- Posted by Matt Soffer
- On June 28, 2017
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Testimony before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy
Rabbi Matthew Soffer, Temple Israel of Boston
Massachusetts State House
June 20, 2017
I’d like to thank the Chairs, Sen. Barrett and Rep. Golden, as well as the Vice Chairs, Sen. Brady and Rep. Chan, and the members of this esteemed and essential Committee, for the opportunity to speak before you today.
My name is Matthew Soffer and I am a Rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston, the largest Reform Congregation in New England. Temple Israel has been committed to social justice and human rights since its founding more than 160 years ago.
I am honored to be addressing you today on Senate Bill 1821 and House Bill 1726, both of which propose carbon pollution fees that will cut greenhouse gas emissions and speed the shift from fossil fuels to a clean and more just energy future.
Temple Israel’s longstanding commitment to social justice and environmental stewardship is a reflection of both our sacred texts and the values that have grounded the Jewish people for millennia. The more than 4,000 members of our congregation take seriously the Jewish responsibility to “work and guard the earth.” And we believe that our lives and fates are interwoven with those of human beings and the dynamic array of all species across the world.
But there’s another reason why I feel compelled to offer this testimony. That supremely Jewish reason is… Father’s Day. Admittedly, though it is by no means a Jewish holiday, it most certainly reflects a core Jewish Commandment: “kabeid et avichi v’et imecha, honor thy father and thy mother” (Ex 20:11).
In Judaism, parents have a different core obligation toward their children. Not honor, but LOVE. Children are to honor parents, and parents are to love children. And as a rabbi in a tradition obsessed with planting seeds and growing futures, when I consider how our children will relate to their past, to us— I tremble. We are making it nearly impossible for our children to honor us. For when they come to know how we have treated our natural world, how will they possibly be able to fulfill that commandment to honor their fathers and mothers?
The United States is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide. We pollute and over-consume. We contaminate air and water as if we do not need to breathe or drink to live. We will probably be fine. But our children? From a Jewish perspective, destroying the earth and its habitat is tantamount to withholding love from children.
And yet, I also speak from a tradition that believes that change is possible; that a future of Promise is always built by a minority of moral and courageous political leaders. In a country largely responsible for environmental destruction, we need American political leadership to lead the movement to repair.
Our great Commonwealth is an educational, economic, and moral exemplar for many of our national brethren. We consistently rank as one of the greenest states in the nation, in no small part thanks to our brave legislature. We already have taken strides other states are too afraid or dysfunctional to take. We already have taken strides that other states have only taken because of the hopeful mark of our footprints – which is why this legislation is so important.
Charging for carbon is a proven market mechanism that is working in many places around the globe. There is reliable evidence that it is one of the most effective means of reducing reliance on fossil fuels. So long as fossil fuels remain abundant, accessible, and cheap (due to subsidies), wind and solar will have trouble competing. If, though, carbon pricing becomes the law, then it would help level that playing field.
Instead of spending $20 billion per year to import the use of the very fuels that are already destroying parts of our world and many of the species who once thrived here, I respectfully urge you to yet again lead the way toward a healthy future. I urge you to cement our status as a beacon for all and pass a strong bill that will bring carbon pricing—and the many benefits, both economic and social that come with it.
Allow me to close not as a rabbi but a father. Sunday, on Father’s day, my 4-year-old asked me a question. He said, “Dad, we just had Mother’s Day; today’s Father’s Day; when is it going to be kid’s day?” I laughed because I used to ask the same question each year to my own parents. And they told me the same answer that I told him—that “every day is kids’ day.” But reflecting further, the truth is that every day is not kid’s day. Every tomorrow is kids’ days. The future belongs to our children. And what we give to them—our love for the world that is their inheritance—will determine whether or not they are able to fulfill the Commandment to honor their mothers and fathers.
Thank you for your consideration of my comments and for your service to our beloved Commonwealth.