At the Interfaith Climate Change & Renewable Energy Conference – hosted by The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD), the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES), the Swedish Theological Institute, and the Tantur Ecumenical Institute – participants aimed to mitigate human-caused climate change and promote renewable energy use.
“Religious traditions have powerful things to say about the importance of using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels,” Rabbi Yonatan Neril, Director of ICSD, told Breaking Israel News. In addition, he said, the synergy of religious traditions on climate change is “bringing people together on an issue that concerns all of us.”
“It is not about us versus them, but us and them and how to solve challenges together,” Neril said.
Similarly, Yasmin Barhum, facilitator at Living in the Levant, which aims to present Islam and the Arab population of Israel to non-Muslims through tours in the village of Ein Rafa and visits at the local mosque, said, “The environment knows no borders.”
Indeed, Neril told Breaking Israel News, the number of high dust days in the region has doubled in the past 40 years, according to Israel’s leading climate scientist, Dr. Pinchas Alpert.
At the conference, which is the only interfaith climate change event of its kind in the Middle East, religious leaders spoke about the religious imperatives for promoting environmentally sustainable practices and the use of renewable energy. Presentations by scientists also described the current impacts and imminent dangers of climate change to the region.
At the first plenary session, on the current and potential impact of climate change on the Middle East, David Miron-Wapner of The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development called for a “true partnership of faith and science,” urging faith leaders to “spur us to act as prophets and lead us to a better future for all.”
He warned, “Climate change is real and its impacts are being felt more and more around the globe. We are on a collision course between nature and our habits, and nature is clearly the more powerful force.”
Professor Alon Tal, Chair of the Department of Public Policy of Tel Aviv University, called for a change of values, claiming, “The climate crisis is a crisis of values, of greed versus generosity, and regarding this conflict, religion has always had something to say.”
He urged religious leaders to make the choice to “recognize and engage with these disturbing trends,” and to “reinterpret the scriptures and act,” suggesting that the scriptures allow eating less meat on holidays and having fewer children in order to decrease the world’s ecological footprint.
He continued, “the heat is on and neutrality is not an option. Religion can become a force for sustainability and offer insights into how almighty wants us to behave. We must recognize that the good Lord expects us to learn what it will take to save this earth.”
Invoking the words of Deuteronomy, Tal urged the world to choose the blessing of life by “making sacrifices today so we can have more life tomorrow.”
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Tal mentioned three initiatives that Israel is undertaking to help improve the environments: phasing out coal, promoting good legislative initiatives, such as tax benefits for solar panels, and shifting from SUVs to hybrid and electric cars.
At the second plenary session on the religious basis for renewable energy use, His Excellency Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa the Apostolic Administrator of Jerusalem and senior Catholic religious leader in the Holy Land, spoke about the ways in which the Christian faith believes that creation and harmony are broken and must continuously be rebuilt.
Even though Pope Francis wrote in his Encyclical letter “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” about the importance of deploying renewable energy, Pizzaballa claimed it could take years if not generations for the Catholic people to follow the Pope’s lead.
“It takes time, but he opened the way,” Pizzaballa said.
At the plenary, Yasmin Barhum maintained that Islam also requires responsibility and accountability, as humans are the “only part of creation given a choice in how we live our lives.” She said, “the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim value of treating your brother as you’d like to be treated is also extended to animals and the environment.”
She expressed her disappointment in the problematic nature of many oil-rich Muslim countries contributing to global warming but noted that countries like India are now moving toward green energy, while Bangladesh has the highest number of electric cars in the world.
Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair, the senior rabbinic scholar at Hazon, spoke about the Talmud’s requirement to protect and preserve creation and energies. He mentioned the laws of Kashrut that urge a reverence for the lives of animals during ritual slaughter.
Neril added that since God placed human in the Garden of Eden, it has been a Biblical requirement to conserve the earth. “Based on this, many rabbis learn an imperative to protect God’s creation,” he told Breaking Israel News.
Neril related his belief to Breaking Israel News, that with an interfaith exchange, affecting climate change is possible. He claimed, “According to a Pew study, 85 percent of people in the world identify with a religion. Religious institutions are some of the biggest NGOs in the world, and many have access to large amounts of land. Deploying renewable energy requires land, in order to build solar and wind energy facilities.
“There is a ripe opportunity for religious institutions to collaborate with renewable energy developers to deploy renewable energy on their lands,” he concluded.