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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 10.12.06

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Cool Prayers

Atoning for our climate sins


I was fading. At 1 pm, I had been fasting for 17 hours, like much of the Temple Beth Israel congregation seated around me. I put my head on my husband Steve's shoulder and closed my eyes, letting the familiar rhythm of the ancient Hebrew language wash over me while the sun warmed my chilled body.

As a semi-practicing Jew, I don't normally last into the afternoon for Yom Kippur services. Once I've sufficiently atoned for each and every sin of the past year, including those I didn't even notice as I sailed through the seasons, I'm typically ready to aim higher next year and take a break. But the promise of a sermon on climate change kept me in my courtyard seat.

In my work coordinating a new outreach program for the Climate Leadership Initiative on global climate change, I am constantly discovering ramifications of my actions, my community's actions and my country's inaction. This gives me plenty to atone for and many ideas for better behavior.

The carbon dioxide emitted from a plane I rode to my family reunion this summer will remain in the atmosphere for another century. So will the emissions from the truck that drove my banana from Mexico to Eugene. Likewise the gases from the production of the plastic keyboard I'm typing on and the paper you're reading.

Without immediately enacting strategies to absorb and reduce emissions, those greenhouse gases will contribute to higher temperatures for my unborn children, grandchildren and great-grand children. If they live in Oregon, they are likely to witness reduced snowpacks and even less water for agriculture and salmon in the summer. If the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt completely, oceans will eventually rise to flood our coastal communities and downtown Portland with salt water.

The emission sources and list of impacts goes on and endlessly on, easilyevoking denial, despair and paralysis. These valid emotions do little in the face of a real threat. Here's where faith steps in.

Around the country, 4,000 congregations are educating their members about global warming as part of the Ecumenical Ministries' "Spotlight on Global Warming" campaign. Locally, 11 churches and temples are showing Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, followed by discussions.

Moving into action, some local congregations are pledging to reduce energy use in their facilities by 25 percent. The First United Methodist Church will hold workshops on reducing energy use in facilities and eventually on reducing personal emissions.

This marks the crucial next step. Lead climate scientist James Hansen says that within the next decade we must slow the rate of growth of carbon dioxide emissions down to a declining curve. If not, he says, we will reach a so-called tipping point, at which certain events, like the melting of ice sheets, will become unstoppable.

Now that (most) of the country is moving past the denial stage, it's reassuring to witness action from multiple branches of society.

I hadn't thought of the faith community as blazing the trail of progressive action. Perhaps that's my mistake. The most conservative local churches have not yet signed on to participate in "Spotlight on Global Warming," but evangelical and otherwise conservative churches in some communities are sounding the call to protect God's creation. This issue poses an occasion for unity that our faith community has not seen since the tragedy of 9/11, which still draws an interfaith congregation for monthly services.

As Rabbi Yitzhak wrapped up his sermon, he risked the sublimity of the high holy day as he stepped into the practical. If every American changed one incandescent lightbulb to a compact florescent bulb, he told us, we would reduce emissions by the equivalent of taking 6.3 million cars off the road for the lifetime of the bulbs. Next time you buy a car, purchase a fuel-efficient vehicle. Educate yourself and take responsibility for your behavior, he implored.

By this point, I'd lifted my head and opened my eyes, curious about the reactions of the people around me. I can't say the rabbi received an enthusiastic response from the yarmulke-capped crowd at this point in the day of prayer and fasting, but nearly everyone read out loud the photocopied prayer that asked forgiveness for our climate sins. Together, in hushed voices, we read, "May we take to heart the teaching of our sages that warns, 'If you destroy this world there will be none to repair it after you.'"


Showings of An Inconvenient Truth will take place at the following dates and locations: Temple Beth Israel, 2550 Portland St., 6:30 pm Oct. 25, 485-7218. First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive, 7 pm Oct. 27 and 1 pm Oct. 29, 345-8764. First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1050 E. 23rd, 6:30 pm Oct. 29, 345-8741. Central Presbyterian Church, 1475 Ferry, 12:30 pm Oct. 29, 345-8724. See www.emoregon.org/calendar.htmfor updates.



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