Solar power brain power Jewish energy reform

The convenient truth about the Jewish people is that when we put our minds and capital to work, we can make miracles happen. There is no more noble cause than saving humanity itself, ensuring that God’s covenant not to wipe out the planet with rising waters will be, in some small measure, because of our actions.

Saving the earth itself from global warming, and the billions of people and animals on it, is not just environmentalism — it is global survival. Of the trillions of cosmic opportunities for life to flourish, this third rock from the sun may be the only expression, the only experiment, to grace the universe with the possibility of collective moral choice.

Watching Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” recently with Arab and Jewish students at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, on the kibbutz where I live, put into context this challenge. Are Arabs and Jews going to keep fighting on the deck of the sinking Titanic? Or will a greater vision for humanity transcend immediate conflicts?

As Jews, we must transform ourselves from the Light Unto the Nations, as Isaiah beckoned, to a Renewable Light Unto the Nations. Our first fundamental challenge is to ensure that the Jewish state, which is home to about 7 million people, becomes carbon neutral. Unfortunately, the government’s stated goal is for only 10 percent of Israel’s energy to be generated by renewables by 2020 — primarily solar energy. This is unacceptable. The European Union, most of whose member countries have half the sunshine of Israel, has set a goal of 20 percent renewables by 2020.

If Israel sets a goal of 40 percent renewables by 2020, it would capture the imagination of our youth, entrepreneurs, scientists, philanthropists and financiers. It would cast Israel not only as a responsible nation but also as a shining example of what can be accomplished by coordinated global action.

There is plenty of sunshine and land in the Negev and Arava deserts to power this revolution. We need, though, the political will of world Jewry. Linking United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod allocations to Israel’s compliance with at least a 20 percent renewables goal would send a powerful message to Israel’s leadership, as well as to the next generation of Jews. Such linkage should be accompanied by a World Jewish Action Plan that offers Jews and Jewish institutions worldwide carbon offset opportunities.

Imagine that each year on Tu B’Shevat, Jewish families and institutions calculate their carbon footprint and then invest in efforts in the Jewish state to offset that footprint. For example, planting trees in Israel has long been a global Jewish effort. And although forests breathe in the carbon dioxide, which is a powerful carbon offset activity, the majority of trees planted up until now are pine trees, which throw off acidic needles. After a century, the pine forests essentially poison their own roots and die. Future plantings should emphasize Mediterranean oak and other trees that will work better with the Israeli ecosystems.

Synagogues, Jewish community centers, schools and other institutions should figure out their footprints, put solar panels on the roofs — great new naming opportunities — and also set aside funds to invest in Israeli renewable science centers or companies.

Furthermore, Partnership 2000 communities (created between Israeli and world Jewish communities) could adopt mirror strategies. When the solar panels are named in Boston, a similar array can be named in Haifa, Boston’s sister city. Jewish buildings worldwide and Israeli homes and buildings should adopt green building codes, for which they can have the privilege of hanging on their doorpost a green mezuzah that certifies to the world that the building complies with the best environmental practices.

Israel must renounce nuclear power as an option and challenge others in the region to do the same. The Middle East must become a nuclear-energy-free zone. We live in an age of accurate long-range missiles and of daring terrorism. The planet, and especially the Middle East, does not need any radioactive power targets. Nuclear energy is the power of war; solar energy is the power of peace.

Israel, as a public face of world Jewry and Jewish values, must not only declare itself a responsible member of the world community when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions but also provide leadership on this front. It is notable that major accomplishments in this field — such as plans for electric cars and Israeli-built solar thermal plants in California — so far have come only from private industry.

The truth is that the plans for renewables in Israel do not reflect the aspirations or potential of the Jewish people.

What would Isaiah say?

Yosef Abramowitz serves as president of Global Sun Partners and the Arava Power Company. He also is the executive editor of Sh’ma, where this piece previously appeared.