"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" reminds us that we are only stewards of nature, obliged to cherish and preserve it. Jewish tradition is emphatic that human dominion over nature does not include a license to abuse the environment. In Judaism, fire symbolizes the human tendency to assault nature, while Shabbat symbolizes our hope for harmony. Thus, we light Shabbat candles before Shabbat begins, reflecting that on Shabbat and in the Messianic age we seek to live in harmony with nature and end our assault upon it. Today, the profligate use of energy threatens our ability to live in harmony with nature, and we seek to restore a balance through conservation.
In 1979, the 55th General Assembly of the UAHC declared "it is increasingly evident that the development of a fair, just and effective energy policy is essential to the economic and social well-being of our country, to our national security, to the maintenance of an independent United States foreign policy and to world stability." The resolution continuing this language went on to lay out the guideposts of sound energy policy; national well-being and health, the protection of the environment, and the fair and equitable distribution of energy resources, both among people and countries. It called for a policy based on conservation and public education. It called for expansion and upgrading of mass transit systems. It called for the development of safe, clean, and renewable energy technologies. It called for a halt to further expansion of nuclear energy until questions about its safety and the disposal of nuclear wastes were satisfactory resolved.
The goals of that resolution are tragically still unrealized today. Significant conservation efforts were not the legacy of the late 70s oil shocks. The United States government has not taken more responsibility for meeting the energy needs of our nation's poor. Public support for sound energy policy is still stifled in the words of the 1979 resolution by "confusion, misinformation, half-truths and conflicting statements from all levels of our government and industry on this issue of vital national concern.
During the last ten years, reliance on imported oil increased from less than 30% in 1980 to nearly 50% in 1990. During the same period numerous successful programs that would have reduced our use of oil and energy were undercut or underfunded. In 1980, the United states budgeted $775 million on research and development for improved conservation and state and local assistance for conservation programs. By 1990, that figure had dropped to $411 million. For 1991, President Bush only requested $212 million (although the Congress appropriated almost $500 million). Our increased dependence on oil, foreign and domestic, is in large part the result of a policy failure.
After years of inattention, the Executive and Congress are attempting once again to create a National Energy Strategy. While past resolutions clearly state our position on many issues, a few new issues have emerged in the current energy debate.
Currently, 6.8 million households depend on heating assistance programs to survive the winter. It is estimated, however, that current programming serves fewer than half of the low income households in need. Increasingly poor people do not have sufficient resources to afford both fuel and food. The number of elderly poor dying of starvation or freezing continues to mount during our winters. Current budget proposals will cut $181 million from federal assistance programs. Economic justice must be part of our National Energy Strategy.
Conservation and efficiency are needed in all sectors of our economy, however, few sectors offer greater potential gains than transportation. Transportation accounts for 40% of U.S. oil consumption and oil accounts for 40% of U.S. imports each year. Sadly, the average miles per gallon for automobiles in the United States has declined over the past two years. Increased domestic production of oil will not cure North American dependency on oil imports.
THEREFORE, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:
- Reaffirm our 1979 resolution supporting the development of a national energy policy centered on conservation of energy and development of alternative energy sources and reaffirm our opposition to the further expansion of nuclear energy until the unanswered questions regarding safety and disposal of nuclear wastes are satisfactorily resolved.
- Call upon governments at all levels to enforce existing legislation and policies to achieve these goals.
- Call upon the oil, automobile, and other industries which produce energy or contribute significantly to its use to join in pursuit of these goals.
- Oppose off shore-drilling, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and drilling in other environmentally sensitive areas until it has been demonstrated that it can be done in an environmentally sound manner and until it has been approved both federally and locally in the affected areas, after public debate.
- Recognize that drilling in environmentally sensitive areas with its attendant economic and societal costs and its potential for long term environmental damage should not be the mainstay of a National Energy Strategy.
- Call upon the federal governments of Canada and the United States to enact legislation requiring greater efficiency in transportation without compromising their citizens safety.
- Advocate federal, state and local assistance to low-income individuals and families who daily struggle with the choice of "eating or heating."
- Support research for and development of non-polluting alternative energy sources.