James Hansen is obviously admired by environmental activists — especially if the multiple standing ovations and shout-outs of agreement he received during a recent program are any indication. To governments and fossil-fuel companies, though, he is a force to be reckoned with. The head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and a renowned climate scientist, Hansen has been outspoken for more than two decades now, warning politicians and citizens alike about one hot issue in particular: the rising threat of global warming.
He has testified before Congress and addressed a jury in a controversial environmental criminal case in England earlier this year. And on Nov. 9, he addressed about 350 people at Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne during a conference titled "Global Warming: Making the Transition to a Just and Sustainable World."
"There is still a knowledge gap between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and those who need to know: government and policy-makers," said Hansen, who was among the first to sound the alarm over the threat to the environment.
His Sharpest Criticism
During his remarks, titled "Climate Threat to the Planet: Implications for Intergenerational Equity and Justice," his sharpest words were directed at lawmakers and special-interest groups for concentrating on the bottom line instead of putting the environment's well-being first.
"There's the danger we will pass tipping points," said Hansen, referring to the climatological term for the point in the Earth's evolution that leads to irreversible change.
While there have been other warming periods, they have been naturally occurring; this one, explained Hansen, is "human-made climate change."
The program was sponsored by the shul and PennFuture, a public-interest environmental organization, and co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Interfaith Climate Change Campaign. In addition to the climatologist's presentation, there were panel presentations focused on local, state and national environmental concerns, and a review of what legislative actions and business incentives are under way to tackle them.
The scientist and other speakers during the afternoon-long conference expressed hope that President-elect Barack Obama will place global-warming concerns and clean-energy sources — which could potentially create "green" jobs — at the top of his agenda, in addition to the economy.
But clergy and congregants at Beth David Reform are already well on the road to saving the planet. The synagogue has a long history of social action, noted Rabbi Jim Egolf. Quoting Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Egolf said that "Judaism teaches us that we are the caretakers" of all life on this planet.
The synagogue has already replaced the bulb in its ner tamid and other fixtures in the sanctuary with light-emitting diode lightbulbs, which are smaller, last longer than traditional bulbs and conserve energy.
Congregation president Sam Scott said that the shul, which is in the final stages of a capital campaign, will also be using "green" technologies for its forthcoming building improvements, including using organic and recycled materials.
Even BethDY, the synagogue's youth group, has joined in decorating recycling bins throughout the building, according to administrator Jill Cooper.
"We are coming at this from all sides," said Scott. "We've always been socially active and aware of the world around us. We want to make [the shul] as energy efficient as possible."