About Stephen Jurovics

Stephen A. Jurovics holds BS and MS degrees from Columbia University and a PhD in Engineering from the University of Southern California. He has had about 20 technical papers published over the years and given numerous presentations at professional conferences. Aspects of climate change mitigation have been the focus of his engineering work for more than two decades. The increasing severity of environmental problems led him, out of spiritual curiosity, to research the environmental teachings in Genesis-Deuteronomy, what Jesus called “the law” in English translations, particularly exploring whether they contained instructions relevant to contemporary issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, preserving biological diversity, treatment of the land, and sustainability. The abundance of applicable teachings, and a desire to discuss ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions motivated him to write this book.
https://www.instagram.com/hospitableplanet

A Biblical Perspective on the Oceans

A realization that many of the diverse efforts to improve the environment are supported by both biblical texts and scientific findings has motivated many people of faith to act on these efforts for those dual reasons. Plastic Oceans Project requested information about where within Judaism one finds teachings about care of God’s oceans. The Psalms provide one rich source of such expressions, with a verse in Exodus 19 possibly serving as the root of the psalmist’s teachings.

Exodus 19 opens with Moses going up Mount Sinai and hearing God speak about the conditions for a covenant with all who left Egypt. Verse 5 includes the words “all the earth is mine.” “The earth” includes the land and the oceans.

In Leviticus, God gives the condition under which the Israelites may use the land, which belongs to God, to plant seeds, grow crops, and have food: the condition is to take care of the needy and the stranger. Multiple verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy provide examples of how to accomplish that care.

The academic Alan Avery-Peck synthesized these teachings by writing:
“The same notion of God’s ownership of the land explains Scripture’s insistence that the land be used only in ways commensurate with the holiness of its owner.”

I believe that if we substitute the word “oceans” for “land” in Avery-Peck’s statement, we have an equally valid synthesis of biblical intent. Using the oceans as a trash container, in particular a repository for discarded plastics, is not an action “commensurate with the holiness of its owner.” The Psalms reinforce this perspective.

The opening of Psalm 24 proclaims:
1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
2 for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.

By “earth,” the psalm refers to the entire natural world, for the Hebrew word translated as “world” is “tevel,” which means nature in its entirety.

The expression “The earth is the LORD’s” connects with the Exodus 19:5 verse, discussed above.

Psalm 95:5 gives another reminder that both the oceans and the land belong to God:
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

In modern times, we can take away the corollary that we are not to foul that which belongs to God. We may use the oceans, but with the understanding that they belong to God. Indeed, Leviticus 11 contains about two dozen verses detailing what may and may not be eaten, and the list includes constraints on what marine life may be consumed. When we load the oceans with plastics, we introduce substances alien to the waters, a consequence incompatible with the psalmist’s teachings.

Psalm 104 is virtually a paean to the natural world, with references to the waters in verse 3,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,

verses 6-9,
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
and verses 25-26,
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

Thus, through the Psalms, as one source, we learn that the natural world belongs to God and that God “has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” These teachings evoke a strong concern for the oceans of the world within both Judaism and Christianity.

Stephen Jurovics, Ph.D.
Author of Hospitable Planet: Faith, Action, and Climate Change.
http://hospitableplanet.com
info@hospitableplanet.com

“Dominion” in Genesis 1 Is not an Obstacle

“Dominion is an obstacle,” said Bishop William Barber (www.breachrepairers.org) as we shook hands in the hallway. “Yes,” I replied, “I covered that extensively in my book.” “I know,” he said, and walked on. 

With “dominion” the bishop was referring to the passage in Genesis in which God says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” [Gen. 1:28] The “obstacle” to which he referred is that many people view the surface interpretation of that verse as giving humans the right to rule, or have dominion over, all life on earth in any way we wish—no constraints are listed.

That’s what the verse says in Genesis 1. Do we encounter any challenges to that interpretation as we move from there to the end of Deuteronomy? Yes, many, which means it is incorrect to take the verse in Gen. 1:28 as the definitive statement on “dominion” without factoring in all subsequent passages that question or refute that interpretation. 

The first major challenge to the statement in Genesis 1 occurs just five chapters later in the Noah episode. God tells Noah to take two of every kind of bird and animal into the ark “to keep them alive” throughout the coming flood. Noah had no discretion to select birds and animals, as a ruler might. Rather, Gen. 7:1-5 ends with, “And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.”

Similar challenges to the unlimited latitude that Gen. 1:28 seems to allow occur in multiple subsequent passages. For example, the fourth commandment in the Decalogue in Exodus 20 instructs the people to refrain from working their livestock on the sabbath. Thus, a challenge to the notion that we can rule over the animals as we wish.

In Lev. 22:26-28, we read: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain for seven days with its mother, . . .” and, “you shall not slaughter, from the herd or the flock, an animal with its young on the same day.”  Again, we cannot rule without constraint.

In Deut. 22:10, we read: “You shall not plough with an ox and a donkey yoked together.”  And again, in Deut. 25:4 we find: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” 

All of these, and others, constitute evidence that the passage in Gen. 1:28 makes a general statement about our power to affect creation, but does not stand unqualified throughout the rest of “the law,” Genesis through Deuteronomy. We accumulate a list of constraints regarding human behavior toward the natural world. That behavior commands us to care for God’s creation, and the various teachings we encounter instruct us how to do that. 

Thus, the Gen. 1:28 passage does not stand as an obstacle, does not relieve us of the responsibility to care for creation—which in our time means to reduce the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Epilogue

The Genesis 1 text is not the only place where one verse is seemingly contradicted by a subsequent passage. For example, in Gen. 9:3, God says: “Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.”  Yet in Lev. 11, we find multiple verses that identify what can and cannot be eaten.  That’s why observant Jews do not eat pork or shellfish. 

In these two examples, we find a general statement given first, and then  clarifications/limitations given subsequently. 

From another perspective, the Genesis 1 verse that says “have dominion over” or “rule over” leads to the question: what does it mean to rule over the fish, the birds, and all that moves upon the earth? It’s safe to say God would want us to be good rulers, so what does that entail? That’s part of what we learn as we move from Genesis to Deuteronomy, with the first clarification coming just five chapters later in the Noah episode: save all species! 

Climate change, which humans are causing, is resulting in an alarming rate of species loss, and we are thus acting contrary to that biblical teaching.

In addition, note that the Gen. 1:28 verse does not say we have dominion over the land. In Exod. 19:5, God says to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “all the land is Mine,” which is a faithful translation of the Hebrew. How do we rule if we must operate with the constraint that the land belongs to God?

Thus, the notion that Gen. 1:28 enables us to rule over the earth in any way we wish is refuted by (1) subsequent limitations on our actions, and (2) the statement that the land belongs to God.

Confining oneself solely to the Gen. 1:28 verse and viewing that as an obstacle to caring for creation is an indefensible position. It constitutes a glaring violation of biblical teachings. It follows that the faith community has an obligation, supported by Scripture, to become vigorously involved in creation care/climate change.

Stephen Jurovics

Author of Hospitable Planet: Faith, Action, and Climate Change

Testimonial from Vincent dePaul Professor

I was delighted to receive an e-mail from a Vincent dePaul Professor at DePaul University in Chicago who used Hospitable Planet in a seminar on ethics and ecology. The professor wrote:

I wanted to let you know that your book was a hit in my two seminars. . . . I think the book works very well at showing how biblical verses can be grouped–as you do–to tell a story of how the Torah in fact limits human “domination” and instead calls for responsibility towards the environment and all that lives therein.
Students really appreciated what you are trying to do, even those who are not particularly religious (as it happens, I had no Jewish students, . . . but a good number of practicing Christians).  I returned short reflection papers on the book this week.  Quite a few sang your praises, such as one who wrote that she “just loved the book.”

I am deeply grateful that the students responded favorably to the case for creation care/climate change made in the book. If other faculty have used the book, I invite them to send me a note about the students’ reaction to it.

Climate Change and the Midterms

The vast majority of Americans who want to mitigate the effects of climate change can make that happen: they just need to vote in accord with that desire.

By the conclusion of my talks to congregations about climate change and religion, it is usually clear that people concur that climate change is both an environmental and religious issue – they see the biblical connections. I respond to the frequent question of what they, personally, can do, by urging them to vote to save the planet: vote to preserve the hospitable, God-created world we inherited.

According to various polls, one done by Stanford University, over 70 percent of Americans accept the science of climate change and want the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the currently dominant political party remains hostile to addressing this crucial issue and in 2018 is making it worse. This means many people vote out of habit for a candidate that they know will not act on an issue they care deeply about, and then lament the fact that the government is doing nothing about climate change.

Climate change is one of the paramount issues of our time and is already causing devastating damage: e.g., hurricane Florence, fires in California, and hurricanes that struck Houston, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico serving as harbingers of what’s to come. Climate change is increasing the intensity and duration of extreme weather events and will make life far tougher for us, our children, and grandchildren.

We will experience shortages of food and water and commensurately higher prices, affecting hardest “the least of these.” We will witness mass withdrawals from highly populated coastal areas, at costs that are uncalculatable. We will experience less predictable airline travel and more turbulent flights. And the list goes on. With the Atlantic on one side, the Pacific on the other, and the Gulf of Mexico, sea level rise, storm surges, and flooding will affect huge swaths of our country.

We say we’d do anything for our children, but will we? Will we at least vote to preserve the habitability of this planet for ourselves and our descendants, or will we vote for a party that is accelerating damage to America and the world? Yes, the stakes are that high.

My talks and book, Hospitable Planet: Faith, Action, and Climate Change, demonstrate that climate change is a biblical issue, as well as a scientific one. If your faith is important to you, then put your beliefs into action: set aside historical party loyalty and vote to save the planet (V2SP).

Please help spread this perspective of voting to help save the planet by using the acronym V2SP to facilitate its adoption by others.

North Carolina Conference United Methodist Women Book Review

Full Review:

Hospitable Planet by Stephen A. Jurovics is a work of witness about our faith and the connection to God which should lead us to save and heal our planet from environment catastrophe. While reading this book, you can’t help but recall all the environmental issues that we have faced in the past year: fires, mud slides, hurricanes, tornados.

Based on the first five books of the Bible, the book speaks to people of faith by offering us guidelines for choosing life for the earth and all its people. Jurovics compares what needs to be done to preserve our lands and people to what Dr. King did for integration. Yes, there are some facts and figures in the book, but these are overridden by the Biblical references and the truth of what is being shared.

For UMW this book is a great supplement for our Mission Study: Climate Justice. This challenging book is a bonus book and counts as two books in the Social Action category.

Full Review by: at North Carolina Conference United Methodist Women, KEDE, Spring 2018, Vol. 34, Issue 1

Lent 2018

The North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church (NCCUMC) kindly invited me in 2017 to join their Creation Care team. At a meeting that year, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward suggested that during the Lenten season we produce some teachings that clarify how creation care/climate change is a biblical issue, as well as an environmental one; that is, that the teachings reveal the theological underpinnings of climate change as a religious issue.

In response, I wrote three brief articles that are being posted to a website of the NCCUMC: generousnc.org.

The three teachings are also posted to the website of hospitableplanet.com under the Events tab: see Lent 2018. I hope you will read them over and send any comments using the Contact form on the site.

http://Hospitableplanet.com/lent

Hospitable Planet Featured by United Methodist News Service

The United Methodist News Service posted to its website a comprehensive and complimentary article about Hospitable  Planet: Faith, Action, and Climate Change.  This resulted from the United Methodist Women selecting Hospitable Planet for its 2018 reading program. You can find the article at this link:  http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/using-biblical-texts-to-guide-climate-action

I am very grateful that the book is receiving this exposure for, after more than two dozen talks at congregations, I continue to believe that members of the Christian and Jewish communities can serve as powerful forces urging action on climate change.

Reminders of biblical teachings, coupled with scientific reasons for action, bring essentially uncontestable arguments to the debate: an energy company executive, or a politician, is not going to challenge a teaching of Jesus or a verse in Deuteronomy.

Let us put our beliefs into action and call for Environmental Protection, not Environmental Destruction.

The Presbyterian Outlook Book Review

Excerpt:

Jurovics combines biblical exploration (faith) with practical application (action) around this most pressing of planetary concerns (climate change). . . .  I am convinced that this brief book can be a helpful resource for people of faith who want to combine their spirituality with concrete action, both personally and communally.

Full Review by: at The Presbyterian Outlook

The Paris Climate Agreement: Withdrawal, then Response

The president’s announcement that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement was not unexpected. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) was the centerpiece of the U.S. commitment under the Agreement and the president scuttled that months ago, leaving us unlikely to meet our goal.

The president’s oft-repeated objective to “make America great again” has rather, through his actions, diminished the U.S. in the eyes of the world to an unprecedented degree. He has aligned us with Syria and Nicaragua, two countries that did not sign the Agreement for vastly different reasons, and placed us in opposition to the other 194 countries of the world.

The responses to his announcement, both nationally and internationally, have been heartening. Individuals, local and state governments, and businesses have expressed their determination to meet our commitment under the Agreement. This effort is made more difficult given the dysfunction in the legislative branch and the ignorance and malevolence in the executive branch.

As a result, Americans will need to take to the streets even more than we did during the civil rights movement. Not with marches to express our demands, but with massive, sustained protests at those businesses and industries most responsible for carbon emissions.

For example, we can achieve the goals of the CPP by demanding that electric utility companies come into compliance with the state-by-state requirements of the CPP within the timeframe specified, preferably earlier.

We can sweeten the pot by urging public utility commissions to increase the profit margin for a decade for regulated utilities if they accelerate actions to meet their requirements under the CPP.

On the political side, we must repeatedly remind our senators and congresspersons that they will only qualify for our vote if they push for climate change mitigation. Opposition to that guarantees them no vote. While the prospect of voting for a candidate not in the party we favor may seem unappealing, we must remain mindful that the stakes could not be higher: we have a narrow window of time during which we can prevent devastating and irreversible changes to our planet. We cannot postpone action, and voting is one of the easiest ways to effect change. Perhaps this will prompt some politicians to give priority to country over party.

Consider one aspect of the natural world that you love. Now picture that aspect being ruined. All Earth changes as the climate changes. Act, if for no other reason, in your self-interest.

Let us take action as never before in response to a crisis never before experienced.

Science and Faith and Climate Change

The blog entries on this page are meant to support and reinforce what my book Hospitable Planet: Faith, Action, and Climate Change discusses and advocates. Blog and book are both written with the belief that the faith communities that embrace the Bible can strongly influence the course of the climate change debate in this country.

Arguments from the faith perspective, in tandem with those from a scientific one, are essentially uncontestable. That’s a tremendous advantage. That is, willful deniers of climate change in the energy sector, for example, are unlikely to challenge a teaching of Jesus or a verse in Deuteronomy. They can repeatedly question the science and the magnitude of human influence, but they are not likely to debate Scripture.

I hope therefore, that leaders in biblically inspired religious communities will understand that the fate of this planet may rest in their hands: offering an uncontestable argument that complements the environmental one can persuade millions of people to engage with this issue in a similarly unassailable way. The huge faith community can push companies and politicians to respond to the reality of climate change and acknowledge the imminent threats it poses to America and the world.

Clergy and congregants must rise to the occasion, driven by the biblical mandate and the environmental imperative. As the Rev. Fletcher Harper wrote:

If religion cannot provide meaningful leadership on one of the most pressing issues facing the human family, then it will lose its ability to present itself as a moral force.

We are at an inflection point in human history. The vast majority of us are well aware of the reality of climate change, have pushed for actions to mitigate it, and have expressed gratitude for the measures taken. But our actions are not happening fast enough to avoid devastating effects. We do not know whether our efforts will continue to remain unheeded and thereby allow greenhouse gas emissions to increase, or whether we will witness an acceptance and a commitment to reduce those emissions fast enough to limit our long-term temperature increase to a manageable figure. We are poised at that inflection point, fighting for sanity.

We are the last generation that can preserve this hospitable planet. We did not choose to live at this point in time, but we do. Our descendants will not forgive us if we choose expediency over action.


A note from Steve:

My profound thanks to those who have written kind comments about past blog entries – your words are much appreciated.

If you have not yet done so, please check out my book and, if you like it, let as many others as you can know of both the book and the blog. Please click on the tab labeled “The Book” to read an overview, the endorsements, and testimonials from clergy who have invited me to speak.

We must motivate huge numbers of people to push politicians, electric utility companies, car manufacturers, and others, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a rapid pace. We must meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement.

Like many others, each in their own way, I am working to alleviate this crisis. In my case, by seeking opportunities to speak at congregations, civic organizations, and other places about climate change and religion. My book does not just discuss biblical environmental teachings, but also identifies 10 measures that would reduce those emissions significantly and advocates an environmental rights movement, akin to the civil rights movement, to push for their implementation.

Please use the Contact form on the website to reach me about a possible engagement. Consider this an urgent request, for time is not on our side.