A sage (rumored to be Mark Twain) once said, "Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." That may have been true in Twain's time—but today it's imperative that we take action.
This year's U.S. National Climate Assessment, compiled by a 300+–person team of experts, found that 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded in the continental United States. Natural Resources Canada, an organization representing Canada in meeting the country's global commitments related to sustainable development, reported increased average temperatures of 1.5° Celsius from 1950 to 2010. Based on these and other findings, experts worldwide predict more extreme weather to come—everything from drought and wildfires in the American Southwest to flooding in the East.
The people least responsible for climate change—the poor, the sick, children—are among the most vulnerable to its effects. Many live in areas prone to flooding and drought, and are ill-equipped to defend against environmental degradation.
What can we Reform Jews do? Instead of talking about the weather, we can make our houses of worship more energy efficient.
Many URJ congregations have done just that. Consider 900–household Temple Sharey Tefilo–Israel in South Orange, New Jersey. Working with GreenFaith, a national organization connecting and certifying religious communities in environmental leadership, the congregation decreased its electrical usage by 14%—all without exceeding its regular building maintenance budget. They adjusted programming times to concentrate energy usage and "go dark" one evening a week, installed true seven-day programmable thermostats, bought Energy Star appliances, modernized lighting with motion sensors, posted signs to conserve water, and more. To explore GreenFaith's two-year greening certification program, visit greenfaith.org. For other temple models, see Action: Smart Strategies for Facility Savings.
In the political sphere, all of us can support efforts to curb greenhouse gas pollution from power plants. Americans, for example, can urge their representatives to back bipartisan legislation, such as the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 2262 / H.R. 1616), which would increase usage of energy efficient technologies in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings—and create clean–energy jobs, too.
Our High Holy Day liturgy proclaims: "Hayom harat olam, Hayom," "Today is the day of the world's birth." As we begin a New Year for our planet, let us protect and preserve God's creation with our deeds.
May the future be brighter than ever, but not quite so warm.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs
President, Union for Reform Judaism