COEJL, the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life, focused itself this fall on asking the question: “How many Jews does it take to change a light bulb?” and
helped tens of thousands of members of the Jewish community in nearly every state purchase and install energy efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs–Hanukkah “chai-lights”–during the holiday in their synagogues, Jewish institutions, and homes. Response to the campaign has been tremendous–initiating conversations about energy use and inspiring creativity in communities including the building of customized CFL chanukiyot (Hanukkah menorahs). We estimate that approximately 50,000 bulbs will be sold throughout the campaign, keeping more than 18,000 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
That 18,000 tons sounds great, at least on the surface, but it really is just a small wedge, which really is COEFL’s point … to spark broader change through this symbolic (al beit it real) act of change. And, COEJL is not isolated … this is a multi-denominational effort to reach out to religious communities.
COEFL understands that, in many ways, CFLs are only a small step in a walk-crawl-hopefully run process toward a sustainable energy future.
For many of us who have been involved in the environmental movement, switching to CFLs may seem like baby steps. But for the majority of those who participated in our current campaign, CFLs were something revolutionary. Not only that, but the installation of the bulbs offered them an opportunity to take concrete action as a Jewish response to global warming. Change is hard, but changing a light bulb is easy and it can lead to greater actions to conserve energy and live more sustainably.
As noted in the introduction, COEFL is far from isolated as a religious institution seeking change on environmental issues.
And, of course, lighing is far from just a Hannukah tradition right now — Christmas lights are also something worthy to consider for change, change to spark greater change. Christmas Lights — Scrooge or Savior? discusses the value of LED Christmas lights in terms of energy savings.
But, back to religious movements and Global Warming.
The National Religious Partnership for the Environment, of which COEJL is a part, is just one sign of the growing involvement of religious institutions with environmental causes — most critically, perhaps, global warming challenges. As they note on their front page,
Love and gratitude for God’s creation lie deep within religious life. From mountaintops to forests, green pastures to still waters, stars in the sky and lilies of the field, we experience the grace of our Creator and the gift of our presence here.
With Earth in grave environmental peril, many religious Americans are seeking to respond through our faith. Through the many gateways and galleries of this website, we offer resources and accounts of how people of faith are acting upon God’s mandate to be stewards of our precious Earth.
The Regeneration Project is another interfaith group
devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith. Our goal is to help people of faith recognize and fulfill their responsibility for the stewardship of creation. Specifically, the IPL campaign is mobilizing a national religious response to global warming while promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation. People of faith have an opportunity to put their faith into action and help reduce the devastating effects of global warming.
And there is Protecting Creation (an interfaith climate change network). These are all, perhaps, “liberal” religious institutions.
If we look to religious groups that seem to have had so much influence in electoral politics the past several decades, there are also signs of change when it comes to environmental issues. Most notably, perhaps, is the creation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative. From their front page,
“For by Him (Christ) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth.” (Col. 1:16)
The same love for God and neighbor that compels us to preach salvation through Jesus Christ, protect the unborn, preserve the family and the sanctity of marriage, and take the whole Gospel to a hurting world, also compels us to recognize that human-induced climate change is a serious Christian issue requiring action now.
(Note some Daily Kos discussions by lil bird, timmyc, TBarta, and karmsy (great title: Neoconservatism and evangelical Christianity: “Divorce” of a perfect couple?))
But not all envangelicals are on board. Bill Moyers did an excellent show, Is God Green?
A new holy war is growing within the conservative evangelical community, with implications for both the global environment and American politics. For years liberal Christians and others have made protection of the environment a moral commitment. Now a number of conservative evangelicals are joining the fight, arguing that man’s stewardship of the planet is a biblical imperative and calling for action to stop global warming.
But they are being met head-on by opposition from their traditional evangelical brethren who adamantly support the Bush administration in downplaying the threat of global warming and other environmental perils. The political stakes are high: Three out of every four white evangelical voters chose George W. Bush in 2004. “Is God Green?” explores how a serious split among conservative evangelicals over the environment and global warming could reshape American politics.
Another examination of this “holy war”, The evangelical divide on global warming, began:
2006 may become known as the year global warming moved from a scientific issue to a religious and political debate with the power to influence votes and public policy.
Are these activities and changes in the religious communities across America enough to signal a positive “Tipping Point”? Not a time when it is too late to act to save the world from catastrophic (as opposed to simply serious) damage, but a tipping point toward enough of an American political constituency to support real change toward a more sustainable energy future (such as proposed in Energize America).
- What does the religious activity portend for “environmental” causes?
- For addressing America’s “addiction to oil”?
- What are the best ways for ensuring thoughtful, positive interactions and reinforcing activities between “traditional environmentalists” and religious organizations — whether “liberal” or “conservative” — willing to begin tackling energy/environmental challenges? In part, how should we best go about educating “scientists” in the most useful language for communicating with religious institutions and individuals working toward a behavior system more protective of the planet and humanity’s future?
Note, during the YearlyKos2006 science discussion, LondonYank made a very interesting point that was along these lines: ‘This discussion has been at least 50% about religion. This is supposed to be a discussion of science. I can’t believe that, in Europe, a science discussion would spend 1% of its time discussing religious passages.’ I am continuing that discussion here???
- How do we ensure that Holistic Thinking About Energy is holistic in moral and ethical and social terms, in addition to system-of-system understanding of “what” we want energy for, power sources, usage patterns, and efficiency of use?
I search for reasons for hope … I hope that the New Year will bring a start to a magnificent year. One in which we see tremendous change for the better, not least of which would be starting to turn (seriously) America around on energy and global warming challenges. The growing number
The title of this diary came from the 20 December Washington Post reporting of COEJL’s campaign: The Festival of (Energy-Efficient) Lights — Dreidels, Latkes, Compact Fluorescent Bulbs: A Holiday Environmental Push. As reported there and elsewhere, the point of this campaign was not ‘simply’ installation of compact flourescent lights, as much as this might achieve, but the starting of conversations and creating awareness of the power for individuals and institutions to take action that literally can change the world around them — for today and tomorrow.
“Change is hard but changing a light bulb is easy.”
We can hope that this movement and change continues and extends … and helps turn the nation (and the world) toward a better path.
At thepresentation of Energize America’s core principles at Yearly Kos, I commented that
At this time, the United States is hurtling toward the cliff like Thelma and Louise , but we’re in our Hummers rather than a convertible. And, we are dragging the world … and future generations … behind us, bound hand and foot by our dangerous habits and shaky energy structure. Energize America seeks to take us out of our obsolete, fuel-guzzling Hummers, hurtling into a dismal future, into 100+ mile per gallon (mpg), composite, flex-fuel, plug-in hybrid cars and SUVs that will allow us to turn aside from the cliff into a brighter and sustainable future.
Will the growing religious movement involvement help turn us (US and us) away from that cliff?
For me, a New Year’s Resolution: I will strive to expand my efforts to turn us toward a better path. In early January, I go to Nashville for training with The Climate Project. At least two of my first four talks following it will be with religious groups. This will be a new path from what I have been doing in the past.
- Many of the religious sites above have extensive information about potential action re energy issues as well as discussions of religious issues related to responsibilities for the faithful to husband the earth.
Originally version, 26 December 2006.