Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

It is almost too late to save our planet

All of my friends are becoming grandparents.

I am thinking about the world that our grandchildren will inherit.

If scientists are correct, and if we read the work of no less than 91 scientists from 40 countries, the International Panel on Climate Change, who have analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies — in a report that came out earlier this week — this is what my generation’s grandchildren can expect.

By 2020 – which is to say, as those grandchildren are entering their senior year of college — if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will be as much as 2.7 degrees hotter than it is now. Already, the last three years have been the warmest in history.

The prognosis for this planet sounds like the prognostications of the prophets.

  • This planet will become hotter.
  • That will lead to drought.
  • That will lead to increased wildfires.
  • And, increased famine.
  • And increased poverty.

If the atmosphere warms up 2.7 degrees, consider what will happen to the coasts of this country, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam. The coasts will flood. This affects 50 million people.

If the atmosphere warms up 3.6 degrees?

Tropical countries will be uninhabitable. People will swarm out of those countries. National borders will become irrelevant. Chaos will ensue.

If scientists are correct — between 2030 and 2050, 250, 000 people will die – every year — from malnutrition, malaria, and  various heat-related maladies. Developing countries and poorer areas will be unable to cope.

As the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton put it:

By merely continuing with our present practices and routines, we human beings will increasingly harm our own habitat, the portion of nature we require to survive, and ultimately destroy our own civilization.

It is “ecocide” — large-scale destruction of the environment.

Like we didn’t know?

Several weeks ago, an entire issue of the Sunday New York Times Magazine made it very clear: we have known about this for decades – but we have refused to heed the warnings, kicking the proverbial climate can down the alleyway.

Every single hurricane, every single super storm, should have taught us, and should have reminded us. This week, Michael. Or, the massive fires in California.

Or, Katrina, Irene, Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Florence. Warmer seas means more energy to intensify those storms. Which means more storm surges. Which means more wind damage. Which means more coastal flooding.

Those who care about this issue are facing one of the most bizarre and most troublesome trends in America today – the denial of science.

Rush Limbaugh said of climate change: “one of the most preposterous hoaxes in the history of the planet.”

He has a home in Palm Beach.

The current occupant of the White House has said that climate change is a hoax — “created by and for the Chinese.” He has vowed to increase the burning of coal and said he intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

He also has a home in Palm Beach.

There is a massive sea wall on A1A in Palm Beach. That wall keeps the beach from out of the sight lines of casual motorists – so that the occupants of the beachfront mansions can swim in exquisite isolation.

If the scientists are right, that sea wall will not protect them.

Consider this poem: Hold your breath: a song of climate change

The water’s rising

but we’re not drowning yet.

When we’re drowning

we’ll do something.

When we’re on our roofs.

When we’re deciding between saving

the cute baby or the smart baby.

When there aren’t enough helicopters

or news crews to circle

over everyone. When sharks

are in the streets. When people

are dying. When people

with wine cellars

are dying. We’ll build dams

and dikes, put stilts

on our V-8s and golf courses,

cut down anyone

who cuts down a tree…

we’ll grow wings, we’ll go

to the moon. Soon.

Why have we failed to act?

First, political reasons. It has become a partisan political issue – when nothing should be unifying this country and this world more than this.

Second, economic reasons. The deniers have a vested interest in not liking the solutions to the problem. Those solutions would entail massive changes in industry, business, and laissez faire capitalism.

We are talking about the single largest and most sweeping revolution in human behavior that our civilization has ever confronted.

And third, human reasons. When we confront something as massive and as existential as what we are confronting in our world today – what is the natural human response?

We become numb.

Everyone knows the story of Noah.

God sees the wickedness of humanity; God decides to wipe out the world with a flood, and start over; God instructs Noah on how to build an ark, with its precise dimensions; Noah brings two of every animal – or two of every kosher animal – onto the ark; forty days of rain; Noah sends out the dove to see if there is dry land; the dove returns with an olive branch in its mouth.

Then, God made a covenant with the survivors – that God would never again destroy every living creature – and that the natural cycle would endure.

But, there is a sequel to the story that never quite makes it into the Children’s Bible.

Right after he emerges from the ark, Noah plants the first vineyard in history. He drank the wine. He became drunk.

I submit to you that Noah got drunk because he was depressed. He knew that he had failed to adequately respond to the global catastrophe that loomed before him.

A third century sage, Rabbi Yohanan, taught: “If not for the water reaching his ankles, he would not have entered the ark.” (Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah 32:6)

By then, it was too late.

It is still not too late for us. If you are interested in how your synagogue can become activists in climate change and global warming — check out what Temple Solel in Hollywood, Florida is doing.

 

 

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.