Welcome to Encore, the place where you will find the latest thoughts and reflections by CLAL faculty and associates on topics of the moment. Each week you will find something new and (hopefully) engaging here!
To access the CLAL Encore Archive, click here.
To join the conversation at CLAL Encore Talk, click here.
Energy is a Religious Issue
Jeffrey Dekro (Sh'ma 11/208, FEBRUARY 20,1981)
Even though the energy issue now ranks number one or two among the American public's major concerns, this is not so when it comes to the priorities of the American Jewish community. At the very least, however, we Jews must recognize how energy concerns impact on our current priorities. We must also understand the nature of the energy crisis insofar as it is a red herring for other problems too subtle and complex to be glibly described as the "OPEC, Arab oil" problem.
One reason that energy must become a priority on the Jewish religious agenda is simply that the scope of energy concerns embraces every subject that religion treats. Therefore, our examination of the energy issue from a broad religious perspective must begin with a searching of Judaism's texts and teachings. The framework for our midrash, " searching, " is determined by the fact that our individual lives and our social workings are governed by energy, its control, production and use.
Religious Categories Inform Energy Use
Within the Biblical tradition, a full-blown paradigm exists for the consideration of all human endeavor in the created realm throughout time. This archetypal model is that of the Sabbath, Sabbatical Year and Jubilee which finds a parallel in secular discussions of labor, capital and history. As is commonly known, economics (implying the ecosystem in its totality) is the mechanism for plotting the path of dialectical materialism. It remains for us to develop the Biblical model as a basis for "dialectical spirituality" to elucidate the relationship between our labor and God's creation in history. The point is that a Jewish religious perspective provides the means for defining a comprehensive world view that outlines the criteria for individual behavior and social activity. Our success in establishing religious perspectives on energy (and on any other public policy issue) depends on our creative understanding and use of such theological categories as qedusah, holiness, and avodah, service. These are terms which indicate certain relational qualities between God and people. In addition, they imply behavioral modes aimed at making these qualities manifest in the world. We are faced with the task of developing mitzvot (meaning "links" according to the Aramaic!) that fully reflect our efforts at imitatio dei. The process I am indicating here is the basis for the "dialectical spirituality" mentioned above.
Besides these theoretical criteria necessary to a Jewish religious perspective, practical political elements determine the specific parameters of public discussions about energy. As Jews, issues pertaining to Israel and inter-group relations in the United States are the tests of our ability to develop and implement policy reflecting the spiritual values we advocate.
Pro-Israel = Solar and Energy Conservation
With regard to the foreign relations aspects of the energy crisis, popular myth holds that our current troubles originated with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Our shared view is that this is not true, but our desire for an honest appraisal of the situation should not blind us to whatever present connections do exist. This is an extremely important point for Jews to consider because as our communal organizations seek to publicize many relatively unknown facts about the total energy picture, these organizations should themselves take note of the roles that other less prominent actors play. It is frequently true that the Arab-Israeli dispute is exploited by those whose desire it is to camouflage their own political and economic goals which are furthered by a confusion of the true issues at stake. For example, the multinational oil companies, never particularly friendly to Israel, are precisely the parties who most benefit by decisions to increase the use of coal and uranium. These corporations, primarily Exxon, Mobil and Gulf, mine, process and market up to 60% of our coal resources and approximately 80 % of the nation's uranium. Conversely, expanded conservation programs and increased solar energy development would mean smaller profit margins for these few companies. Thus, besides the very questionable nature of the assertion that nuclear power can "reduce our dependence on foreign oil," the motivations behind that claim ought themselves to be closely scrutinized.
Interestingly enough, this point has been recognized by such prominent figures on the American left as Tom Hayden. Hayden has recently been publicly calling for an alliance of popular consumer and pro-Israel interests against those of the oil companies and the energy industry as a whole. At least one American Jewish Congress chapter has seen fit to sponsor Hayden's remarks on the subject.
Energy Allocation has Social Costs
On the domestic scene, official relations between the black and Jewish communities are at a low point, but links and common concerns are being renewed. Certainly events of the last fifteen years have disclosed a great deal of latent and overt racism and anti-Semitism. Besides the current black-Jewish dialogues now underway in many local settings, there is a great need for unilateral and joint action that will secure and enhance the place of both communities in America.
Because of' its relatively greater economic and social security, I believe the Jewish community must act unilaterally to create new bonds and revitalize old ones with blacks. Jews can begin the process of rapprochement by seriously questioning current production, allocation and decision-making policies and processes. Following this, programs must be developed as we work to increase self-reliance in both communities while cooperating wherever possible.
In the production of energy, worker safety, community health and environmental protection should be priorities in determining whether a particular fuel type or recovery method ought to be pursued. Similarly, the tradeoffs involved in energy production must be investigated. What, for example, are the comparative number of' jobs produced by competing energy technologies? Will local economies be able to preserve capital and generate new revenues or will energy dollars flow to other areas and institutions? What are the total costs for public subsidies involved, including possible public assistance to individuals for job-related injuries or loss of employment? How will national concerns and international relations be affected by the development of particular energy sources?
Similar questions must be addressed when allocating energy in society. What energy uses shall be encouraged and which ones must be discouraged? Should different population groups have preference over others regarding energy source access? How will dollar costs be determined and shall there be cost inequalities among fuel types enabling some consumers to have advantages over others?
Energy Policy Based upon Jewish Study
The fundamental issue to be faced in this matter concerns the decision making process and the participants in it. Energy related decisions must be determined on the basis of their ultimate impact on both people and resources. Thus, much more important than the technical information to be gathered (and it must be!) is the translation of it for popular consumption and assessment according to a variety of critical perceptions. Furthermore, many local discussions must occur so as to include large numbers of citizens who are those finally affected by the decisions to be made. It is the responsibility of Jews to help establish this kind of framework in which citizens themselves contribute to the development of local and national energy policies.
Even if my basic assumptions are accepted, the arguments thus far remains incomplete. In general, it appears, however, that the theoretical claims currently being offered for consideration of energy issues by religious bodies stops at this point. While it is true that agendas have been outlined and ethical justifications have been promulgated, thoroughgoing religious programs have not emerged, especially in the Jewish community. By this is meant a comprehensive program to include theological justification (God created the world and charged humankind with its maintenance), ethics (The use of energy should be equitable in both costs and benefits), and ritual (Community-wide participation in decision making and implementation of energy policy should reflect the values of the previous two concerns in a united expression.) For Jews, such a comprehensive program must entail the study (limud) and action (ma'aseh) already indicated.
A program with this scope goes beyond the range of Amory Lovins' critical analysis of the hard and soft energy paths. It exceeds the purely secularized ritual response of Barry Commoner's Citizens Party (which I admit is to some degree an exercise in civil religion). Finally, it even outstrips Schumacher's explicitly spiritual views of "Buddhist Economics," in that the program I envision would be culture specific--ours, the Jewish tradition. The implementation of such a program would clearly signal the active reentry of religious values into daily life.
Intention as Important as Action
The issue then is what precisely to consider in developing a Jewish response to the energy crisis. Because of its vast complexity and size, the energy scene tends to be an imposing one that leads most people to say that we at the local level can have no significant input. Our responsibility, then, is to pinpoint areas of the struggle and to determine the type of response called for according to the values we propound. This does not simply mean that we should adopt aconservation viewpoint and apply it in each specific case where energy is of concern. Instead, we should particularly emphasize the individual responsibility predicated on the principle that each human being is an entire cosmos. It is the attitude that determines behavior which should be of consequence to us. The energy program of a concerned religious group will necessarily promote conservation and renewable resources. Finding citations to the tradition for these positions is worthwhile to some extent, but ultimately it is self-defeating because it leads to a similar effort by those who want to refute that position. The preponderance of our efforts should be to illumine the kavannah, the intentionality, of the program we see as necessary. That is the essential philosophical task we face. This responsibility should be met through study programs combining both consideration of traditional Jewish teaching and contemporary energy perspectives. Programs such as the one conducted in Washington that allow many conflicting energy solutions to be discussed in light of Jewish values should take place elsewhere. The goal is to expand the energy discussion among Jews and to provide Jewish values as a standard for assessing the assertions advanced by all parties to the debate.
To join the conversation at CLAL Encore Talk, click here.
To access the CLAL Encore Archive, click here.