This year, only one week separates Israel Independence Day and Earth Day, which comes April 22. For those of us in the Jewish community who have particular concerns about the threats posed by the oil-rich regimes in the Middle East, this coincidence reminds us that moving toward a future that is less reliant on fossil fuels is good for geopolitics as well as the environment.
Every day of inaction means less healthy communities for all of us: Numerous studies from both here and abroad have demonstrated how rising carbon levels increase asthma rates, lead to more droughts and put already vulnerable populations at greater risk for death and disease.
As people of faith, we cannot stand idly by when we see how climate change disproportionately — and disastrously — affects poor communities. Those who contributed least to the problems of climate change will continue to suffer most — and that is a future we cannot accept. We must move aggressively on multiple fronts — in our own individual and institutional decisions, and in our policy advocacy.
That is why the local Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia partners with organizations such as the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, which works with Jewish individuals and organizations to bring more “green” to the Jewish community. The group also works with partners in other faith traditions to advocate for environmental and energy policies that give the greatest hope for people and the planet.
Here in Philadelphia, the Jewish Federation had an energy audit conducted on our Center City building in 2010. The renovations we completed in response to the findings led to a 12.4 percent decrease in our building’s energy use — and also led to our receiving an Energy Star certification last year. Federation instituted a building-wide recycling program for electronics and hardware, exhausted printers, batteries and cell phones, and has implemented single- stream recycling for all plastics, papers and metals, effectively cutting in half the amount of waste simply discarded.
Moving public policy forward is far more challenging, but such work provides the potential for the greatest impact. In particular, the Environmental Protection Agency should move ahead in its proposed regulations on carbon emissions from new power plants, and should propose regulations for emissions from existing plants. And we need Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) to continue to defend the Clean Air Act, ensuring new protections can and will be established.
Earth Day is a good occasion for all people to commit — or recommit — themselves to the movement that recognizes that we must change our behavior and our laws in order to enable a healthy future.
Earth Day’s proximity this year to Israel Independence Day reminds us of even more reasons to do so.
Adam Kessler is the director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council. Sybil Sanchez is the director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.