials Voice Climate Concerns,” National Geographic, October 30, 2014.
[xiv] Ecclesiastes Rabbah, Chapter 7, Section 13.