Though it’s not often told this way, Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates the miracle of renewable energy—the renewable energy of the Maccabees in their fight against Antiochus, and the renewable energy of some special, organic olive oil that kept the Temple’s eternal flame alight for eight days instead of just one.
This year, as Hanukkah approaches, we need the miracle of renewable energy more than ever.
The renewable energy we’re talking about isn’t just that divine combination of inspiration and action we Jews celebrate during this dark season. This renewable energy is Green Power—greenhouse-gas-free, non-polluting electricity that’s generated by wind turbines, low-impact hydroelectric systems, solar panels, and other renewable sources.
Green Power at Hanukkah?
Here are a few of the reasons why: Due in large part to the build up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, global warming is accelerating at a scary pace. It’s contributing to the amped-up hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and polar vortexes—the extreme weather events—we’ve experienced so many of in recent years. It’s currently costing our economy billions of dollars a year. And, already, the World Health Organization reports, an additional 150,000 people a year are dying in the developing world as a result of climate-sensitive illnesses such as malaria and diarrhea. Unchecked, global warming has the potential to cause the kind of world devastation that’s been unequaled since the time of the biblical flood.
Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel-burning power plants are a large part of the problem. In fact, the polluting “brown” power we generate here in the U.S. is responsible for a staggering 9 or 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas total.
But the problems of “brown” power don’t just stop there. Soot and other particulate matter from polluting power plants are estimated to cause between 10,000 and 15,000 respiratory and cardiac deaths in the U.S. each year. That’s about the same number of people who are killed by guns; the same number who die of ovarian cancer; and almost twice the number who die of AIDS. Every year, U.S. coal-fired power plants also emit 49 tons of toxic mercury, causing birth defects, developmental delays, and ailments of the central nervous system, including the brain.
Green Power, on the other hand, creates no greenhouse gases, no smog, no acid rain, no mercury; it creates no health problems at all.
Moreover, Green Power is the perfect kind of electricity for us Jews. If you’re traditionally observant, switching to Green Power allows you to fulfill several mitzvot, each one as binding upon the Jewish people as keeping kosher or observing Shabbat. One such mitzvah is bal tashchit, the prohibition against destruction and waste; another is pikuach nefesh, the responsibility to save life.
If, on the other hand, traditional observance leaves you cold and you’re more the activist type, Green Power allows you to embrace cutting-edge technology and save the world at the same time.
Bringing the divine power of renewable energy out of the past and into the present is easier than you think. First, find the account number on your electric bill. Then, fire up your computer or phone.
In New York City, Westchester, Rockland, and Orange Counties, you’ve got two options: ConEd Solutions, a subsidiary of ConEd; and Ethical Electric. (As with almost all types of Green Power, the juice still comes through the same power lines and is billed the same way as regular electricity.) For ConEd Solutions, simply call the company during business hours, at 888-320-8991, or visit their website. For Ethical Electric, go here or call 800-460-4900.
For renewable energy in New Jersey, Connecticut, and other areas, simply type “renewable energy” and the name of your state into an Internet search engine. You can also call the Center for Resource Solutions at 888-634-7334 or visit their website for a list of Green Power options nationwide.
And, if you’re thinking about going solar at home or at work, check out the amazing NYC Solar Map. All you have to do is punch your address into the search function, and the website will tell you if your home is a good spot for solar, how much electricity you can generate, how much money you can save, and what solar incentives you can take advantage of.
As the Festival of Lights approaches, think of ways you can incorporate Green Power into your Hanukkah celebrations. In the Hanukkah prayer Al HaNissim, we speak of miraculous deeds and saving acts. We talk of a small band of visionaries who changed history and saved our civilization.
Won’t you sign up?
Liz Galst, a former New York Times contributor, works as an editorial consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the country’s largest environmental groups, and chairs the Green Team at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City.