Reform Movement Position:
RJV supports the clean energy provisions of the Governor’s budget (S7508A/A9508A) and support measures which encourage renewable energy production and limit carbon emissions.
Burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other agricultural and industrial practices unleash billions of tons of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and other gases into the environment each year, accelerating the greenhouse effect and the changes to earth’s climate that result from this increase in heat-trapping gases. Leading climate scientists believe that the safe level of atmospheric CO2 is around 350 parts per million (ppm). Since the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have increased by more than 30% to the current level of over 410 parts per million and rising at a rate of 2 to 3 ppm per year; this is the highest concentration of atmospheric CO2 in the past 800,000 years.
While the impacts of climate change are diverse and severe, there are many things that we can do to lessen (or prevent) the worst consequences of our changing climate and adapt to the inevitable effects that we are already seeing. Our response to climate change must occur on two fronts simultaneously: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is the implementation of long-term changes designed to lessen the effects of climate change in the future. We can decrease our greenhouse gas emissions by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coal, slowing deforestation and replanting deforested areas, choosing food options that contribute less to our carbon footprint, and building more energy-efficient homes, schools, and synagogues. These options can all be encouraged through legislation on climate and energy issues.
Adaptation are steps that we can take to help communities cope with the already-present or inevitable effects of climate change. Adaptation measures include building sea walls to protect cities from sea-level rise, watering crops more efficiently to account for drought, or improving roads to allow them to withstand higher temperatures. In short, mitigation efforts try to combat the progression of climate change, while adaptation efforts allow for people to continue to survive on a rapidly changing planet. One of the most important things we can do is to adapt to the effects of climate change in the short term and mitigate climate change over the long term to ensure the sustainability of our planet.
A central component of mitigation efforts is the transition to zero-emission energy sources. Substituting zero emission renewable energy for fossil fuels will help minimize further carbon emissions which dangerously warm our planet. Several factors go into if and how countries transition to renewable energy. While the unsubsidized, levelized cost of renewable energy is now often cheaper than traditional fossil fuels (including coal), existing infrastructure sunk costs (i.e. money that has already been spent and can’t be recovered) and government subsidies can bias the market towards producing energy with fossil fuels. The other problem with most renewable energy sources is that they only operate sporadically: wind turbines only generate electricity when it is windy, and solar panels only generate power during the day when it is sunny. Additional energy infrastructure to store this energy for use even when it is not windy or sunny is needed so that renewable energy can provide continuous power.
Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget allocates $300 million to the Environmental Protection Fund. This matches last year’s funding, the highest funding level for the fund in its 25 years of existence. The budget also allocates $21 million for the climate change mitigation and adaptation program, which will help New York prepare for the devastating impacts of climate change. Further, the budget directs the NY Green Bank to commit at least $200 million for energy storage‐related investments, and have the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority invest at least $60 million on research and pilots on how to best deploy an energy storage network. Energy storage is crucial for allowing consumers to access electricity when variable renewable energy sources are not producing, like when it is cloudy or night time and solar energy production drops.
Reform Jewish Values
Genesis 2:15 emphasizes our responsibility to be good caretakers of the environment so that its diverse species, including humans, can thrive: “The human being was placed in the Garden of Eden to till it and to tend it.” Similarly, Jewish tradition teaches us that human domain over nature does not include a license to abuse the environment. The Talmudic concept bal tashchit, “do not destroy,” was developed by the rabbis into a universal doctrine that dramatically asserted God’s ownership of the land.
Our Jewish texts also underscore the moral imperative of protecting the poor and vulnerable: “When one loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of the loving-kindness of the Eternal” (Psalms 33:5). Developing nations are likely to bear the brunt of the negative impacts associated with climate change, and the countries most responsible for climate change must lead the way to solutions.
The Reform Movement has long been aware of the need for a sustainable energy policy that protects the earth and its inhabitants and fosters development and energy independence.