Eminent Environmental Leader, Lester Brown, Urges Religious Leaders to Act Now on Threats to Food, Water and Security

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Lester Brown, President of Earth Policy Institute and described by the Washington Post as “one of the world’s most influential thinkers,” has urged Rabbis, American Jews and the interfaith world community to take bold action now on issues of food, water, and family planning. Speaking to a national gathering of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in New Orleans, Brown warned that climate change and population growth will mean widespread, worldwide food and water shortages. Urging the religious community to engage fully to help prevent widespread environmental and economic collapse, Brown asked: “if we continue business as usual, how much time do we have left before our global civilization unravels? And how do we save civilization?”

Lester Brown, President of Earth Policy Institute and described by the Washington Post as “one of the world’s most influential thinkers,” has urged Rabbis, American Jews and the interfaith world community to take bold action now on issues of food, water, and family planning. Speaking to a national gathering of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in New Orleans, Brown warned that climate change and population growth will mean widespread, worldwide food and water shortages. Urging the religious community to engage fully to help prevent widespread environmental and economic collapse, Brown asked: “if we continue business as usual, how much time do we have left before our global civilization unravels? And how do we save civilization?”

Brown’s visionary Plan 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization warns that the “perfect storm” or the ultimate recession” could come at any time: “It will likely be triggered by an unprecedented harvest shortfall, one caused by a combination of crop-withering heat waves and emerging water shortages as aquifers are depleted.” Calling for religious leaders to engage in world action on these issues, Brown pointed to the challenges faced by our country in preparing for the Second World War. Some eighty years ago, the United States mobilized Detroit and transformed the auto industry in order to prepare for World War Two, a three-year effort that enabled the country to build the planes and armaments that defeated the Nazis. Evoking that heroic mobilization, Brown called for the urgent preparation needed to mitigate and adapt to the now inevitable impact of climate change. Brown also noted the nuclear challenge at Fukushima and the new ban on rice planting in a significant agricultural area of Japan.

Rabbinical leaders on environmental issues, speaking at the Conference’s Forum on Judaism and Sustainability, concurred.

Rabbi Warren Stone, Washington DC rabbi and noted leader on climate issues, who attended the UN climate talks in Kyoto and Copenhagen, contended: “Climate change has become the most significant moral and spiritual issue facing humanity. We have been hit of late with so-called ‘Black Swan’ disasters -- from Katrina to Haiti and Japan -- so described because of their magnitude but also because of our surprise when they occur. But with the onset of climate change, the severity and increased frequency of at least some of these events is predictable and in all cases, the environmental fallout is certain. These events point to our common future, a future in which food and water shortages will most likely challenge the global community.” Stone noted that the Micronesian nations are on the front lines of climate change; the islets of the tiny nation of Kiribati are already facing a grave food and water crisis, and its inhabitants are becoming the world’s first environmental refugees. We have been duly warned and now let us act boldly, with courage and due prescience to protect future generations.”

Rabbi Everett Gendler, a longtime environmental activist and organic farmer, who walked arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Selma Voting Rights March, spoke about the spiritual wisdom gained from harvesting one’s food: “The seed represents life and death; we must learn its lessons. Rabbi Mike Comins, known as “the Wilderness Rabbi", urged religious leaders to teach their communities about the spirituality of the natural world. He urged them to bring their communities to wilderness areas in order to raise awareness of the spiritual imperative to protect them. Rabbi Stephen Pearce, a California environmental leader, urged religious communities to serve as models to the faith community through sustainable practices, awareness and action. Congregation Emanu-El, the synagogue that Pearce serves, converted a parking lot to an urban farm. He and his congregants bring their abundant produce to the homeless pantries of San Francisco. Rachel Cohen, coordinator of environmental activism and the sustainability blog on behalf of the Washington, D.C. URJ Religious Action Center, engaged the religious leaders in an environmental justice tour of New Orleans, which examined the ongoing impact of Katrina.

As Cohen noted: “The most vulnerable and poorest of New Orleans and our global community are on the front lines of climate change, but we’re all on the line. With the one-year anniversary of the oil spill and Earth Day just around the corner, now is the time to act to build more sustainable and environmentally just communities, working with our rabbis and all of our community leaders. We have the tools for action and the leaders inspired to act. Now let's get to work!” Sybil Sanchez, Director of COEJL, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life echoed: "religious voices need to speak out now in local communities, throughout the world, to mobilize to protect coming generations."

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Kathy Magenheim
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