“Climate change is truly an issue of life and death. Nothing less than the continued existence of human life on earth rests in the balance.”
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WASHINGTON, D.C., May 18, 2009 – Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today joined members of Congress, scientists, business leaders and environmental activists in speaking at a press conference in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent finding that the greenhouse gases that cause climate change are a danger to public health. Speakers and attendees called upon the EPA to act on the endangerment finding to protect our environment and all its inhabitants from climate change. Text of Rabbi Saperstein’s prepared remarks follows:
Today I am proud to join with friends and colleagues from so many diverse communities to echo and amplify a call to action, a call for justice, a call that has for too long been ignored by those most empowered to enact change. That call insists that our nation lead the way in the fight against global climate change. This requires that each of us work to ensure a healthy planet if our communities and our children are to live and to thrive. And all this demands that the Environmental Protection Agency recommit to its mission of truly protecting our environment.
The reality is clear: Greenhouse gases are endangering the life of our planet and all its inhabitants. We applaud with optimism and enthusiasm the EPA’s recognition of this fact after years of silence. But this reality has been known to the scientific and environmental communities for years. And this is a reality on which the faith community has acted with increasing determination and passion. Our friends in the Evangelical and Catholic communities have recently launched Climate Covenant campaigns, calling on their millions of faithful across the nation to educate, advocate, and pray on this issue. Similarly, our Jewish synagogues and communal organizations are engaged in extensive efforts not only to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions, but to mobilize our whole community to join in the call for urgent action to mitigate this crisis domestically and internationally.
We do this not just for the sake of God’s creation generally, but for human life and human health more particularly. The Jewish tradition places tremendous value on both protecting the earth and ensuring that all humankind can not just survive, but live healthy lives. Pikuach nefesh, the obligation to save a life, supersedes nearly all laws in our tradition. We are taught: The one who saves a life, it is as if he or she has saved the universe. To understand that the greenhouse gases that cause climate change threaten not just one life, but the life and health of every inhabitant with which we share this planet, places upon us an awesome responsibility.
Climate change is truly an issue of life and death. Nothing less than the continued existence of human life on earth rests in the balance. And as we seek to remedy the misdeeds of generations that have brought us to this point, we must be guided above all by the principle of justice. For it is fundamentally unjust that the poorest and most vulnerable communities in our country and around the world will be the first and hardest hit by the ecological and health impacts of climate change, and the least able to adapt to these effects. We see this in the tragic aftermath of increasingly severe natural disasters, in the increase of heat-related deaths among the very young and very old, and in the skyrocketing cases of hospital visits due to asthma, especially in minority communities.
And so it falls to our generation to act. Working together, people of all faiths and no faith alike are committed to restoring the health of our world. But it is clear that without a partner in our government, with the EPA at the helm, we cannot succeed. The EPA endangerment finding is a symbol of this renewed leadership. Working with Congress, where the issue of climate change is front and center as we stand here today, we can, to steal a phrase, be the change we wish to see in the world.
We are told by our sages that after God created Adam, God led him around the Garden of Eden and said “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. Take care not to spoil or destroy my world, for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.” We bear this timeless responsibility, but it is one we are proud to shoulder. Today we raise our collective voice against climate change and for a healthy and just future for all. We call on the EPA to act now to secure a safe, healthy environment for present and future generations by working to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, and thereby ensure that vulnerable populations are protected from the effects of climate change. The time to act is now, and we must not fail.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis.