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You are here: Home » GreenFaith in the Media » Press Clips » The Faith Community Confronts Climate Change: It's No Longer Debatable

The Faith Community Confronts Climate Change: It's No Longer Debatable

By Paul Kaufman
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Paul Kaufman, Advocacy coordinator at GreenFaith, writes an article on climate change work within the faith community, and how GreenFaith can help.

The Faith Community Confronts Climate Change: It's No Longer Debatable

Paul Kaufman, Advocacy Coordinator, GreenFaith


And God said, “Let Us make man in Our image…and let them have dominion…over all the earth….” With these words in Genesis 1:27-28, God assigns to humankind the responsibility for caring for the planet. Genesis 2:15 also emphasizes our responsibility to protect the integrity of the environment so that its diverse species, including humans, can thrive: “The human being was placed in the Garden of Eden to till it and to tend it.” Similarly, Jewish tradition teaches us that human dominion over nature does not include a license to abuse the environment.

Clearly, we have not done a satisfactory job in preserving the Earth, as shown by the rapid deterioration of the planet’s environment. We see increases in the number and intensity of weather events: warming temperaturesmassive floodslethal droughtsmelting polar ice sheets and glaciers and the vanishing of species.  97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree that burning of fossil fuels is a significant cause of climate change. And, most of them believe that we are approaching the environmental “tipping point” after which the movement towards environmental catastrophe will be irreversible.

The faith community is in a unique position to deal with the unfortunate reality of climate change. Many of the world’s major religions regard stewardship of the planet as a significant duty of humanity.  In addition, many religions, including Judaism, teach the importance of saving or sustaining a life (pikuach nefesh). Life depends on clean air, pure water, and untainted land. Another fundamental religious ethic is protection of the weak and vulnerable members of our society.  Regrettably, the effects of environmental degradation fall disproportionately on poor communities, those with few resources or political “clout” with which to protect themselves.

How can the Jewish community combat this impending disaster?  I suggest that we, as faith leaders, can do three things to confront climate change – educate, act and advocate.

We must educate our communities about the inevitable effects of unrestrained climate change.   In order to deal with a crisis, we need to learn about it, so I propose that congregations offer formal classes and lectures which explain the science underlying the climate changes.

We should act and “green” our congregations and encourage our congregants to act individually to minimize environmental degradation and resulting effects on our climate.  While no individual can have an effect on the climate of the world, the country or even their local community, everyone can make a positive impact on their own individual piece of the world.  Simple things like carrying reusable cloth bags when shoppingreducing meat consumption, and buying food from local sources have a small, but measurable, effect.

I also urge us to form alliances with like-minded people and organizations to advocate for such things as sustainable energy sources, stricter pollution standards, reduced reliance on fossil fuels, and similar policies.  I work in advocacy for GreenFaith —an interfaith, faith-based organization whose mission is, “to inspire, educate, and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership.”

My synagogue, Temple Emeth of Teaneck, New Jersey, recently completed one of GreenFaith’s “Shield” programs, a short, but intensive activity involving all areas of temple life, and all age cohorts of the congregation.  We earned the Water Shield, after evaluating and modifying the temple’s water usage and its policies on water-using appliances.  We also learned about the role of water in Jewish history and ritual, and about world-wide issues of water distribution and scarcity.  We developed a strong sense of community from this effort, as we brought people of different ages and interests into this communal effort.

We are all confronted with a monumental problem, which will not disappear.  Using the resources which all faiths provide, and the good will of people of faith working together, we must seize this opportunity to reverse our movement towards the tipping point.

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