WASHINGTON (JTA) — With a tradition thousands of years old, Judaism informs us on taking the long view — the Divine view, as it were, since God is concerned even to the thousandth generation in the future (Exodus 34:7). So with environmental policy, we consider not only our own immediate interests, but also protecting Creation overall.
Our organization, COEJL (the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life), which works with numerous Jewish agencies and all major denominations, has this notion as its mission: “protecting Creation from generation to generation.”
This year we’ve seen frustrating setbacks in our efforts to protect Creation: Needed legislation to dramatically reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions has failed, even as we suffered the largest oil spill in American history. While the immediate political focus was on midterm elections and their projected impact on many fronts, we cannot afford to lose track of our country’s valuable natural resources in the bargaining process. And there is something we can and must do, even in this political climate.
As part of Creation, our land and water have the capacity to nourish or vanquish each of us, regardless of how we voted. We humans (“adam,” in Hebrew) come from and are dependent upon the land (“adamah”), and the “living waters” (“mayim chayim,” as Jeremiah calls them). That is why we urge safeguarding our precious public lands and water resources by having Congress dedicate full funding for the bipartisan-supported Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF.
The LWCF was established in 1965 to protect America’s great outdoors using royalties paid by oil companies to the government to fund the conservation of natural resources. As oil and gas were extracted from federal waters, a portion of these royalties was to be reinvested for the conservation of open space onshore through the fund. The fund has since created local parks and playgrounds, and protected important wild places in every single state.
As the principal source of federal dollars for protecting national parks, forests, monuments and other public landscapes, the LWCF ensures recreational opportunities for citizens across the United States. Whether we live in urban or rural areas, in the East, West, North or South, chances are that we benefit from the Land and Water Conservation Fund without even knowing it.
Yet since its inception, the fund has never received sufficient appropriations. More than enough oil revenue flows by the LWCF, at no cost to the American taxpayer, yet Congress has failed to use that money for its intended purpose (its recent low in appropriated funding was just $138 million, less than one-sixth of what it could be). Over the years the fund has been shortchanged by some $17 billion — a huge loss for our communities and Creation.
Without this financing, the program cannot fulfill its enormous potential for us and our environment. Finally, this July, the House of Representatives passed the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic (CLEAR) Act, which includes full funding for the LWCF. Now we wait — will it also pass in the U.S. Senate? We need to push for full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund as legislation moves forward.
President Obama declared September National Wilderness Month, saying that “together we must ensure that future generations can experience the tranquility and grandeur of America’s natural places.”
We could not agree more. Our Jewish values teach us this very responsibility, as in the Psalms, where we experience divinity most clearly through Creation. It is incumbent upon us to preserve America’s great outdoors for the benefit of future generations.
Even while pursuing full funding for the LWCF, we at COEJL are still deeply committed to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, increasing our economic and national security, and pursuing renewable energy and green jobs. We still see the desperate need for comprehensive energy and climate policy to accomplish all this while regulating and curbing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. In 2010, the hottest year in recorded history, our spiritual contribution to the national and global conversation on environmental policy is more needed than ever.
So without faltering in our efforts toward comprehensive climate legislation, let us take meaningful steps even now to protect our natural resources and heritage. We must urge our politicians to provide immediate, full and consistent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And we must turn up the heat in a sustained effort against the scourge of climate change, which harms not just our land and water but people here and now, our human future, and all earthly Creation.
Both efforts are needed. Our descendants demand no less.
Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb and Terry Gips are Governance Committee members of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life-COEJL.