Wednesday, March 30, 2011

and finally, a response from hazon

To review: in an earlier post I laid out my concerns about Hazon's programming and the enormous carbon footprint it creates, even as it tries to promote environmental sustainability. Roughly a month later, and after a gentle reminder email that said I was still interested in an answer, I received this response today from Liore Milgron-Elcott at Hazon HQ:

Dear Beth,

Firstly, I apologize that it has taken this long to get back to you - your questions are ones that we struggle with constantly and I appreciate your sincerity. Though we do provide resources on our website, curricula that can be mailed and conference calls, our most significant impact is through our conferences and rides, where people fly, drive and cycle from all over. Yes, that carbon footprint is real, and I will honestly add, not just to get people to the events, but to run them, as well.

I will not go into climate change here - I am pretty sure that you and I are on the same page on the science. But what we do is hard to measure in tons of carbon equivalence.

For instance, as a result of one of our conferences, a young woman chose to become an organic farmer/chef, which inspired her father to do one of our rides, which got him on his bike - not just for fun, but to commute - which decreased the family's need for a car, so they sold it. Then, they took the land next to their family business and turned it into an organic farm, which now feeds the community through CSAs and volunteer opportunities.

There are tangible, environmental benefits that come through our programs, but that, too, is not it. A serious motivation for our work is the establishment and renewal of the Jewish community. All across America, there are pockets of Jews who are engaging seriously with the land - through food and outdoors adventures. For the most part, they function alone, but our conferences provide people with a sense of community, inspiring them to continue on with their work and empowering them to live out a vision that they dared not commit to alone.

Separately, we buy carbon offsets for many of our programs and encourage all participants, especially to the Israel Ride, to offset their flights.

Again, I apologize that it has taken me so long to respond. I would be happy to continue this conversation via email or at the number below.

All the best,


I think this response raises nearly as many questions as it tries to answer, not all of which can be answered by Hazon:

1. How effective are carbon offsets? If the purpose is simply to assuage guilt over the impact of our carbon footprint when we travel, then it definitely works. Lots of people buy shares in wind energy and water reclamation projects as they redeem their frequent-flier miles and travel all over the world. But if we try to measure effectiveness in real time and space, can we ever buy enough carbon offsets to truly correct against the impact of thousands of miles of car and air travel -- before that impact permanently harms the earth? I'm not so sure.

2. If another purpose of Hazon is to foster Jewish community, I understand that. Those who identify as Jews (whether by birth or by choice) are already a far-flung people, spread all over the globe but still making up less than 3% of the world's population. Most of our history as a cohesive people has been spent in Diaspora, meaning we've had to foster a sense of community wherever we find ourselves. I also understand that many who are Jewish, but whom move through circles and communities that are mostly not, experience a sense of isolation. Such gatherings give these Jews an opportunity to connect with others and feel a little less lonely. But Hazon's vision still needs to operate in the larger world, and that world is increasingly dirtier and hotter and under daily attack from the impacts our choices make.

Along with sustainable food, I'd like to see Hazon talk about sustainable travel, sustainable family planning, sustainable transport of food from producers to markets to consumers. Ultimately this will require a larger emphasis on sustainable communities that focus on the truly local connections that we can and must make with each other. Perhaps this can be done in part by making these globe-trotting events happen less often, and by taking the time to examine more deeply the true consequences of global travel. I still maintain that it's becoming a luxury our planet can no longer afford to indulge in so often, and I would welcome a deeper exploration of this theme by the folks at Hazon.

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