Temple Beth Shalom Takes a Step to Address the Climate Crisis

By Ira Beckerman

About two-thirds into the Shema, there is a portion from Deuteronomy where God promises the Jewish people rain on their land at the right times for their crops and trees, and grass on the fields for their animals.  God instructs us to eat and be content (which shows up later in the Grace after Meals). It then becomes clear that this offer is a pact, not a gift.

Beware, then, lest your heart be led astray, and you go off and worship other gods, and you submit to them, so that the anger of THE MIGHTY ONE should burn against you, and seal up the heavens so no rain would fall, so that the ground would not give forth her produce, and you be forced to leave the good land I am giving you (Deut. 11:13-21).

After a year with the hottest month on record – last July – the highest temperature ever recorded in British Columbia (121 degrees F), the loss of 8.4 billion tons of ice in Greenland in a single day (that’s enough to cover the State of Florida in water to a depth of 2 inches), the urgency of the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland was apparent.  The 2015 Paris goal of a 2.7 degree (1.5 degree Celsius) rise in world temperature by 2050 no longer seems possible.  Even a 2.7 degree rise will have substantial impacts on everyone. The further away the 2.7 degree goal becomes, the worse the impacts. The key takeaway from Glasgow is that governments and everyone needs to act now and in a meaningful way.  Despite the disappointing results from COP26, the world nations will meet again next year, but with more urgency, trying to “keep 1.5 alive.”

Temple Beth Shalom is a small congregation, with one building. What can we do?  Can we help repair the world?  After some discussion, our Board has decided to change our electricity provider to renewable energy.  In September, we selected Verde Energy through PA Powerswitch, and this month, we received our first bill under the new provider.  We selected a 100% renewable plan for a 1 year contract.   According to Verde,

Renewable Energy resources used to generate electricity that are replaced naturally, or by mankind's contribution (municipal solid waste incineration and landfill methane). Renewable energy may include fuels and technologies such as solar photovoltaic energy, solar thermal energy, wind power, low head hydropower, geothermal energy, landfill and mine based methane gas, energy from waste and sustainable biomass energy.

Over the course of a year, we consume around 15 megawatts of electricity at TBS.  Prior to switching, this would generate around 6.4 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.  By going with a renewable plan, we avoid that emission.  It is equivalent to having planted 265 mature trees each year.  The cost of this plan is more expensive than the lowest possible rates we could have achieved through shopping, but is less than our current variable rate plan last month (which would likely have risen dramatically this winter).

To further put things in perspective, an average car produces about 5 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per year.  The world per capita CO2 emissions is around 4 metric tons a year, per capita Americans at 20 metric tons.  So by any measure, this switch to renewable energy is by itself not going to save the world, but it is a first step. 

The High Holidays provides two metaphors for us to consider.  The first is toward the end of Yom Kippur Ne’ilah Service, where in El Nora Alilah we beseech G-d to grant pardon for the wrongs we have done before the closing of the gates, wrongs which could include having willfully ignored the climate crisis.  The other metaphor is in the opening of the Yom Kippur Morning Service Haftorah,

And G-d has said: Prepare, prepare the road – yes, clear a thoroughfare, remove the stumbling block from my people’s way!” (Isaiah)

Or, perhaps the entire story of Jonah, read as the Yom Kippur Minhah Service.  The second metaphor calls for action, not supplication.

Finally, although our switch to Verde Energy might be a small step, it is a step. As is said in Pirke Avot, “it is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”