Carbon Offsetting, Sustainability and Social Justice at 2007 Hillel Spitzer Forum
March 9, 2007Comments (15)
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Students discuss sustainability and the environment at the 2007 Spitzer Hillel Forum.
What does Judaism have to teach about a sustainable lifestyle and safekeeping the environment? At the 17th annual Charlotte B. and Jack J. Spitzer Hillel Forum on Social Justice, 350 students from 124 different campuses sought answers to this and many other questions of tzedek, justice, and tikkun olam, repairing the world.
For three days, students braved a snowy February in Washington, D.C., to wrestle with issues of responsible citizenship, social justice and sustainability. Through skill workshops, plenary discussions and networking, the students learned what it takes to be a social justice advocate on campus and in the community. The conference was held in conjunction with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs Plenum.
At the opening session, “Your Life. Your World. Your Future,” Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone, borrowing from Microsoft, welcomed the students with the charge, “Where do you want to go today?” He emphasized the power of one person to instigate change that benefits the environment.
Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, a grassroots political action committee, continued the theme of personal responsibility. Delivering the Henry Everett Memorial Lecture, Pariser urged students to continue engaging in issues of social justice because “the country, the world needs you now!”
Students learned that there are different approaches to public policy. In a JCPA plenary speech on climate and energy, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alexander Karsner offered the Bush Administration’s perspective.
In another session, Debra Rowe, president of the U.S. Partnership for Sustainable Education, explored the meaning of sustainability and shared emerging national trends in sustainable development in the U.S. “In your lifetime, we’re going to find out if this planet will remain habitable for human beings,” Rowe told the students. “We’ve got to make sustainability cool.” And she encouraged the students to live a smarter, more environmentally-aware lifestyle.
“Hearing those opinions that were different from mine empowered me to make my own decisions about these issues,” said Adam Frankel, a University of Arizona junior.
During interactive sessions with leading experts in their fields, panelists facilitated discussions on such topics as “Sustaining the Reproductive Justice Movement,” “Environmental Lessons from Israel” and “Effective Advocacy to Stop the Genocide in Darfur.”
Students were given the opportunity to put their own concerns on the conference agenda through impromptu “Open-Space Technology” sessions. “These discussions gave students the opportunity to talk about the social justice issues that are important to them and to connect with other students who might be having similar experiences on their campuses. They create their own communities of like-minded students,” explained conference organizer Michelle Lackie, director of Weinberg Tzedek Hillel.
After two days of discussion and workshops, the students were ready to be advocates. They joined JCPA delegates to lobby Capitol Hill on behalf of legislation protecting the environment and other issues, meeting with senators, representatives and Congressional staff members from their respective districts.
“Now I understand that lobbying in person has more of an impact than sending an e-mail,” said Moshe Cohen, a Louisiana State University graduate student. “I was glad to be a part of the legislative process.”
Students didn’t just talk about a sustainable world at the conference, they lived it. Spitzer was the first Jewish conference to be carbon neutral: Every carbon dioxide unit emitted by the conference was offset through a partnership with Carbonfund.org making the Spitzer Forum a zero-net greenhouse gas emitter.
A waste-free policy was in affect during the hotel stay, with a moratorium on washing participants’ sheets, no newspaper delivery to rooms, and the use of program materials printed with a 100 percent carbon-neutral process.
“Students are acutely sensitive to the environment in which they will be building their future,” explains Hillel President Firestone. “Our emphasis on sustainability at the Spitzer Forum is a reflection of the immense interest in this field among Jewish college students on hundreds of campuses worldwide.”
“I was never involved in global environmental issues before coming to the Spitzer Forum, but I was involved in Hillel,” said Dona Sandel, a San Francisco State University sophomore. “So I thought, ‘Why not start by getting involved and bringing it back to campus?’”
For another perspective on Spitzer, visit the Corner Office Blog.
Hillel, JCPA Focus on Environment with 'Carbon Neutral' Conferences - JTA