Why Should Jews Have Their Own Response to the Energy Challenge?

Earlier in the week, Jonathan Axelrad, Co-Chair of this past weekend’s Jewish Response to the Energy Challenge (J-REC) conference held in San Francisco and broadcasted through out the United States and Israel, was asked if a “Jewish response to energy” wasn’t as superfluous as the Korean response to hurricanes.

As one of the few, if not only, gentiles I began the morning a bit skeptical, though after a day of thought provoking lectures and panels, I feel it was not another superfluous conference, and the concept of a concerted Jewish response could indeed be the seed of a terrifically successful piece of the large puzzle that will be the energy (and consumption) solution of the future. The core ideas behind why I agreed with the many bright panelists and moderators for why there should be a particularly Jewish response is because of the interdisciplinary and international nature of the energy challenge, the acute water and related energy challenge within Israel, and the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (loosely translated from Hebrew: the pursuit of things that avoid social chaos).

Early in my professional and social career I learned the benefit of quickly establishing a common ground with the person in front of me or on the other end of a phone call or email. By maintaining strong social and religious ties despite the global Jewish diaspora there is an opportunity to work with like minded people around the globe. Beyond international collaboration, this bodes well for the development of technologies and projects that require experts from a variety of professions – from law, to finance, to engineering, to politics. Like all business relationships, sharing common ground accelerates closing a deal.

It is no great secret that Israel does not share the petroleum reserves of its often weary if not hostile neighbors; it does however suffer from a similar water paucity – the desalinization of which is currently prohibitively energy intensive for all but the most energy rich of nations. Its abundance of sun, its relative isolation, its relatively concentrated population and its pursuit of water make Israel an ideal consumer of clean technologies in every form; from efficiency, to recycling, to desalinization, to energy generation. Despite a drive to innovation borne by necessity and a potentially high willingness to pay for services, due to its relatively small market, Israeli companies need to develop markets elsewhere to achieve economies of scale to bring down costs and amortize expensive R&D. What better way to access global markets than through existing social ties?

And lastly, on Sunday I was introduced to tikkun olam – a beautiful social concept variously translated on the internet as “repairing the world” or “perfecting the world.”  I appreciate how the concept was highlighted as a core belief, though in no means is it unique to Judaism. All the World’s leading monotheistic religions have a similar concept, and from my cursory understanding Hindu’s and Buddhists and countless other spiritual paths teach of the importance of striving to live in harmony with their surroundings.  As this week’s Economist makes note, religious leaders from various faiths have already come together to do what politicians have thus far struggled to do – and that is come together and provide guidance to their constituencies. Muslim leaders allegedly extolled their followers to seek less carbon intensive means for performing their pilgrimage to Mecca and Daoists were implored to use fewer sticks of incense.

We should all look at the energy and environmental challenges under our own lens, I don’t think the question should be “should the Jewish community have its own response” but rather, “what is my community, religious or otherwise, doing to capitalize on our skillsets, existing networks and values to respond to what is clearly one of the worlds biggest challenges.”

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