Plant-Based Torah: Parashat Tisha B’Av – Will We Again Fail to Heed the Warnings?

August 8th, 2019

RICHARD H. SCHWARTZ, PHD

Tisha b’Av (the 9th day of the month of Av) which we commemorate this year on August 10 -11, reminds us that over 2,500 years ago Jews failed to heed the warnings of the prophet Jeremiah, with the result that the first Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the first of many negative things that occurred on that day, including the destruction of the second Temple.

Today, we do not have a Jeremiah or any other prophet warning us, but we do have an overwhelming consensus of climate scientists issuing increasingly dire  warnings that it is not just a holy temple, but the entire world that is in danger of destruction. Will we, like the ancient Jews, also fail to heed the warnings with far worse consequences?

The issues are extremely important and the threats are unprecedented, so let us consider why we should be very concerned and should take immediate actions to reduce climate threats. 

Israel and the world are on a path that will lead to a climate catastrophe and possibly an uninhabitable world by the end of the century unless major changes soon occur. And it might happen much sooner because of self-reinforcing positive feedback loops (vicious cycles) that could result in an irreversible tipping point causing climate change to spin out of control.

An outrageous exaggeration, like those in the past that predicted an end to the world? 

Not according to science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists, and virtually all peer-reviewed papers on the issue in respected scientific journals, that argue that climate change is largely caused by human activities and poses great threats to humanity. 

All the leaders of the 195 nations at the December 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, including Israel and the U.S., agreed that immediate steps must be taken to avert a climate catastrophe and most of the nations pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. While this is an important step forward, climate experts believe that even if, and it is a very big if, all the pledges are kept, it would not be enough to prevent future severe climate disruptions.

An October 2018 report by the respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organisation composed of leading climate experts from many countries, warned that the world may have only until 2030 to make ‘unprecedented changes’ in order to avert a climate catastrophe.
 
Another major negative factor is that the Pentagon and other military groups believe that climate change will increase the potential for instability, terrorism and war by reducing access to food and clean water and by causing tens of millions of desperate refuges to flee from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms, and other effects of climate change.

The world is already seeing the many negative effects of climate change. Contrary to the views of many climate-change deniers, the world’s temperature has significantly increased in recent years. Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade and all the 18 years in the 21st century are among the 19 warmest years since temperature records started being kept in 1880, the only other year in the top being 1998. 2016 was the warmest year globally, breaking the record held previously by 2015 and before that by 2014, the first time that there have been three consecutive years of record world temperatures.
 
Just as a person with a high fever suffers from many effects, there have been many negative effects of the increased global temperature. Polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, even faster than scientific projections. This has caused an increase in ocean levels worldwide with the potential for major flooding. Glaciers are “reservoirs in the sky,” providing important water for irrigating crops every spring, so their retreat will be a major threat to future food supplies for an increasing world population.

There has also been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms and floods. California has been subjected to so many severe climate events recently that its governor, Jerry Brown, stated that “humanity is on a collision course with nature.”

Another alarming factor is that, while climate experts believe that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, the world has now reached 415 ppm, the highest value in human history, and the CO2 level is continuing to increase..

Reducing climate change is an especially important issue for Israel, as a rising Mediterranean Sea could inundate the coastal plane where much of Israel’s population and infrastructure are located, and an increasingly hot and dry Middle East makes terrorism and war in the region more likely. Despite this, climate change was not an issue at all in the recent Israeli election. 

Given the above, averting a climate catastrophe should be a central focus of civilization today, in order to leave a liveable world for future generations. Every aspect of life should be considered. The world has to shift to renewable forms of energy, improve our transportation systems, produce more efficient cars and other means of transportation, produce far less meat and other animal-based foods, reduce population growth, and do everything else possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

Hopefully, the solemn holiday of Tisha B’Av will remind us that failure to consider warnings can have very dire consequences and inspire us to play our mission to be a ‘light unto the nations’ by leading efforts to help avert a climate catastrophe and shift our imperilled planet onto a sustainable path.

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