Then I heard the voice of Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And I said, “Here I am, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)
While climate change is global, the Paris Climate Accords makes clear that each country is responsible for what happens within its borders. As a part of foreign policy, many countries use their foreign aid as a goad to encourage countries that are failing at addressing climate change to change course. As Jews, we applaud these efforts, but there is much more to be done within the borders of every nation.
You can track the climate change efforts of many nations at Climate Action Tracker.
The United States addresses climate change through two avenues: legislation and regulation. Regulation is controlled by the executive branch, which issues directives and initiatives through its agencies such as the Department of Interior, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The agency or department will issue a set of proposed rules. After the announcement, a public comment period is opened to the public, where anyone can respond. In the meantime, proponents and opponents of the rules are vigorously lobbying the agency’s top leaders who are all political appointees. After the comment period is closed, the agency issues the revised rules. The past years have seen organizations such as ACLU and Sierra Club suing agencies in federal court over the released rules. The last resort of climate change activists over destructive regulations is the courts. Many cases have been won.
Legislation is generated on Capitol Hill, in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate. House bills are labels HR### (where # is the number of the bill) and Senate bills are labeled S###. Citizens can lobby for or against any bill. They can email, call, or visit in person. In person visits can be made to the in-district offices of the legislator or to the Capitol Hill office. Email is the least effective. Generating large numbers of calls (as little as 50 will do) is more effective, and face-to-face visits with congressional staff is the most effective.
A number of organizations, with Citizens’ Climate Lobby taking the lead, have supported the Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives. The caucus requires every Republican to be paired with a Democrat, and only pairs can join the caucus. The point of the caucus is to develop climate change legislation that can pass. A current list of members is found here. The most important lesson of the Climate Solutions is that religious groups and houses of worship must contact their representative, telling them to join the caucus. If there is no contact, the representative concludes that you and your synagogue do not care about climate change.
For Reform Jews, the easiest way to advocate at the national level is through the Religious Action Center. Unfortunately, none of the other Jewish movements have an advocacy arm in Washington D.C. Still, the materials and updates are available to all at https://rac.org.
To discover and track bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate, go here.
State and Local
While the Green New Deal made a splash when it was introduced on Capitol Hill, the core of the initiative was promulgated at the state level. In June 2019, New York State passed its Green New Deal under the unwieldy name, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019. Proponents of the bill worked for four years, including defeats the first three years, to pass the legislation. California, Iowa, and Minnesota have similar tales to tell.
The most important momentum to secure a carbon-neutral future is at the state and local level. For synagogues, the voices of the institution and its membership have an outsized influence within the boundaries of the state, if they choose to act. Of course, success may take four years. The measurable effect of synagogues advocating is not based on the size of the congregation, but on the size of the delegation that meets with the legislators.
Unlike the federal level, congregants can schedule face-to-face meetings with the state and local legislators. The fossil fuel industry lobbies your state, county, and local legislators. Keep in mind that if you do not speak with your legislator, then the only voice in the room is the fossil fuel industry. Even if you only speak with the staff, the staffs are small and vigilant.
Further, synagogues need not lobby or advocate alone at the state or local levels. Cooperation with other front-line organizations telegraphs to the legislator that your efforts are organized and planned. Most climate advocacy groups jump at the chance to combine for visit to legislative offices, and they reciprocate too. Even more, the other organizations will come ready with scientific, political, economic, and other reasonable arguments for a bill. As a Jew, you will be arguing from the religious and moral point of view. No one else can make this argument with the same authority.
As an example, I typically speak last, throwing down a moral challenge that demands an ethical and integral response. I am not an expert on the science of climate change, but I am well-suited to present moral clarity on a bill.
TIP: Advocacy Audits can be found in the Sustainability Plan.