Moving Beyond the Global Warming Debate

Perhaps this is heretical talk for an environmental blog, but I have always been skeptical of Global Warming alarmists. From the start, I have felt this issue was a distraction from the more pressing environmental issues of our time. What does it matter if sea levels are going to rise decades from now, I thought, if there is already no healthy food to eat, no clean water to drink, few rainforests left in which to preserve rare & endangered species, and the air and land have all been poisoned with toxins and radiation. In other words, I have always felt that Global Warming diverted people’s attention from more immediate and pressing environmental causes. Second, I have serious reservations about the term “Global Warming” to begin with. I believe this phrase is both misleading and innacurate. The term “Global Warming” posits that the globe is getting warmer, when in fact the global temperature over the past 13 years has been in a cooling trend. Third, global warming believers also posit that it is man-made actions that have led to global temperature change, when in fact there are many diverse factors that play into global temperatures, including very powerful natural forces such as sun-spots, ocean currents, etc. Thus, the term “Man Made Global Warming” posits a simplistic view of weather patterns (ignoring natural causes of weather) as well as factually innacurate descriptions (“warming” when in fact we are in a period of cooling). There is also the scientific critique of global warming advocates which should be examined. Most weathermen have a hard time predicting the weather next week, let alone years or decades down the road. Global Warming advocates have played all sorts of statistical tricks, such as the “Hockey Stick” effect, to get the data to conform to their pre-determined conclusions. Global Warming advocates have also manipulated historical temperature data to hide evidence contrary to their position, such as downplaying past Ice Ages and the Medieval Warm Period, which indicate that temperatures have greatly fluctuated on Earth way before the burning of fossil fuels by humans.

Let me be clear. I love the Earth and want to protect it. I do not support wasteful consumption habits and I oppose all types of environmental pollution, including that which results in wasteful emmissions into the atmosphere. That being said, true environmentalists need to revise and refine their message so that it can appeal to a broader base of support. Rather than focussing on “Man-Made Global Warming,” environmentalists would have a much broader appeal if they were to keep their focus on “wasteful consumption of resources”. For instance, rather than telling an SUV driver that they should give up their vehicle because it will cause flooding on some remote Pacific Island 20 years from now, we would do better to emphasize that car emissions are responsible for a rise in asthma rates in the city in which they live. Once people realize that their SUV’s not only cost a lot to fill up, but also are giving their friends, neighbors, and their children asthma, they will be more likely to modify their actions.

I believe we need to explore our Jewish worldview in order to gain a clearer understanding of this debate. Judaism views G-d as the ultimate controller of all things. Our liturgy is filled with reminders that when we act righteously, G-d rewards our actions with rain, good harvests, and environmental bounty. When we act in ways that violate our covenant with G-d, we are punished with harsh weather conditions, lack of food, and environmental scarcity. The second paragraph of the Shema prayer, taken from Deut 11: 13-21, makes this abundantly clear. Ultimately, G-d is in charge of the environment, but our actions play a role as well. The Jewish view of climate change, then, is really quite simple – “Act well and the environment will be well, act badly and the environment will act badly.” For all the debate on climate change going on in our society today (often with political pursuasion playing a role in that debate), we are loosing touch with this basic truth – that our actions DO have an effect on the environment around us. However, this effect is difficult to measure, and may not work in the mechanistic manners in which we previously thought. Whether the earth is warming or cooling, and whether this is an effect of human actions or divine “natural occurrences” is really a distraction from the most basic issue. As things stand today, we are not acting righteously, and therefore we are being punished (i.e. taught) that we must reform our actions in order to prevent environmental and human catastrophe.

I believe the Jewish concept of Ba’al Tashchit (Do Not Waste) can provide the framework by which we can raise humanity out of its destructive practices. While originally only pertaining to not cutting down fruit trees during the siege of a city, Ba’al Tashchit was expanded by the rabbis to include all forms of waste, down to the prohibition against wasting food, tearing garments, and clogging wells. As Jewish environmentalists, we must promote the concepts of Ba’al Tashchit and “ethical behavior” as the precepts for healing the earth. A continued focus on man-made global warming will only confuse the debate and polarize people based on ideological, political and scientific disagreements. However, when the debate is re-framed into a debate on “Waste” vs “No Waste” and “Righteous Action” vs. “Immoral Action”, it is easy to see how people will become unified where previously there was dis-unity. Only through unified action in accordance with Divine Will will we be able to solve the many problems facing humanity and the world.

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