January 22, 2011

01/17/2011 JVNA Online Newsletter

Shalom everyone,

This update/Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter has the following items:

1. Happy Tu B’Shvat

2. Tools for Promoting Vegetarianism

3. My Talk on “Judaism and Vegetarianism” Can Be Seen Online

4. “Preach-In” on Climate Change Scheduled/My Letter/Jewish Resources

5. Is the World Heading for Major Food Shortages?

6. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Factory Farms

7. New Children’s Book Has Vegetarian Story

8. Review of “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World”

9. Book Review of World on the Edge by Lester Brown

10. Should We Promote “Meat-Free” Rather Than Vegetarian?

Some material has been deferred to a later update/newsletter to keep this one from being even longer.

[Materials in brackets like this [ ] within an article or forwarded message are my editorial notes/comments.]

Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the JVNA, unless otherwise indicated, but may be presented to increase awareness and/or to encourage respectful dialogue. Also, material re conferences, retreats, forums, trips, and other events does not necessarily imply endorsement by JVNA or endorsement of the kashrut, Shabbat observances, or any other Jewish observances, but may be presented for informational purposes. Please use e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and web sites to get further information about any event that you are interested in. Also, JVNA does not necessarily agree with all positions of groups whose views are included or whose events are announced in this newsletter.

As always, your comments and suggestions are very welcome.



1. Happy Tu B’Shvat

Tu B’Shvat is the most vegetarian and environmental Jewish holiday. Thus it provides an excellent opportunity to promote our messages. Please see my articles on Tu B’shvat at JewishVeg.com/Schwartz. Two are in the holidays section and one is in the environmental section. And please feel free to pass these articles onto others and to use the ideas to help promote vegetarianism and environmental activism at a Tu B’Shvat seder or at other occasions. Thanks. The holiday begins on Wednesday evening, January 19 this year.

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2. Tools for Promoting Vegetarianism

Please feel free to use any of my 140 or so articles and 25 or so podcasts at JewishVeg.com/Schwartz to promote vegetarianism in the Jewish community and beyond. At that web site, you will find the complete texts of my books Judaism and Vegetarianism and Judaism and Global Survival and you can watch my comprehensive talk on “Judaism and Vegetarianism” and an interview of me on cable TV and hear many radio interviews of me. You can also watch JVNA’s acclaimed documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World” at aSacredDuty.com. Please take advantage of these resources to help promote vegetarianism. Also, please let people know that they can get a complimentary copy of “A Sacred Duty” by visiting aSacrdDuty.com. Thanks.

Suggestions for other ways to promote vegetarianism are VERY welcome. Thanks.

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3. My Talk on “Judaism and Vegetarianism” Can Be Seen Online


Please feel free to use this talk and other material at JewishVeg.com/Schwartz to give a talk or prepare a program on “Judaism and Vegetarianism.” Thanks.

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4. “Preach-In” on Climate Change Scheduled/My Letter/Jewish Resources

Based on the message below from “Interfaith Power and Light,” I have sent the message to my synagogue’s rabbis and president. Please consider doing so to your local Jewish leaders. Please note that the event need not be related to Valentine’s Day at all, even though the project initiators do so.

Shalom Rabbis, Mr. President,

I think our synagogue could do a Kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name] in joining the initiative discussed below and helping make responding to climate change a major issue on the Jewish agenda.

Israel is suffering tremendously from climate change. 2010 was the warmest year in Israel’s history. For the past seven years, Israel has been experiencing the worst drought in its history. In 2009, the water level in the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main source of water, was so low that water could not be pumped out of it. Other aquifers are threatened with the possibility of salt contamination as their water levels decrease. With very little rainfall in the fall of 2010, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has called for several fast days to pray for rain, and on one occasion Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics joined in prayers for rain. In early December, 2010, Israel experienced the worst forest fire in her history near Haifa. More than 40 people died. The very dry conditions due to the lack of rain was a major contributing factor to the spread of the fire.

Unfortunately, things are likely to get even worse. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED, or Adam, Teva v’Din) in 2007 projected that global warming will cause Israel to suffer from many additional severe heat waves, with an average temperature increase of from 2 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit, an average decrease of precipitation of 20–30 percent, major storms, an inundation of the coastal plain where most Israelis live from a rising Mediterranean sea, increased desertification and other severely negative effects of climate change.

Many in our shul and in the general community are skeptical about climate change, but there is an overwhelming scientific consensus, as indicated by hundreds of peer-reviewed articles in respected scientific journals and dire warnings by scientific academies worldwide, that climate change is a major threat to humanity and that human activities are a major factor.

A report on Nightline Thursday night indicated that, in spite of the major droughts in Israel and other parts of the world, 2010 was the wettest year in recorded history and is tied for the warmest. There have been almost daily reports recently of flooding of almost biblical proportions in California, Pakistan, Australia, China and Brazil. Even our recent major snow storms have been linked to climate change, as warmer weather causes greater evaporation and therefore more moisture in the atmosphere.

As you know, there is a midrash that states that when Hashem created the world he took Adam to see the Trees in Gan Eden and told him not to despoil or destroy the world for there would be no one after him to restore it.

I think it is time for the Jewish community to play our historic role as co-workers with Hashem and as a “light unto the nations,” in working toward tikkun olam, the healing, repair and proper transformation of the world.

I have much background material on these issues and will be happy to help in any way that I can.

Kol tuv, Shabbat shalom and happy Tu B’Shvat,



Below is the message from Interfaith Power and Light

Dear Richard H. Schwartz,

The Valentine's Preach-In is off to a great start! We're excited to begin 2011 with a national event that will educate our congregations about global warming and get the word out to our legislators that people of faith love Creation and love our neighbors, particularly those who are affected by climate change. It's all happening this Valentine's Day weekend, February 11-13. Are you registered yet?

We have everything you need to host an event.

Preach-In materials include:

Outlines for sermons, messages, and devotionals categorized by faith

Free DVDs and discussion guides for a film screening

Free bulletin inserts and Valentine's Day postcards for your congregation to send to your senators urging them to love Creation and protect the climate

Register for the Preach-In today to receive these great resources.


The Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham

Interfaith Power & Light


Below are Jewish resources compiled by Interfaith Power and Light that can be helpful for the climate change “Preach-In.”



Notes for Jewish Faith Leaders

Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener
Director, Connecticut Interfaith Power & Light
West Hartford, CT


Joelle Novey
Director, Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light
Washington, DC

Parshat Tetzaveh (Shmot/Exodus 27:20 - 30:10)

Haftarah for Shabbat Tetzaveh (Yehezkel/Ezekiel 43:10-43:27) {These are the scriptural readings on the Shabbat of the Preach-In, February 11-12, 2011.]

Notes for Grounding a Dvar Torah on Climate Change in the Parsha

Exodus 27:20

Theme(s) The oil to illuminate the Tent of Meeting is a clean-burning renewable oil, derived from a sustainable source and human effort.

Tie-in to Climate Change: Fuels matter. How we light our sanctuaries matters. Our climate crisis is first and foremost a crisis of our dependence on fossil fuels.

For a full Tetzaveh dvar torah on this theme by Baruch Sienna at Kolel.org, visit:


Scripture: Exodus 28:3

Theme(s): The priest’s garments require our human creativity.

Human creativity and volunteerism is necessary for the construction of the clothing the Cohanim will wear.

Tie-in to Climate Justice: Economic activity that is on a human scale invites our creativity and unique capacities. The global economy relies on dangerous and soul crushing exploitation and huge “embedded” transportation costs. The environment suffers — as does the human spirit.

Scripture: Exodus 28:10-12

Theme(s): The priest’s garments signify unity. The names of all the Israelites are carried together on the shoulder pieces of the Priest’s garment. None is higher or lower. None is left out.

Tie-in to Climate Change: As we do the work, the avodah (work) of tikkun olam (repairing the world) – we must include all life if we wish to “approach the holy.” The toxicity and harm inherent in burning fossil fuels cannot be foisted on some unimportant other (other people or other location) because we’re all in this together!

Scripture: Exodus 28:9-12

Theme(s): The priest’s garments demonstrate that true leadership serves everyone in the community The High Priest actually carries the names of the tribes of Israel in two places on his body. True leaders remember that their role is to serve the community they lead.

Tie-in to Climate Justice: Around the world, those least responsible for climate pollution are suffering first and most from climate change. Sometimes it is argued that the United States doesn’t need to do anything about climate change until all of the other countries of the world are ready to do so. But waiting to do the right thing until everyone else has done so isn’t sacred leadership. Sacred leadership would have the U.S. carry the current suffering of the world’s poorest people with us in our current choices.

For a full Tetzaveh dvar torah on this theme by Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger at Kolel.org, visit www.kolel.org/pages/5760/tetzaveh.html.

General Themes of Tetzaveh – Building a sanctuary

Materials for the construction and outfitting of the Meeting Place of God and humanity come from all corners of the plant and animal kingdom and from all manner of human activity. Nothing is irrelevant or unnecessary.

Tie-in to Climate Justice: That is our work – to bring together the materials of the world and our effort to build a holy place.

General Themes of Tetzaveh – Building a sanctuary

The Tent of Meeting is a microcosm, representing all manner of human productivity. The goal is to interweave the material and spiritual realms. A sense of serving the sacred is the cornerstone of all human activity. This attitude is an urgent counterbalance to our wasteful and spiritually corrupting consumerism.

Scripture: Exodus 29:13 and others

Theme(s): Disposition of the portions of the offerings. Portions of the animal offerings are used and disposed of in various ways. Not every material is good for every purpose if our goal is holiness.

Tie-in to Climate Change: Toxins (skin and intestines, in this case) must be disposed of consciously and safely.

Scripture: Exodus 30:10 Atonement

Theme(s): We are not purely spiritual. There are consequences and impacts for all of our actions. But we can strive for holiness, we can live with spirit and we can be renew and achieve At-One-Ment.

Tie-in to Climate Justice: We are living already with the consequences of imbalanced consumption and global climate change. We can work for repair.

Texts to Inform a Jewish Response to Climate Change, Compiled by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb for the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

The stakes are high. We can’t afford to make too much of a mess.
“G-d led Adam around all the trees of the Garden of Eden. And G-d said to Adam: 'See My works, how good and praiseworthy they are?! And all that I have created, I made for you. [But,] be mindful then that you do not spoil and destroy My world - for if you spoil it, there is no one after you to repair it.’”
Midrash Qohelet Rabbah 7:13 (Commentary on Ecclesiastes); ca. 8th Century CE

Remember whose Earth it is in the first place, and what we’re supposed to be doing with it.
“The Earth is G-d’s, and the fullness thereof; the settled land, and its inhabitants.”
Tehillim/Psalm 24:1
“The land shall not be sold forever; for the land is Mine; you are strangers and sojourners with me.”
Vayikra/Leviticus 25:23
“God placed the human in the Garden of Eden, l’ovdah (to serve/till) u’l’shomrah (and to guard/tend it).”
Bereishit/Genesis 2:15

Wasting anything is a shame, especially when it's so easy to use less electricity or get better mileage.
“When you besiege a city... do not destroy (lo tashchit) any of its trees...”
Dvarim/Deuteronomy 20:19
Rav Zutra said: "Whoever covers an oil lamp, or uncovers a naphtha lamp [causing them to burn fuel inefficiently] transgresses the law of bal tashchit.”
Talmud Bavli/Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 67b
“Righteous people ... do not waste in this world even a mustard seed. They become sorrowful with every wasteful and destructive act that they see, and if they can, they use all their strength to save everything possible from destruction. But the wicked ... rejoice in the destruction of the world, just as they destroy
Sefer HaChinuch 529; 13th Century

Justice: We in the U.S. are 5% of the world’s population, yet cause a quarter of all climate pollution. And who will rising sea levels and other climate changes harm most? People in the poorest countries.
“Justice, justice, you shall pursue, in order that you may live...”
Dvarim/Deuteronomy 16:20
“God loves righteousness and justice; the Earth is full of God’s loving-kindness.”
Tehillim/Psalm 33:5
“Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor ... Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Vayikra/Leviticus 19:16-18

Preserving life: Climate change will likely cause the spread of new diseases, longer heat waves, more intense hurricanes, food scarcity …
“One is forbidden from gaining a livelihood at the expense of another’s health.”
—Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet, Resp. 196
Shabbat, like all the mitzvot (commandments), is pushed aside by danger to human life.”
/Maimonides, MT Zmanim 2:1

Saving endangered species: Everything’s part of the plan, yet global warming moves too fast for most of Creation to adapt, threatening many species and whole ecosystems.
“Even those creatures you deem superfluous in the world — like flies, fleas, and gnats — nevertheless have their allotted task in the scheme of Creation.”
Midrash Shmot Rabbah/Commentary on Exodus 10:1
“It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of humanity’s existence ... [rather] all the other beings, too, have been intended for their own sakes...”
Rambam/Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed III

The Precautionary Principle: We must take action even in an uncertain situation.
“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.”—--Dvarim/Deuteronomy 22:8
...from which Rambam/Maimonides deduces:
“Similarly with all potentially dangerous objects. Remove them far from yourselves and from the way of the community.”
—MT Hilchot De'ot
“A burning object left in a place where the public can be injured by it — one is allowed to extinguish it [even on Shabbat], whether it’s of metal or of wood.”
—Yosef Caro in Shulchan Aruch, Oreh Hayim 334:27
“A sick person in danger—we attend to all their needs on Shabbat, at the advice of skilled local healer. If there is a doubt whether or not we need to violate the Shabbat for them — or if one doctor says to ... but another doctor says there’s no need — we violate the Shabbat for them, since [even] doubtful danger to human life pushes aside the Shabbat.”
Rambam/Maimonides, MT Zmanim 2:1
“... We don’t need an expert [to save a life by violating other laws like Shabbat], since ... [even] doubtful danger to human life [makes the law] lenient. And it’s forbidden to delay the [treatment]...”
Tur, Oreh Hayim 328
Yosef Caro adds: "The one who rushes to [take action in an uncertain case of danger to human life], look, this is praiseworthy! But the one who [stops to] ask, look, this is a murderer.”

Jewish Climate Resources
The Jewish Climate Change Campaign
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL)
Jewish Climate Initiative

Jewish Climate Education Resources
From Torah Aura, for grades 7 and 8:
From the Shalom Center, for teens:

Jewish Environmental Resources


Promotes healthy and sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond, with an emphasis on food issues and bike rides raising funds for Jewish environmental initiatives.


Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center’s Center for Environment and Sustainability

Web platform for Jewish environmentalists to share resources and teachings

Teva Learning Center

The Shalom Center
Source of pioneering books on eco-Judaism. For commentaries on Torah portions, click on “TorahCommentaries” on the horizontal row of references just under the logo banner. Directed by Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

For Conservative congregations:
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Sustainability Resources

For Orthodox congregations:
Canfei Nesharim

For Reconstructionist congregations:
The Reconstructionist Federation

For Reform congregations:
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Union for Reform Judaism

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5. Is the World Heading for Major Food Shortages?


By Lester R. Brown


Earth Policy Releas, Plan B Update, January 14, 2011 

As the new year begins, the price of wheat is setting an all-time high in the United Kingdom. Food riots are spreading across Algeria. Russia is importing grain to sustain its cattle herds until spring grazing begins. India is wrestling with an 18-percent annual food inflation rate, sparking protests. China is looking abroad for potentially massive quantities of wheat and corn. The Mexican government is buying corn futures to avoid unmanageable tortilla price rises. And on January 5, the U.N. Food and Agricultural organization announced that its food price index for December hit an all-time high.

But whereas in years past, it's been weather that has caused a spike in commodities prices, now it's trends on both sides of the food supply/demand equation that are driving up prices. On the demand side, the culprits are population growth, rising affluence, and the use of grain to fuel cars. On the supply side: soil erosion, aquifer depletion, the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, the plateauing of crop yields in agriculturally advanced countries, and—due to climate change —crop-withering heat waves and melting mountain glaciers and ice sheets. These climate-related trends seem destined to take a far greater toll in the future.

There's at least a glimmer of good news on the demand side: World population growth, which peaked at 2 percent per year around 1970, dropped below 1.2 percent per year in 2010. But because the world population has nearly doubled since 1970, we are still adding 80 million people each year. Tonight, there will be 219,000 additional mouths to feed at the dinner table, and many of them will be greeted with empty plates. Another 219,000 will join us tomorrow night. At some point, this relentless growth begins to tax both the skills of farmers and the limits of the earth's land and water resources.

Beyond population growth, there are now some 3 billion people moving up the food chain, eating greater quantities of grain-intensive livestock and poultry products. The rise in meat, milk, and egg consumption in fast-growing developing countries has no precedent. Total meat consumption in China today is already nearly double that in the United States.

The third major source of demand growth is the use of crops to produce fuel for cars. In the United States, which harvested 416 million tons of grain in 2009, 119 million tons went to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars. That's enough to feed 350 million people for a year. The massive U.S. investment in ethanol distilleries sets the stage for direct competition between cars and people for the world grain harvest. In Europe, where much of the auto fleet runs on diesel fuel, there is growing demand for plant-based diesel oil, principally from rapeseed and palm oil. This demand for oil-bearing crops is not only reducing the land available to produce food crops in Europe, it is also driving the clearing of rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia for palm oil plantations.

The combined effect of these three growing demands is stunning: a doubling in the annual growth in world grain consumption from an average of 21 million tons per year in 1990-2005 to 41 million tons per year in 2005-2010. Most of this huge jump is attributable to the orgy of investment in ethanol distilleries in the United States in 2006-2008.

While the annual demand growth for grain was doubling, new constraints were emerging on the supply side, even as longstanding ones such as soil erosion intensified. An estimated one third of the world's cropland is losing topsoil faster than new soil is forming through natural processes—and thus is losing its inherent productivity. Two huge dust bowls are forming, one across northwest China, western Mongolia, and central Asia; the other in central Africa. Each of these dwarfs the U.S. dust bowl of the 1930s.

Satellite images show a steady flow of dust storms leaving these regions, each one typically carrying millions of tons of precious topsoil. In North China, some 24,000 rural villages have been abandoned or partly depopulated as grasslands have been destroyed by overgrazing and as croplands have been inundated by migrating sand dunes.

In countries with severe soil erosion, such as Mongolia and Lesotho, grain harvests are shrinking as erosion lowers yields and eventually leads to cropland abandonment. The result is spreading hunger and growing dependence on imports. Haiti and North Korea, two countries with severely eroded soils, are chronically dependent on food aid from abroad.

Meanwhile aquifer depletion is fast shrinking the amount of irrigated area in many parts of the world; this relatively recent phenomenon is driven by the large-scale use of mechanical pumps to exploit underground water. Today, half the world's people live in countries where water tables are falling as overpumping depletes aquifers. Once an aquifer is depleted, pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge unless it is a fossil (nonreplenishable) aquifer, in which case pumping ends altogether. But sooner or later, falling water tables translate into rising food prices.

Irrigated area is shrinking in the Middle East, notably in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and possibly Yemen. In Saudi Arabia, which was totally dependent on a now-depleted fossil aquifer for its wheat self-sufficiency, production is in a freefall. From 2007 to 2010, Saudi wheat production fell by more than two thirds. By 2012, wheat production will likely end entirely, leaving the country totally dependent on imported grain.

The Arab Middle East is the first geographic region where spreading water shortages are shrinking the grain harvest. But the really big water deficits are in India, where the World Bank numbers indicate that 175 million people are being fed with grain that is produced by overpumping. In China, overpumping provides food for some 130 million people. In the United States, the world's other leading grain producer, irrigated area is shrinking in key agricultural states such as California and Texas.

The last decade has witnessed the emergence of yet another constraint on growth in global agricultural productivity: the shrinking backlog of untapped technologies. In some agriculturally advanced countries, farmers are using all available technologies to raise yields. In Japan, the first country to see a sustained rise in grain yield per acre, rice yields have been flat now for 14 years. Rice yields in South Korea and China are now approaching those in Japan. Assuming that farmers in these two countries will face the same constraints as those in Japan, more than a third of the world rice harvest will soon be produced in countries with little potential for further raising rice yields.

A similar situation is emerging with wheat yields in Europe. In France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, wheat yields are no longer rising at all. These three countries together account for roughly one-eighth of the world wheat harvest. Another trend slowing the growth in the world grain harvest is the conversion of cropland to nonfarm uses. Suburban sprawl, industrial construction, and the paving of land for roads, highways, and parking lots are claiming cropland in the Central Valley of California, the Nile River basin in Egypt, and in densely populated countries that are rapidly industrializing, such as China and India. In 2011, new car sales in China are projected to reach 20 million—a record for any country. The U.S. rule of thumb is that for every 5 million cars added to a country's fleet, roughly 1 million acres must be paved to accommodate them. And cropland is often the loser.

Fast-growing cities are also competing with farmers for irrigation water. In areas where all water is being spoken for, such as most countries in the Middle East, northern China, the southwestern United States, and most of India, diverting water to cities means less irrigation water available for food production. California has lost perhaps a million acres of irrigated land in recent years as farmers have sold huge amounts of water to the thirsty millions in Los Angeles and San Diego.

The rising temperature is also making it more difficult to expand the world grain harvest fast enough to keep up with the record pace of demand. Crop ecologists have their own rule of thumb: For each 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature above the optimum during the growing season, we can expect a 10 percent decline in grain yields. This temperature effect on yields was all too visible in western Russia during the summer of 2010 as the harvest was decimated when temperatures soared far above the norm.

Another emerging trend that threatens food security is the melting of mountain glaciers. This is of particular concern in the Himalayas and on the Tibetan plateau, where the ice melt from glaciers helps sustain not only the major rivers of Asia during the dry season, such as the Indus, Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers, but also the irrigation systems dependent on these rivers. Without this ice melt, the grain harvest would drop precipitously and prices would rise accordingly.

And finally, over the longer term, melting ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica, combined with thermal expansion of the oceans, threaten to raise the sea level by up to six feet during this century. Even a three-foot rise would inundate half of the riceland in Bangladesh. It would also put under water much of the Mekong Delta that produces half the rice in Vietnam, the world's number two rice exporter. Altogether there are some 19 other rice-growing river deltas in Asia where harvests would be substantially reduced by a rising sea level.

The current surge in world grain and soybean prices, and in food prices more broadly, is not a temporary phenomenon. We can no longer expect that things will soon return to normal, because in a world with a rapidly changing climate system there is no norm to return to.

The unrest of these past few weeks is just the beginning. It is no longer conflict between heavily armed superpowers, but rather spreading food shortages and rising food prices—and the political turmoil this would lead to—that threatens our global future. Unless governments quickly redefine security and shift expenditures from military uses to investing in climate change mitigation, water efficiency, soil conservation, and population stabilization, the world will in all likelihood be facing a future with both more climate instability and food price volatility. If business as usual continues, food prices will only trend upward.

*NOTE: This piece originally appeared in Foreign Policy on Tuesday, January 10, 2011.

# # # 

Lester Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute and author of 
World on the Edge: How to Prevent an Environmental and Economic Collapse (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011) available online at www.earth-policy.org/books/wote. 

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6. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Factory Farms


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7. New Children’s Book Has Vegetarian Story

I have read this book and found the stories enjoyable, especially “Chickenless Soup,” which relates how a young girl rebels agains her family’s habit of having chickensoup every Friday night. I look forward to reading the stories to my grandchildren..

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8. Review of “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World”

The Vegetarian Cinephile

A Review of "A Sacred Duty"

By Emanuel Goldman

[This review first appeared in the Vegetarian Journsl,” the publication of Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG)

In 1968, the social philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote, "As it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us." While he was writing about the geopolitical situation, his observation also applies to the looming environmental crisis facing the world.

This is the perspective from which the film A Sacred Duty (2007) which was written, photographed, directed, and narrated by Lionel Friedberg and available at www.jewishveg.com/asacredduty - begins. Subtitled "Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World," this hour-long documentary explores the connection between a potential future environmental catastrophe and one simple step that all people of good will can take to avert this: change to a plant-based diet and vastly reduce the use of animal products.

Sponsored by the group Jewish Vegetarians of North America (of which I am a member), the film is narrated against a backdrop of gripping photography and a moving original soundtrack. It begins by establishing the religious underpinnings of the subject, that it is a religious mandate in the Jewish faith to care for the earth. There are scenes of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews in prayer, the Western (wailing) Wall, and the text of the Torah (holy scriptures that are often referred to as the Old Testament of the Bible), with English translation voice-overs by Theodore Bikel as he recounts the commandments to care for the earth.

Then, the film shifts to exploring Israel as a paradigm for environmental issues: rivers so polluted they are unsafe for swimming, air pollution, garbage, and the consequences of global warming. We visit the Arava Institute in Southern Israel, where members of all nationalities-Jews and Arabs from Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority-can explore environmental solutions. The issue transcends borders and ethnicity, affecting everyone. Climate change in the United States is also addressed.

After approximately a half hour, A Sacred Duty begins to explore the role of animal agriculture in global warming. Startling facts are recounted: 18 percent of greenhouse gases come from livestock alone, and overall, animal agriculture generates more pollution than all the cars, trucks, and aircraft in the world combined. Ten pounds of grain and between 2,500 and 5,000 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of beef. Furthermore, one third of the world's arable land is used for growing meat.

Then, the film moves beyond the environmental harm of animal agriculture to the harm that consuming an animal food-centered diet has on human health. Here again, we are reminded of the Jewish mandate to take care of one's own health. Chronic degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer-and their connection to an animal food-centered diet-are reviewed by medical and other experts.

But there is one final Jewish mandate that A Sacred Duty tackles head on: the prohibition against animal cruelty. I expect this part of the film will be difficult for most people to watch. A foie gras factory is shown, while the narrator informs us that the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled these practices illegal. This is followed by brutal scenes of factory farming and slaughter. One of the experts goes so far as to say that you cannot even justify kosher certification for meat prepared from factory- farmed animals. It is hard to imagine how any meat-eater could see these scenes and not re-examine his or her diet. I am reminded of the Paul and Linda McCartney quote: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian."

There are no glass walls on slaughterhouses, but a film like A Sacred Duty shines a beacon of light on the adverse consequences of an animal food-centered diet—it is bad for the planet, bad for our health, and bad for our spiritual well-being. I hope the film finds a wide audience, not just among Jews.

Disclaimer: I am acknowledged in the credits on a list of those who provided " cooperation and assistance."

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9. Book Review of World on the Edge by Lester Brown

I have started reading this very important book by Lester Brown, one of the world’s leading experts on sustainability issues.

Future Hope column, January 16, 2011

World on the Edge, a book review
By Ted Glick

“The world now has the technologies and financial resources to stabilize climate, eradicate poverty, stabilize population, restore the economy’s natural support systems, and, above all, restore hope. The United States, the wealthiest society that has ever existed, has the resources and leadership to lead this effort.” -Lester Brown

World on the Edge, a just-released, 200-page book by Lester Brown, is important for many reasons.

For those who still don’t understand the depth, immediacy and urgency of the climate crisis, World on the Edge makes that case clearly and understandably with a wealth of hard information.

World makes the connections between that crisis and the other civilizational crises that confront humankind today. The titles of the book’s chapters dealing with these crises summarize them: Falling water tables and shrinking harvests; Eroding soils and expanding deserts; Rising temperatures, melting ice and food security; Environmental refugees: the rising tide; and Mounting stresses, failing states.

For those who appreciate these realities, Brown’s latest book contains a great deal of useful statistics and short summaries of important reports and recent developments.

And perhaps most importantly, Brown explains how the world’s governments and social movements can still avoid the looming threat of worldwide catastrophe, on every continent, this century, if we act in this decade with the degree of urgency required by our situation.

The Causes

Brown understands why we have reached this point of worldwide crisis: “The vested interests of the fossil fuel and defense industries in maintaining the status quo are strong.”

Elsewhere he writes about a large number of organizations which “argue that what the world needs is not large corporations bringing large-scale, highly mechanized, capital-intensive agriculture into these countries, but international support for community-based farming, centered around labor-intensive family farms that produce for local and regional markets and that create desperately needed jobs.”

Regarding immigration, he writes that “maybe it is time for governments to consider whether it might not be cheaper and far less painful in human terms to treat the causes of migration rather than merely respond to it. This means working with developing countries to restore their economy’s natural support systems—the soils, the grasslands, the forests—and it means accelerating the shift to smaller families to help people break out of poverty. Treating symptoms instead of causes is not good medicine. Nor is it good public policy.”

The Solutions

Brown’s solutions are summarized by the titles of the five chapters of the book dealing with our response to the crisis: Building an energy-efficient global economy; Harnessing wind, solar and geothermal energy; Restoring the economy’s natural support systems; Eradicating poverty, stabilizing population, and rescuing failing states; and Feeding eight billion.

Is this economically possible? Brown calculates that “restoring the earth’s natural systems, stabilizing population and eradicating poverty will require under $200 billion per year in additional expenditures.” The sources of those funds are multiple: an over $700 billion U.S. military budget; taxing speculation in the international currency markets; wealth taxes; ending fossil fuel subsidies; and more. The resources are there; the problem is who controls them.

Brown has specific example after specific example of what needs to be done. One example: if the world shifted from old light bulbs to the new CFL’s, linear fluorescents and LED’s, the share of the world’s electricity used for lighting would be cut from 19% to 7%. “This would save enough electricity to close 705 of the world’s 2800 coal-fired plants.”

He reports that a 2009 survey of world wind resources published by the US National Academy of Sciences showed that on-land wind potential, not including offshore wind, could provide 40 times the world’s current consumption of electricity.

A success story: a United Nations “Billion Tree Campaign,” inspired by Wangari Maathai and other Kenyan women, had planted over 10 billion trees by the end of 2009.


Although Brown does not devote much of his book to the critical issue of how we can overcome the fossil fuel, war industry and related corporate powers-that-be, he does address this issue in a general way toward the end. His conclusion is that what is needed is what he calls the “sandwich” model of social change, “where there is a dedicated grassroots movement pushing for change that is strongly supported by political leadership.”

Brown does not address the implications of the failure of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party in 2009-1010 to enact comprehensive climate legislation, or much climate legislation at all, despite big majorities in both houses of Congress and control of the White House. As I have written about elsewhere, I’m convinced that we will never get the political leadership we need at the top in this country without the emergence of a broadly-based, “third force” movement and alliance.

Thankfully, not surprisingly, Brown does not advocate personal lifestyle changes as what individuals who want to make a difference should do. In his words, “they are not nearly enough. Restructuring the global economy means becoming politically active, working for the needed changes, as the grassroots campaign against coal-fired plants is doing. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.”

Some Specific Criticisms and Praise

There were places where Brown, either by what he wrote or didn’t write, disappointed me. I found nothing in the book about the importance of organic farming as a way to rebuild depleted soils that can then sequester huge amounts of carbon. He made no mention of the fact that almost all of the seeds used for soybean and corn production in the USA are controlled by Monsanto, and many of those are genetically engineered. At one point he speaks approvingly of an “export-oriented farm sector” when it comes to agriculture policy for poor countries, with no mention of how this approach strengthens the industrial agriculture model pushed by transnational agribusiness interests.

At the same time, I appreciated his willingness to deal with the population issue. Given that most of us want people wherever they are to live decent lives, and given the fact that we’ve already gone past what the world’s natural environment is able to sustain, it is important that family planning and small families become the world norm as soon as possible.

I also appreciated his forthright advocacy of a tax shift: “The benchmark of political leadership will be whether leaders succeed in shifting taxes from work to environmentally destructive activities. It is tax shifting, not additional appropriations, that is the key to restructuring the energy economy in order to stabilize climate.”

And I was pleased that Brown made clear that natural gas, nuclear power and burying carbon emissions under the ground or the ocean are in no way part of the mix of solutions needed. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, and recent studies at Cornell University are showing that if a full life cycle analysis of it is done, from extraction through transmission to burning, it is probably as bad as coal when it comes to the release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Nukes are bad for lots of reasons, and “carbon capture and sequestration” is nothing but a pipe dream, a mirage, a lifeline for the coal industry that’s more like the slenderest of threads.

The world is a much more hopeful place because of the work and life of Lester Brown. World on the Edge should be read by everyone who wants to see a better life for their children, which is just about everybody.

Ted Glick is the Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. He has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past columns and additional information can be found at http://www.tedglick.com.

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10. Should We Promote “Meat-Free” Rather Than Vegetarian?


Thanks to author and JVNA advisor Lewis Regenstein for sharing this link with us.

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