RAC Rundown: Environmental Issues

December 16, 2011Susan Paykin

The following is part of the “RAC Rundown” series of special legislative briefings that have been presented at Tzedek Central throughout the 2011 URJ Biennial.  -- As heirs to a tradition of stewardship that commands us “to till and to tend” the Earth (Genesis 2:15), we cannot accept the escalating destruction of our environment and its effect on human health and livelihood.  Today, as modern stewards of creation, we too must be careful to not to destroy this earth beyond repair. L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, we have a moral obligation to improve the world for those that come after us.

Global climate change continues to be one of the most significant threats we face. Last week marked the conclusion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, also known as COP17, which assembled political and economic leaders from 194 countries to negotiate a global commitment to tackle climate change. The COP17 negotiations, which concluded last Sunday, were surprisingly productive. The conference  resulted in a carefully worded compromise calling for "an agreed outcome with legal force" from all countries by 2015, as well as agreeing to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

This outcome is a significant achievement because the Kyoto Protocol, the sole international agreement that sets binding emissions reduction targets for 37 countries and the European Union, was scheduled to expire in 2012, leaving the international community without a framework to collectively address climate change. But after an extra day of negotiations at Durban, a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol will run from January 2013 until the end of 2017.

Canada is a signatory to the protocol; the United States is not. Despite the importance of agreed-upon commitments, we know that anyone country’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions is not enough. Climate change is fundamentally a social justice issue that marries our mandate to be good stewards of the earth with our call to care for the least among us. The vulnerable developing nations that contribute the least to climate change will be among the first to feel its effects, and many Pacific Island and African nations are already experiencing impacts in the form of droughts, natural disasters, and changing agricultural patterns.

At COP15, the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, wealthy nations agreed to set up a fund that would provide $100 billion by 2020 for climate adaptation efforts in developing nations. The Durban talks made progress toward agreeing upon the design of this Green Climate Fund, but not much progress in determining where its money would come from. As the largest historical producer of greenhouse gas emissions, the United States is responsible for leading the way to global solutions.

The Reform Movement continues to advocate for the U.S. to include international climate change adaptation funding in its budget, and we call for the United States to provide 25% of the resources for the Green Climate Fund to account for our historical emissions. With the Durban conference wrapping up last week, we return to the domestic focus of defending America’s air, water, and land from attacks in Congress. Despite the established need for federal environmental protection, there has been a series of bills introduced in Congress that would significantly alter current environmental laws.

The proposed National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505) would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to command control over all public lands within 100 miles of the country's international borders, in order to facilitate additional border patrol activities. This bill would strip the Interior Department of its ability to enforce vital environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act, while permitting vehicle use and construction on millions of acres where such activities are currently prohibited. This effort is extreme and unprecedented, and we strongly oppose this bill.

Additionally, we are working with coalition partners to oppose a dangerous amendment to the Senate Energy and Water Senate Appropriations Bill that would undermine the Clean Water Act. Although Clean Water Act protections have been weakened by recent Supreme Court decisions, they can and should be restored by government directives. However, this amendment would codify the current restrictions indefinitely so that the original clean water protections could never be reinstated. Waters that would lose protection include small streams and wetlands that supply public drinking water systems for over 117 million Americans

You can take action now by urging your Senator to oppose this amendment to the Senate Appropriations Bill.

I hope you’ll continue to fight with the RAC for these important environmental issues. It is our sacred duty to alleviate environmental degradation and the human suffering it causes, for we are reminded in Ecclesiastes 1:4: "One generation goes, another comes, but the earth remains the same forever.”

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