A Strong Jewish Voice for Effective Carbon Limits
With nearly a week left in the public comment period for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Carbon Pollution Standard, the time is now to voice the American Jewish community's support of policies that take concrete steps to reduce carbon emissions.
In March, the EPA took a historic step by proposing the first-ever limits on carbon emissions in the United States. With carbon emissions the leading cause of climate change, one of the greatest moral challenges of our time, and with the United States still the largest emitter in the world, the EPA's action represents no small feat. The proposed standard would address the heart of our nation's carbon problem by targeting power plants, the country's leading source of carbon pollution at more than 2 billion tons each year -- nearly 6.5 tons for every man, woman and child in the United States. Under the proposed standard, carbon emissions from new power plants would be capped at 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt of electricity produced. With conventional coal plants currently emitting on average more than 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt, limits on carbon pollution are long overdue.
Carbon emissions from power plants and other fossil-fueled activities have caused the average temperature of the Earth to increase by approximately 1.4 °F (0.8 °C) over the past 100 years, with about 1.0 °F (0.6 °C) of this warming occurring over just the past three decades. Though one degree may seem insignificant in daily weather reports, this change has a tremendous impact on the global climate and on the health and safety of our communities at home. Higher temperatures are linked to extreme weather events, such as the devastating storms that swept Missouri, Kansas, Texas, and the Northeast earlier this year, and can cause water- and food-borne disease. Food-borne bacteria such as salmonella thrive in wet and warm environments, and sewage overflow from heavy rainfall can spread unhealthy pathogens to agricultural lands. Diseases whose ranges are linked to temperature, such as Lyme Disease and West Nile virus, are already on the rise in the United States.
Warmer overall temperatures cause increased levels of ground-level ozone, a harmful air pollutant that can cause asthma and respiratory infections, as well as lead to premature death. As of 2008, more than 126 million Americans lived in counties that did not meet national ozone standards. A staggering 55 percent of American children lived in counties in which the eight-hour ozone standard exceeded at least one day per year. Making matters worse, these impacts are shouldered by some more than others: According to the Center for Disease Control, Hispanics are 165 percent and Asian Americans 169 percent more likely than whites to live in counties (primarily urban, low-income areas) with unhealthy levels of particulate matter and ozone. As people of faith, we cannot stand idly by when we see how the devastating impacts of carbon pollution disproportionately impact those who contributed least to the problem: children, low-income families and communities of color.
Kohelet Rabbah (1:4) reminds us that "One generation goes, another comes, but the earth remains the same forever." Today, we are confronted by the fact the Earth is changing before us, and the resources we enjoy today -- clean, breathable air, a stable climate -- will not be here forever unless we act now. But despite our urgent obligation to respond to this moral challenge by swiftly reducing our nation's carbon emissions, some Members of Congress have sought to override or block the rule's implementation -- which is why submitting supportive comments to the EPA is so important.
A diverse yet harmonious symphony of faith-based voices for the proposed carbon pollution standard is growing. Our friends at the Evangelical Environmental Network and the National Council of Churches, for example, are also mobilizing thousands to submit public comments to the EPA. We are proud to join these communities of faith to speak out for a moral response to the climate crisis and in urging a robust expression of support from the American Jewish community in these final days before the comment deadline.
The choice is clear, and the time is now. Working at a cross-section of American spiritual, economic, and political life, together we can take a vital step toward protecting public health and our climate by supporting the EPA's Carbon Pollution Standard, the first ever limit of its kind. Click here to submit your comment to the EPA today and support the proposed carbon standard.
This post was co-written by Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the RAC, and Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. It originally appeared on Huffington Post.