On Yom Kippur, care for the earth

On Yom Kippur, care for the earth

Written by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb

Medieval Jewish mystics taught that God created the world through self-contraction, or tzimtzum. God was everywhere – but by shrinking God’s self a bit, everything else could emerge. God humbled Godself.

We should follow suit. In our congregation, tomorrow’s Yom Kippur message will be just that: “humble yourself.”

Humility is a personal virtue, just as “Moses was most humble” (Num. 12:3). Modern leaders should try humility too! People of faith should prize humility, rather than swagger, when deciding whom to support.

We can cultivate humility, collectively: Being proud of our religion, but not believing it alone has all the answers. Being proud of our country, yet humbly considering its flaws and mis-directions.

In today’s warming world, we’re now also called to be humble as a species. To try to make space for the rest of life, many faithful folks have become environmental advocates. That’s why I’m speaking up for this fall’s DC campaign to put a price on carbon.

In synagogue tomorrow, we’ll sing, “Humble yourself in sight of Creation.” Humility is just what humanity needs, if we’re to dodge the worst of the ecological catastrophes we now bring upon ourselves. Exhibits H through M: Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Maria.

Hubris, the exact opposite of humility, is the downfall of every tragic hero – or civilization. The hubris of recent generations brought us to the brink of irrevocable climate change. Hubris lets “enlightened” folk today consume and pollute way more than our fair or sustainable share. And hubris has us wait for big techno-fixes, or for others to act first, before making the changes we know must come.

Some of those needed changes are “sacrifices.” Though we’re loathe to give anything up, humility calls us to sacrifice. Yes: true humility demands sacrifice. But it’s worth it: sacrifice comes from sacred, in Hebrew (korban-offering from karov-draw-near) as in Latin. Sacrifice is holy! It’s also a fair exchange: we give up something finite, receiving in its place something lofty and sacred. And, it’s our duty.

We should sacrifice, or “give back,” what isn’t rightly or sustainably ours. Consider the idea of “privilege.” I’m a man, socialized to take up space; the humble faithful way to “man up” is to “sacrifice” some status, so women can lead. As a white man, aware of the myriad disadvantages from which I’m exempt thanks to skin tone alone, I extend myself for racial justice, even when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable. Ditto for being straight, able-bodied, well-off, or cis-gender.

But I’m also a human – who, together with you and seven billion others, plants a most oversized footprint on our threatened blue marble home. So it’s time to consider “species privilege,” too.

Humans got ahead by claiming what rightly belonged to others – not just indigenous peoples, but the whole “order of Creation,” comprising millions of species besides our one. We squeezed them out in the process. To restore balance, we must do teshuvah (deep repentance) – make real change – by “sacrificing” some of what we wrongly consider “ours.”

Every Yom Kippur that goes by without major tzimtzum (self-contraction) by us humans puts poor people, all God’s critters, and our very future at greater risk.

Economist Paul Krugman simplifies the math: climate change will lower gross global product by at least 5 percent. Stopping climate damage, by contrast, would cost only 2 percent. Two percent, so we don’t destroy the biosphere – is that even a sacrifice, or a wise investment? Waiting only locks in more suffering, and harms our progeny. It’s smart to act now: “Choose life,” pronto, “that you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). The longer we fiddle, the hotter the future burns.

Luckily, little sacrifice is needed to get behind the #PriceItDC effort to use the free market to curb carbon pollution. Like sister initiatives elsewhere, #PriceItDC makes industrial polluters pay to emit what harms us, then rebates the money back to residents in just ways. It’s our chance here in DC to model how our future economy can work, once we’re all practicing proper species humility.

It brings the “externalities” of fossil fuels – like, say, reduced life expectancy for your grandkids – into the economic equation. It gives polluters monetary incentives to pollute less. It helps us become more rational economic actors, and more moral and spiritual in the process.

Please join me and my community this fall in practicing tzimtzum, the sacred lost art of humble self-contraction. Together we can make teshuvah, repentance and return to right action, not just a Yom Kippur thing, but part of our everyday lives.

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb lives in Washington DC, where he is a DCPS Parent, past chair of Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA), and Rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation.

The Science Behind a Carbon Fee & Rebate: It’s About Justice

The Science Behind a Carbon Fee & Rebate: It’s About Justice

Written by interns Danniele Fulmer, Maria Zlotescu, and Olivia Kuykendall 

At the heart of any campaign that combats climate change, there should be a dedication to justice and equity. The proposed D.C. carbon fee and rebate policy is a wonderful example of this dedication to a cleaner, more equitable future. Backed by economists, environmentalists, and social justice activists, this policy can help all the District’s residents, especially the most vulnerable.

And now, two new economic studies show how and why the rebate portion of this policy is essential to addressing justice.

It has long been established that carbon and rebate fee models can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to combat climate change. Carbon pricing has also been embraced as the most effective solution by economists. In the 2015 report, “Expert Consensus on the Economics of Climate Change,” a survey found that 75% of economists agree that market-based mechanisms, such as a carbon tax, are the best way to address climate change.

Now, two new studies demonstrate that carbon fee and rebate policies can have economic benefits while also addressing justice. In particular, these studies, conducted by Boston College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, found that fee and rebate models can lead to a substantial decrease in income inequality. The studies both bear well on our efforts to put a price on carbon in D.C. through a fee and rebate model.

The first study, titled “Income Inequality and Carbon Emissions in the US: A State-Level Analysis,” found that there is a direct correlation between the concentration of wealth and carbon dioxide emissions. Basically, the higher the income equality in any given state, the likelier it is for the state to have higher carbon dioxide emissions, as is demonstrated by the tables below.  


Additionally, the Boston College study notes that a carbon tax without a built in rebate could harm low-income communities. But with a rebate, this type of policy has the potential to benefit a larger portion of an area’s population. The study found that if a $200 tax per ton of carbon were adopted without a rebate, the bottom quintile of households would suffer 10.2% income loss. However, with a built-in rebate, the bottom quintile would see a 14.8% gain in income.

Luckily, the D.C. carbon fee and rebate policy plans to do just that, by rebating 75% of carbon revenue back to D.C. residents, with other portions reserved for renewable energy projects and local business property tax assistance.

The second study, “A Distributional Analysis of a Carbon Tax and Dividend in the United States,” published by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, compared carbon fee and rebate programs with other climate solutions such as cap and trade and tax breaks. The basic finding was that cap and trade, as well as tax breaks, could benefit higher income individuals disproportionately, leading to regressive impacts on lower and middle-income individuals. Furthermore, regressive tax measures have a tendency to reduce spending in regions, resulting in a decrease in economic activity. However, the researchers yet found that carbon fee and rebate policies have the potential to empower citizens through income gains, resulting in an increase in purchasing power and higher economic activity. More specifically, the study showed that distributing equal rebates can protect the purchasing power of 61% of individuals, 89% of which fall under the lowest income category.  This goes to show that utilizing a carbon fee and rebate model is truly the most equitable way to address climate change.

By looking at the proposed D.C. carbon fee and rebate policy against this backdrop, we can see that one of the most critical elements of the policy is the rebate mechanism, which prevents regressive outcomes.

When considered together, both of these economic studies support the idea that a carbon fee and rebate policy is the most efficient and just mechanism to address climate change, which is great news for the D.C. carbon fee and rebate campaign!

We have environmental and economic experts on our side. Now we must build our movement to get this policy passed in the District.

This campaign has been in the works for two years now and there is no doubt that the overwhelming body of support from economic, environmental, and social justice standpoints will continue growing from here. Over 20 cities and states are currently either voting on or following a carbon fee and rebate plan. Environmental experts already support carbon fees as a way to reduce CO2 emissions. Politicians from both sides of the aisle also endorse the idea. The carbon fee and rebate bill would not only be environmentally effective, but economically beneficial as well. According to leading environmentalists, in order to prevent irreversible damage to the environment, the U.S. must eliminate carbon pollution entirely by the end of the century. The carbon fee and rebate policy will go a long way to meeting that goal.

Article Citations:

  1. Fremstad, A. and Paul, M.. “A Distributional Analysis of a Carbon Tax and Dividend in the United States.” Working Paper Series, Political Economy Research Institute (2017).
  2. Jorgenson, A, et. al. “Income Inequality and Carbon Emissions in the US: A State-Level Analysis.” Ecological Economics 134 (2017) 40-48.
Voices from the Peoples Climate March: Why We Need A Carbon Price

Voices from the Peoples Climate March: Why We Need A Carbon Price

Guest post from DC resident Roger LeBlanc, Jr.

Culminating a year of of people-powered resistance, more than 200,000 people marched in DC and around the world on April 29 to wake up our society to the climate crisis. People across many generations, backgrounds, faiths and communities stood up to say that enough is enough with polluters threatening the health of our humanity

I spoke with two protesters and DC Ward 5 residents about why they were motivated to march. Continue reading