“We’ve got to do something!” says everyone who immerses themselves in the facts and figures of climate change. But what?
The teenage activist Greta Thunberg began with a solo protest in front of the Swedish government offices and a year later, she is leading worldwide protests that number in the millions. She is a good role model of how much energy and stamina are required to overcome the forces of inertia and greed.
To push people out of their comfort zones to address climate change and to pass productive legislation requires an often ignored artform called “community organizing.” Greta started with her family. She then expanded her circle with family friends and classmates. From classmates, she spread to her school and then to other schools. Using social media, she leapt across national boundaries and fired the imagination of people across Europe and finally, the world. However, day in and day out, she travels to local events, speaking with local leaders and politicians.
Advocacy begins in your household and in your congregation. You study and learn together first. You organize amongst yourselves, calling for all who are like-minded to join you. Houses of Worship typically call these groups “Green Teams” and they function as committees or task forces within the synagogue structure.
Yet, there is an extra step for a synagogue: why would a Jew do this? What is the Jewish imperative? Jews, among all of the religious traditions represented in North America, have a unique role to play. Our theology and our sacred scriptures have a moral certainty to them, an unwavering commitment to the creation and a clear mandate of human responsibility to maintain God’s gift of the planet to our keeping. As human beings, we created climate change and thankfully, God gave us the tools to fix this problem. God is not going to intervene and save us from our own deliberate mistakes though. The responsibility is ours.
The next step is getting connected to the organizational environmental world outside the walls of the synagogue. Using New York State as an example, there are almost 900 registered organizations on the environment according to <www.Guidestar.org>. Most of these organizations are local, a few of them are statewide and even fewer tackle national legislation and initiatives. Moreover, environment is broad topic that covers many different areas of problem solving from habitat to water to energy to environmental justice. However, many organizations, no matter their focus, combine their might into coalitions that fight more effectively than lobbying as a lone organization. See www.nyrenews.org for a successful example of a coalition. Working backwards from the list of the coalition, one can determine which local organizations are engaged and active.
Among the organizations, there is a significant difference between the national/international organizations, commonly referred to as Big Green, and the front-line organizations that are based in your community. While Big Green is good at collecting and disseminating information from a variety of primary sources, the front-line organizations have the local information and the experience of organizing in your community.
The first steps for advocacy:
1. What are the local environmental issues that need to be addressed? (i.e. recycling, e-waste, zoning, sewer, energy, public transportation)
2. Who are the municipal, county, and state officials who are responsible for their areas?
3. What regulatory agencies oversee these areas?
4. Who else in the community is concerned? Who are allies?
5. Can our synagogue be a place for neighborhood meetings?
The bottom line of community organizing is reaching out and talking with people. Building a coalition of people with like concerns is a process of talking to even more people. The magic of personal communication is the power that creates change.
AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL, the Reform Movement has a tremendous resource called the Religious Action Center, or “The RAC” for short, at https://rac.org. The RAC tracks and lobbies on Capitol Hill, using legislative assistants to build relationships with the staffs of the Senate and the House of Representatives. They promote legislation and follow regulatory developments on topics that have been approved by the Reform Movement as a religious and moral priority. One of their active areas is the environment.
Your national legislators are tracked for their votes for and against environmental bills. The League of Conservation Voters offers a scorecard from 1 to 100, rating who goes beyond the rhetoric and supports climate change legislation. You can look up your congresspeople at http://scorecard.lcv.org/.
Despite the scorecard, there is a bad government process called “greenwashing.” Greenwashing is elected officials doing just enough to game the scorecard by choosing to support only those environmental bills they know are going to fail. This is a case of having your cake and eating it too.
At the International level, the Paris Climate Accords is the gold standard action plan on global climate change, since it was passed in December 2015. The Accords are not perfect. Even though they set achievable goals, there are no mechanisms to pressure or punish countries that do not implement plans to reach the carbon-reduction levels. Some argue that the goals are not set high enough to reach meaningful change.
President Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords. However, many states and cities have vowed to adhere to the treaty and work to reach its carbon-reduction goals. The text of the Accords can be found here. A summary of the document can read or downloaded here.
To learn how to research regulatory and legislative initiatives go here.
To see a list of organizational allies go here.