David Arfin at the Arava Institute in Israel.
David Arfin at the Arava Institute in Israel.

How to put viable climate solutions into the hands of the people

I’m a clean energy entrepreneur. I am also proudly Jewish. For me, being  Jewish in our complicated and interdependent world demands applying guiding principles to address the key issues of our time. While values such as welcoming the stranger, not placing a stumbling block in front of the blind and freeing the captive are eternal pursuits, there are circumstances that also demand that we expand our pursuit of justice to the central issue of the day.

One such value in Judaism, as well as in other religions, is to be stewards of the planet so that current and future generations can thrive.

But climate change, as manifested by rising oceans, catastrophic weather patterns and severe drought, places this in jeopardy and threatens millions of lives.

Of course, the menu of responses of what we can do to preserve the environment can overwhelm even those with the best intentions.

Environmental stewardship can take many forms. Do we focus on water? Fire prevention? Greenhouse gas emissions? Eating less meat? Going solar? Driving electric cars? Composting?

As trying to do all of the above at once could be paralyzing, I have chosen in my professional endeavors to focus on generating and storing clean energy.

I can trace my motivation to two core drivers.

I grew up in a politically aware household with a deep connection to Israel. My memories of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and subsequent oil boycott helped me to understand that energy dependence on petro-dictators represented a threat to Israel’s existence, to our “Western values,” and possible reemergence of antisemitism around Europe and the West as we waited in line to fill our gas tanks. It was not far-fetched to worry that the Jewish state could be sold out by the world community in the interest of ensuring the free flow of oil that lubricates every nation’s economy.

My petro-centered view was subsequently captured by Tom Friedman who chillingly pointed out after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that we, in effect, are funding both sides of our war on terror. Whether the source is from the likes of Iran, Russia or China, that energy dependence on rulers with evil intentions represents an enduring threat to global human rights and to Israel.

I grew up in California as the modern environmental movement of the 1970s took hold, and as the facts about climate change emerged in the last two decades, not just in scientific journals but in our everyday lives.

The “new normal” expectation of devastating wildfires, hurricanes, floods and extensive droughts increasingly impacts lives all over the world. I believe we are at a “generational moment” where — just as my cohorts looked to its elders to ask what they knew about and did, or did not do, during the Holocaust or the early civil rights movement — our generation will be held accountable for what we do to address the profound changes to our climate.

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My professional journey into clean energy came mid-career and was inspired by former Vice President Al Gore’s 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” I wanted to contribute something, but I’m neither an engineer nor a scientist who can build better things. Rather, I’m a serial entrepreneur with a public policy background who enjoys creative thinking to bring seemingly disparate parts together.

So I invented a business model that enabled homeowners to adopt solar power in unprecedented numbers.

I am confident that market-focused solutions combined with advocating for forward-looking public policies can address the growing and severe challenges of the climate crisis, and I encourage others to join me to create and support new business models that shift the risks and rewards of adopting clean technologies.

A few of the things I’ve worked on: building community battery storage projects in New York City; helping farmers in France and rural villagers in India adopt cleaner technologies that enhance their lives; stabilizing the electric grid; and bringing economies of scale to technologies that lower our collective carbon footprint.

In my volunteer activities, I became involved in the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Arava fosters regional cooperation on environmental issues and can be a “light unto the nations” as it brings the solutions developed in the hyper-arid Arava valley — south of the Dead Sea basin — to the environmentally challenged Middle East.

I’m also co-chairing my synagogue’s new environment task force that will work to achieve the Hazon Seal of Sustainability.

I also have had the opportunity to work with the State Department and visit Angola, Palestine and Israel, where I provided tools to policymakers, entrepreneurs, financiers and students who want to build their own clean ecosystem and grow their solar energy industry.

Working on clean-tech solutions fills me with meaning and connects me with people and communities who work passionately to protect the planet.

I also think Jewish environmental activism provides a critical entry point for a younger generation of Jews who wish to apply our values to a universal cause and form natural connections and coalitions with others — based on common concern about the well-being of our planet and the impact we can have.

As we approach Tu B’Shevat next week, I’m proud and excited about new business models I’ve helped to create that accelerate adoption of clean technologies.

I know that, by themselves, my activities are a drop in the ocean. But with the combination of creating innovative solutions for homeowners and businesses to adopt clean technologies, plus supporting next-gen leadership in our community, together we can address the future question: “Did you know the climate was changing and what did you do about it?”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

David Arfin
David Arfin

David Arfin is the CEO of N.Y.-based NineDot Energy and a leader in creating innovative finance offerings that accelerate the adoption of renewable energy. He lives in Palo Alto and is a lifelong member of Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City.