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Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater Headshot

Starting Oil's Retirement Party

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In every generation, there are those leaders who help us to get in touch with our outrage at the evils around us. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the founder and leader of the Shalom Center, a man in his late seventies, is one of those leaders. In his email blast today about the oil disaster, he asks us, "Are you outraged yet? Are you ready to do something?" Why is it that this massive disaster on the Gulf coast, a disaster of epic proportions, is not waking us up, driving us into the streets to demand change?

Rabbi Waskow, a man cut from the cloth of the ancient prophets, has been calling us to action for over 50 years, and yet today, facing the most destructive environmental accident perhaps in our history, we must listen and respond. This is not just an oil "spill" Rabbi Waskow tells us, but rather, "This is more like piercing a hole into the Caverns of Hell, so that they pour forth without limit." We are being lied to by the media, who continue to quote the lowest and most conservative estimates of how much oil is spilling, while we should be demanding total accountability of BP and an end to offshore drilling. And yet, this company, after all the horrors that they have perpetrated onto the waters, marine life and human life in the region, today rebuffed the EPA on their demand that they switch oil dispersants, which they are now pouring (already 715,000 gallons) onto the spill, further contaminating and destroying the environment. So, what are we to do? What are we to say?

I have been debating with some folks about the idea that we can commit ourselves to getting off oil, in a period of 5 years, if we truly want to save our planet and our existence. As humans, we have the capacity to make great sacrifices for the sake of the greater good, and what could be greater than preserving our planet? Some of my friends argue that we need oil, we can't just convert our entire world overnight, so offshore drilling is necessary and needs to be continued, even as we seek improved ways of monitoring it and safe-guarding it.

I say, "Why?" Why continue what we know is killing us and threatens to destroy our environment, when we know of better, safer and healthier ways of producing energy? No, they are not yet producing at the rate we need (neither is oil for that matter), but why wouldn't we be pouring billions into that technology and get them up and running ASAP instead of wasting billions trying to fix a failed, outdated approach, which is what oil is. I say failed not because it didn't do incredible things, moving our industrial world into the modern era, but because it has run its course and needs to be retired, passing the world energy baton to solar, wind, and other renewables, transitioning if we need to with natural gas, of which we have an abundance and is safer, until we can convert our entire grid over to renewables. We can do this if we use our will to believe in ourselves, in our ability to make huge, radical changes in the face of danger. Sometimes radical change is necessary, sometimes it is the only thing that will bring the change we need.

Think about this: the Internet took over our lives, almost overnight, and we went along without a peep! Did we vote on this as a humanity? Did we agree that the Internet was going to be our new mode of communication, our new mode of living, our new way of doing business and running our world? I believe in the same way, as the Internet did within a 5-7 year period, we can be off oil, convert our cars to electric, hybrids or whatever the best option is, move our major energy sources to solar and still make billions of dollars, which is the only reason that we continue with oil in the first place. What good are billions of dollars if we don't have a planet to use them on? Most ancient teachings remind us that we take nothing of our material wealth with us to the grave. My job is to prod us from the moral, spiritual and holy sides of our existences, listening to and trusting my scientific friends and colleagues to get the actual job done. We can do it, we can. This BP oil disaster, sadly, as it kills birds, plants, ocean life, and destroys the livelihood of our fellow citizens along the Gulf, is a reminder, perhaps of Biblical proportions, that now is the time to support, demand and execute the major changes needed in these darkening and challenging days and months ahead. We cannot wait years, we must not wait years. Lets not let greed, fear and lies deter us from doing what we know is right and just. If we do, we will have no one else to blame: no corporation, no government, no God; no one but ourselves. Lets believe in ourselves and make it happen.

One final note: There are two energy bills in the Senate right now, even though we are only hearing about the Kerry-Lieberman one, which frankly is horrible. There is a second, better bill, that we should educate ourselves about, and I believe, support and encourage our senators to support. Compared to Kerry-Lieberman, the Maria Cantwell-Susan Collins bill is much simpler. Just 40 pages long. Where Kerry-Lieberman feeds the money to the derivatives market, Cantwell-Collins sets a national cap on CO2 emissions, has the US government auction all under-the-cap permits to emit CO2, and then passes on 75% of the auction proceeds as a dividend to every legal resident of the US -- about $1,000 a year. (So it's called "cap and dividend.") The rest goes to research and development for solar, wind, and energy-conserving measures, and for green jobs. Fuel costs would rise, but the $1,000 dividend would more than pay the extra cost for working-class and middle-class families. Find out more for yourselves and hopefully you too will support this, and help enact meaningful and sustainable change, not just political rhetoric with more of the same self-destructive decisions based on lobbyist contributions and corporate power.


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