(February 26, 2019 / JNS) The Green New Deal, rolled out earlier this month by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), has generated a great deal of buzz in the news recently for its radical approach to fighting climate change.
Even Jewish groups have taken a stance on the 10-year proposal that would require the U.S. energy grid to 100 percent run on renewables—solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal—enabling regulations that “would likely require at least $1 trillion in new regulatory costs, if not much more,” according to the nonpartisan American Action Forum.
Along with calling for eliminating flatulence from livestock, including cows, the plan would allocate $3.6 billion annually towards creating a nationwide smart grid by 2030. It would “upgrade or replace every building in [the] U.S. for state-of-the-art energy efficiency” within a decade. It would also drastically overhaul methods of transportation in the United States through zero-emission infrastructure, including “expanding electric vehicle manufacturing, build charging stations everywhere, build out high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.”
Overall, reactions to the Green New Deal exemplify the ideological divide within the Jewish community.
‘An issue of justice’
The Jewish environmental organization Aytzim said that the proposal would fulfill what it has been fighting for in accordance with Jewish beliefs.
“If enacted, the Green New Deal will help fulfill our obligation to be stewards of the Earth and ensure a healthy environment for future generations,” the group’s president, David Krantz, told JNS. “Its only major downside is that it wasn’t done decades ago.”
“We as a human civilization are facing what may perhaps be our most significant challenge, and the Green New Deal represents a serious attempt to address it,” he continued. “As Jews, we have a religious obligation to act—to pursue justice, to care for Creation, and to ensure intergenerational equity. Bold and ambitious action is needed to help repair our broken world.”
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism did not take an explicit stand, only to tweet, “The #GreenNewDeal details were released today—we are encouraged by the members of Congress who understand the gravity of #climatechange and are working on finding solutions.”
The #GreenNewDeal details were released today – we are encouraged by the members of Congress who understand the gravity of #climatechange and are working on finding solutions. Learn more about what is in @RepAOC and @SenMarkey‘s GND here: https://t.co/Pa7qTR7jVq
— Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (@TheRAC) February 7, 2019
The Jewish Democratic Council of America expressed a similar sentiment.
“Despite Republican denials, climate change continues to affect the lives of millions of Americans,” the group told JNS in a statement. “Combating climate change is a critical element of JDCA’s platform, and we have mobilized the Jewish community to demand that Congress pass comprehensive legislation required to protect our environment and curb the impacts of climate change.”
The organization added that “the Green New Deal recognizes the enormity and immediacy of the challenge of climate change, and we are hopeful that Congress will continue to develop a plan and ultimately pass legislation that will invest in green infrastructure, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance our national security, all while protecting vulnerable and marginalized communities.”
The Shalom Center, a social-activist organization, expressed its support for the ambitious deal. “The Green New Deal offers by far the best chance of success in our struggle to prevent climate chaos and world-wide disaster, because it joins the struggle for social justice with the struggle for eco-sanity,” said its founder and director, Rabbi Arthur Waskow. “This is rooted in our best religious and spiritual traditions—for instance, the biblical Shmita/Sabbatical Year both releases the Earth from overwork and releases debtors from their debts. We call this eco-social justice” [emphasis theirs].
‘Concern for the earth itself’
Moreover, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association is “absolutely supportive of the concept” behind the proposal, telling JNS that legislation is the best way to accomplish Ocasio-Cortez’s goals.
“We clearly have an immediate need for some massive kind of climate justice effort,” the organization’s executive director, Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, told JNS. “We’re facing significant loss of employment, loss of habitat, loss of resources around the world and the people that are the hardest hit by climate change … are those least capable of preparing for and dealing with it, so we see this as an issue of justice.”
“We also see this, of course, as an issue of concern for the earth in itself,” she continued. “The Jewish initiative has a very long and very clear mandate for us to care for the earth and care for what we identify as G-d’s creatures.”
While Wechterman acknowledged that she did not read the report publicized by Ocasio-Cortez, she said “having the expectation we’re moving in that direction is absolutely a must. I think people in our community understand it is worth paying a little bit more money when designing and building new buildings to make sure that they have [the] best possible low impact on the environment.”
“The aspiration of making sure we control our energy usage, our carbon footprint and all of that is absolutely something we believe is a priority,” she added.
Wechterman cited Adat Shalom in Bethesda, Md., and the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill., as examples of synagogues that are environmentally friendly. In 2008, the latter became the first platinum LEED-certified synagogue in North America.
“There are communities and smaller groups of people who are working in that direction through their private efforts,” she said. “That only becomes a mass effort when we have, I believe, legislation and imperative and the support of government policies for everyone to do that.”
‘An exercise in group think’
However, the National Council of Young Israel expressed opposition to the Green New Deal that even Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared to dismiss it as “one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive.”
“We oppose the Green New Deal. We do support efforts toward usage of electric cars that lessens the dependence on foreign oil,” NCYI president Farley Weiss told JNS. “We do not support the U.S. economically damaging itself to use green energy as opposed to other energy sources.”
“However, he continued, “if energy options are both domestic and the choice is between a similar priced cleaner energy and a less clean energy, it is preferable to go with the cleaner energy.”
The Coalition for Jewish Values echoed such sentiment.
“We believe in protecting the environment, but in a way that lets us benefit from the world’s resources,” CJV managing director Yaakov Menken told JNS. “We should be concerned that people are taking the Green New Deal seriously because they only like it as a vague concept. Once you get to the details, who is going to pay for upgrading ‘all existing buildings’ ” [emphasis theirs]?
“Do we really want to stop eating beef? And as this is a global issue, unless the Chinese and Indians cooperate, emissions will still rise no matter what we do here,” he continued. “So it’s an exercise in group think, and its size is frightening.”
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), an initiative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, told JNS it “applaud[s] the Green New Deal” for raising the alarm about climate change, regardless of “whether or not the particular solutions outlined by current drafts [of it] are ultimately the best course of action.”
“Climate change is not only already happening, it’s already contributing to disasters all over the world—from rapidly intensifying hurricanes to prolonged fire seasons; from increasing irregularity in precipitation leading to both droughts and flooding to the spread of vector borne diseases,” stated COEJL executive director Rabbi Daniel Swartz. “The status quo is causing death and destruction, and it’s simply immoral not to act. We betray our covenant from generation to generation.”
He cited the book of Proverbs that reads, “Good people bequeath to their children’s children,” and “The prudent see danger and take cover, but the simpleton keeps going and pays the penalty.”
Swartz said that despite the Green New Deal’s radical prescription, “we need to do our best to ensure that the transition from a fossil-fuel based economy to a sustainable one is made without punishing the most vulnerable in society.”
He continued, explaining that “our chief problem is not unclear science or even a lack of technological know-how to build the solutions of tomorrow. “Rather, it is a failure of political will, the stifling of moral imagination, the shrinking of empathy and deliberate denial of a clear call to justice for the vulnerable of today and even more so for the well-being of the future.
“Our tradition teaches us that just ends can only be achieved through just means—and so when it comes to climate change, we need to find ways to protect and retrain workers whose current means of livelihood will be lost,” he said. “We applaud the Green New Deal for seeking to ensure just transitions, protecting vulnerable workers even as we undertake deep economic change.”
The proposal would cost $11 trillion, or about $110 billion annually over a decade, according to a study by the U.S. global management consulting firm McKinsey.