Is it not enough for you to graze on choice grazing ground, but you must also trample with your feet what is left from your grazing? And is it not enough for you to drink clear water, but you must also muddy with your feet what is left? – Ezekiel 34:18
These words prophesied by Ezekiel are spoken on behalf of God to the people Israel. Israel is likened to a flock of sheep or cattle that has abused the natural resources that God has provided. Just as Israel has acted as habituated animals who themselves are out of sync with their own natural order and have trampled the earth and muddied the water, so too are we, today, leaving behind a dirty footprint in the environment.
It is cause for some hope that many of us are becoming more aware of the impact we as individuals have on the environment. Many are taking steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by, for example, reducing home energy use, driving a higher mileage car, and switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. The bad news is that despite reducing our impact, we are not acting quickly enough or on a large enough scale to stop the ecological damage around us.
While it is impossible to have a truly zero emissions lifestyle, it IS possible to cancel out a percentage of the emissions we create through carbon offsets. The idea is simple: for every ton of greenhouse gas we create through our transportation (plane, train, auto) and our energy use in the home, workplace and at school, we can donate money to projects that will result in a low-carbon future. This can be done through the purchase of renewable energy certificates (REC’s), or Green Tags, from current renewable energy generators such as your energy provider’s wind and solar power projects, future renewable energy projects yet to be created that otherwise may not have the capital to go forward, sustainable development projects that also help to fight poverty in developing countries, and local farm and landfill methane projects.
Here are some organizations that support sustainable development and carbon offsets:
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC), the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA) and the Green Committee of the RRC have recently committed to paying a voluntary surcharge on the RRC electric bill to offset the greenhouse gases generated by the school. The surcharge goes toward the purchasing of wind power by the local utility. There is more that can be done, but this is seen as an important first step towards being responsible for the emissions we create as a community.
Congregations can also purchase carbon offsets when bringing in scholar-in-residence guests or traveling themselves to conferences or conventions. Some airlines have begun to offer this service for a nominal fee.
Another example of the Jewish community’s commitment to this work is Hillel’s Spitzer Forum, which was the first Jewish conference to be carbon neutral. Every carbon dioxide unit emitted by the conference was offset through a partnership with CarbonFund.org, making the Spitzer Forum a zero-net greenhouse gas emitter.
Ezekiel’s warning is extremely relevant when we consider a possible flaw in the carbon offsetting method. In Ezekiel’s metaphor, the animals had no choice but to graze and drink. It is their nature to seek sustenance from the earth. The wish is that they will tread lightly so as not to pollute their environment any more than is necessary. The animals did not have the option of paying others to clean up after their mess.
Today, we must be careful to not fall into the trap of viewing carbon offsetting as an excuse to pollute as much as we want as we pay others to neutralize our damage for us. There is a danger in seeing carbon offsets as a panacea to the problem of climate change and pollution. As a step towards reducing our use of natural resources and voluntary simplicity in our lifestyles, carbon offsets can be a useful tool at raising consciousness about sustainable living and more long-term solutions to global environmental challenges.
We have a responsibility to reduce our emissions as much as possible on a personal and communal level, and avoid trampling and muddying the very earth and water that sustains us.
Questions for thought and discussion: