Need for Aggressive Action
Our tradition teaches that Adam and Eve were asked "to till and to tend" the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:15). We believe humans remain a partner in Creation. We fulfill this mandate by practicing "Tikkun Olam," literally, repairing the world. Climate change threatens to irreparably alter the Earth. Carbon dioxide concentrations are higher than they have been in more than half-a-million years. Since the advent of the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide levels have risen 30 percent. At the same time, global temperature has increased by more than 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last century. These changes are expected to result in more forest fires, severe floods, soil erosion, droughts, sea-level rise, an increased frequency of severe storms, and pest and pathogen outbreaks. The Jewish community supports aggressive climate change legislation to reduce these impacts. Such legislation should aim to reduce carbon concentrations by 80% by 2050, with significant interim reductions.
Support for Short-Term Emission Reductions
Jewish tradition teaches us to protect the Earth for future generations. (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea-level rise for more than a millennium. Consequently, any delay in adopting federal climate change legislation will have repercussions for future generations. Moreover, the cost of needed reductions will increase exponentially absent immediate action. To prevent and respond to these intergenerational impacts, the Jewish community supports policies that require short-term emissions reductions in accordance with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Such reductions should reduce carbon emissions by 25-40% by the year 2020.
Prudence Is Paramount
Jewish tradition recognizes the virtue of prudence. We are taught that the builder of a house must place a fence around its roof to prevent someone from falling off of it. (Deuteronomy 22:8) Thus, we are instructed to remove a possible danger that could cause fatal harm to another – even where the danger is not imminent or certain. Likewise, the Jewish community believes we must take measures to address global warming absent perfect information. While the precise threats climate change presents to human life are not certain, we recognize that climate change places human life and all creation at risk. Therefore, the Jewish community supports policies that proactively address climate change by reducing emissions to avoid its potentially catastrophic effects. This means supporting legislation that prevents global temperature from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius by limiting concentrations of heat-trapping gases in accordance with scientific principles. Failure to act in the near term will create undue expense in the future by increasing the eventual cost of reductions.
Need for U.S. Leadership
Our tradition teaches: "It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it." (Pirkei Avot 2:16) While a global response to climate change is necessary, failure to secure an international commitment does not absolve the United States from taking critical first steps. Strong and decisive leadership will set an important model for other nations. America is committed to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law – regardless of the actions of other nations. The same principles must guide our response to climate change. Accordingly, the United States need not wait for China, India and other nations to join an international agreement before taking action. Rather, the United States should lead by example and create technologies to facilitate the global transition to a low-carbon economy. US leadership is particularly appropriate because the United States produces a disproportionate share of global emissions; while the United States constitutes 5% of the world's population, it emits 25% of its greenhouse gases. At the same time, China, India and other developing nations should be urged to reduce emissions as fast as possible, because US efforts to address climate change will be ineffective without global participation.
Market Mechanisms Are Desirable
The Jewish community believes that a balance between regulatory and market approaches is achievable and desirable. By establishing a firm cap on emissions, federal climate change legislation will create needed price signals to encourage emission reductions. At the same time, the regulatory flexibility associated with a cap and trade policy allows for technological innovation and emission reductions at the lowest possible cost.
Flexibility Is Critical
Our tradition recognizes that human beings are fallible. (Proverbs 24:16). While the Jewish communitybelieves that it is imperative that the United States takes immediate aggressive action to respond to climate change, we recognize that such measures are unlikely to be sufficient. Federal climate legislation must allow for periodic assessment and revision to accommodate emerging science and human error.
From Jewish Council for Public Affairs Agenda for 2000-2001
The JCPA supports policies to effect the rapid adoption of clean and renewable energy sources and technologies, including solar, wind, fuel cell, and natural gas, and the phasing out of reliance on fossil fuel technologies which contribute to air pollution, respiratory illness, global warming, and the degradation of ecosystems. The JCPA favors policies which provide market-based incentives to adopt clean energy technologies, including taxation of pollution. The JCPA supports programs to provide retraining for those workers most negatively affected by changes in energy policies.
Exposure to air pollution has long been documented as a health risk, and there are now emerging patterns of disease suspected to be at least partially caused by air pollution. The number of asthma sufferers in the U.S. has more than doubled since 1980 to an estimated 17.3 million people. Particularly hard hit are poor, especially minority, children in inner cities. Although the cause of this rapid increase is unknown, it is known that indoor and outdoor air pollution (including vehicle emissions, industrial plant emissions, cigarette smoke, household dust, and insect and animal allergens) trigger asthma attacks in those with the condition.
Despite a world-wide scientific consensus that fossil fuel emissions are significantly contributing to global warming and despite convincing analyses showing substantial economic benefits of reducing reliance on fossil fuels, Congress continues to obstruct U.S. action to address climate change. At the behest of automakers, Congress continues to prevent the Department of Transportation from studying an increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and to oppose closing the loophole that allows "sport utility vehicles" and other so-called "light trucks" (which now account for over 50 percent of vehicles sold) to avoid meeting existing standards for cars. The organized Jewish community will be called upon to make clear to members of Congress that the public interest requires higher CAFE standards.
In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advanced efforts to clean up the nation's air through new regulations and court action against polluting power plants. There were set-backs as well, however, as the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled against tougher EPA standards for ozone and blocked a carefully negotiated plan with 22 eastern states to reduce emissions that cause smog and acid rain. States and cities across the nation, particularly those in the east, are undertaking their own efforts to clean up their air, including purchase of low emission vehicles for public purposes, suits against polluting power plants, adoption of stricter emissions standards for cars, and funding of mass transit. Jewish community relations agencies have opportunities to join coalitions with a wide range of other civic and religious groups to advance cleaner air at the local and regional level.
Although the Senate is not expected to consider ratification of the Kyoto Protocol (the international treaty to address climate change) before 2001, global warming likely will be a significant topic of debate in the 2000 Presidential campaigns. The organized Jewish community, along with coalition partners in the faith community, will be called upon to raise public awareness of the moral and social justice implications of climate change. Furthermore, the Jewish community relations field will be called upon to educate Jewish individuals and institutions about the effects of economic decisions, such as the purchase of vehicles, energy company choices, and building management, on the environment and public health.