When Rabbi Linda Motzkin talks about the need to fight climate change, she cites the Jewish principle of Bal Tashchit, saying it prohibits wastefulness.
When the Rev. Henry Frueh talks about the need to fight climate change, he talks about St. Francis of Assisi, and his call to live in a way that honors and respects nature.
Frueh and Motzkin are the newest board members of New York Interfaith Power and Light, a coalition of 90 congregations throughout the state that have joined to raise awareness of climate change and advocate for policies that will address the problem.
“We have a religious mandate to care for the earth,” Motzkin said, during a talk, titled “Faith and Climate Change,” held last week at the Schenectady JCC. She pointed to the plagues described in the book of Exodus, saying that “plague is a useful metaphor for what we’re seeing now. Environmental degradation, global warming, is at the state of being a plague.”
Motzkin serves as co-rabbi at Temple Sinai in Saratoga Springs.
About five years ago, the synagogue became more interested in reducing its environmental impact. A “green team” was formed, and measures aimed at minimizing wasteful consumption were implemented. These measures were often fairly simple: Paper plates and cups were replaced with reusable dishes, and an effort was made to communicate electronically rather than with paper. Insulation was added to make the temple more energy efficient and a bicycle rack was installed to encourage people to bike to services and other functions. Most recently, Temple Sinai became a member of New York Interfaith Power and Light.
The group was founded in 2004 as a small, volunteer organization with about 400 on its mailing list. Now, there are about 2,000 people on the group’s mailing list and a paid, part-time executive director, Janna Stieg Watkins.
Watkins said the organization has two main goals: to help congregations in New York become more energy efficient and sustainable, and to advocate for policies that will address the problem of climate change.
The group provides information on energy efficiency to congregations. Many of the changes are fairly simple, such as replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, but others are more intensive.
One member church, Huguenot Memorial Church in Pelham Manor in Westchester County, recently installed a geothermal heating and cooling system.
“That was exciting,” Watkins said. “You can go from very small fixes to very large fixes.”
During the weekend of Feb. 8-10, members will participate in a national preach-in on global warming. The goal, organizers said, is to have as many houses of worship nationwide discussing climate change as possible.
Motzkin said faith communities can accomplish a lot in the fight against climate change because they have a database of members they can mobilize and “a mandate to be a force for God.” She said the interfaith composition of the group is crucial.
“Our shared future depends on the continued health of the planet,” she said. “It’s such an obvious issue to draw people together.”
Frueh, a United Methodist minister who serves as a chaplain for Rensselaer-based Community Hospice, agreed. “We have a common interest in caring for the earth.”
In her speech at the JCC, Motzkin said poor people in developing countries will be disproportionately affected by climate change. “In the Jewish tradition there’s a rich history of concern for the poor.”
Frueh echoed this, saying that God is “committed to the care and healing of this earth, this world,” and that the earth is “the arena where divine will is accomplished.”
In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama spoke of the need to address climate change, saying that failing to do so would “betray our children and future generations,” and that the planet had been “commended to our care by God.”
Motzkin and Frueh said they appreciated Obama’s mention of climate change.
“I heard a commitment on Obama’s part, but also a need for grass-roots mobilization,” she said. “Obama’s statement was a way of saying, ‘Help me out with this, guys.’ He needs to be able to point to a mobilized community demanding change, and that he stand up to the oil lobby.”
“This is a highly critical time for the issue of global warming,” Frueh said. “We’re approaching a time when it will be too late to prevent catastrophic consequences.”