The American Jewish World occasionally publishes articles about the environmental crisis and what is being done to repair our battered planet. Recent visitors from Israel — from the Arava Institute and the Center for Creative Ecology, both located in the Arava Desert — have filled us in on innovative programs in alternative sources of energy and sustainable technology.
Israeli scientists have been doing remarkable work over the years to conserve precious water resources and, more recently, to create the infrastructure for a system of rechargeable electric cars. As it happened, Moses and the Children of Israel wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, and finally arrived in the Promised Land — the one piece of Middle East real estate that doesn’t have a vast pool of oil under it. However, necessity is the mother of invention, to paraphrase Plato; and the Jews in the modern State of Israel have labored mightily and cleverly to create a first-world society within the strictures imposed by geography and limited natural resources.
In the United States, by contrast, we have energy to burn, literally. The problem is that by burning coal, natural gas and petroleum, we are endangering our survival on earth. Simply, the greenhouse gases that are emitted by our cars, factories, power plants and livestock production have created a blanket in the upper atmosphere that traps the earth’s outgoing infrared radiation, leading to the phenomenon called global warming.
Despite the protestations of Sarah Palin and some others, the scientific consensus is that global warming, or climate change, is occurring and that human activities are a major contributor to the phenomenon. This conclusion is based on voluminous evidence — the citing of sources and reports could fill the remaining columns on the top of this page.
For example, a paper from the American Meteorological Society, which was adopted by the group’s council on Feb. 1, 2007, stated that “there is adequate evidence from observations and interpretations of climate simulations to conclude that the atmosphere, ocean and land surface are warming, that humans have significantly contributed to this change, and that further climate change will continue to have important impacts on human societies, on economies, on ecosystems and on wildlife through the 21st century and beyond. Focusing on the next 30 years, convergence among emission scenarios and model results suggest strongly that increasing air temperatures will reduce snowpack, shift snowmelt timing, reduce crop production and rangeland fertility, and cause continued melting of the ice caps and sea level rise.”
A brochure published by The National Academies, a consortium of scientific institutes in the United States, noted that there “will be winners and losers from the impacts of climate change, even within a single region, but globally the losses are expected to far outweigh the benefits. The larger and faster the changes in climate, the more difficult it will be for human and natural systems to adapt without adverse effects.”
The report goes on to specify that regions that will be “most severely affected are often the regions that are the least able to adapt. Bangladesh, one of the poorest nations in the world, is projected to lose 17.5 percent of its land if sea level rises about 40 inches (1 meter), displacing millions of people. Several islands throughout the South Pacific and Indian oceans will be at similar risk of increased flooding and vulnerability to storm surges.”
The concerns of these nations were expressed at COP 15, the recent United Nations-sponsored climate change conference in Copenhagen. The two-week conference, which by many accounts was poorly organized and chaotic at times, ended without a binding agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The stakes were high in Copenhagen, in terms of the looming cataclysm from the effects of climate change; but many observers felt that a crucial opportunity to take decisive action was missed. Others tried to put the best face on the outcome.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released a statement on Monday, which noted that the “Copenhagen Accord only begins to approach what is needed.”
After noting that our Jewish tradition calls us “to care for our planet and all its inhabitants, especially the most vulnerable,” Saperstein said, “While we are encouraged by the commitments of the United States and our allies to finance developing nations’ efforts to adapt to climate change, we are disappointed by the inability of so many nations to agree to serious emissions reductions targets. We in the developed world must lead by example by drastically reducing our own emissions, and we hope our own elected officials will embrace this challenge and make our nation stronger in the process…. We now call on our elected officials to take on the climate challenge by passing bold and equitable domestic climate and energy legislation as soon as possible in the New Year.”
Prudent international action on climate change in Copenhagen — like domestic efforts to reform health insurance coverage or rein in the Wall Street banking system that wrecked the global economy — was subverted by political machinations.
Government leaders and lawmakers are taking their direction from moneyed special interests, to the detriment of most people on the planet. In the difficult months ahead, we need to see through the spin and smokescreens, and pressure our elected officials to act on behalf of their constituents who are enduring difficult times.
In the case of action on climate change, if we are interested in Jewish continuity, and human continuity, we should educate ourselves about the situation, take appropriate actions in our own lives, and agitate for policy changes that possibly can avert catastrophe.
— Mordecai Specktor /Â editor [at] ajwnews.com
(American Jewish World, 12.25.09)