My activities in Israel to increase awareness about climate threats and veg diets

Below is the April 24 Jerusalem Post ‘In Jerusalem’ article about my vegetarian/vegan activities in Israel followed by my Times of Israel blog with links to YouTube videos of my talks, interviews, and other veg activities there.   Kol tuv,   Richard   ====   Apocalypse Cow Jerusalem Post article [In Jerusalem section] April 24, 2015 By Gavriel Fiske [Corrections in brackets [ ]] Reducing meat consumption could help avert a global disaster, according to Jewish vegetarian activist Richard Schwartz  Octogenarian vegetarianism activist Richard Schwartz, an Orthodox Jew from Staten Island, New York, has for decades explored the connection between Judaism and vegetarian/vegan diets. He used his position as president of the Jewish Vegetarian Society of North America to promote the idea that, contrary to what one might experience at the table of a typical Jewish household on Shabbat or holidays, Jewish values and religious law can actually condone a meat-free diet. Now 81 and retired from his day job as a mathematics professor at the College of Staten Island and running the day-to-day operations of the Jewish Vegetarian Society, Schwartz, on a recent visit to Israel, told In Jerusalem that his focus has now turned to educating on how vegetarianism can help avert what he warned could be an impending environmental catastrophe caused by human-driven climate change. “Climate experts are predicting that everything has become hotter and drier,” Schwartz pointed out, and said that record heat waves and droughts, along with crazy weather all over the world, have become a new kind of normal. These weather changes are caused by accumulated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; but what most people don’t realize, Schwartz said, is that “animal-based agriculture creates more greenhouse gases than is emitted by all the cars and airplanes and all other means of transportation worldwide combined.” [according to the 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow.”] “Greenhouse gases” is a catchall term for any gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect. According to reports cited by Schwartz, who recited from memory a dizzying number of studies and statistics to make his case, the gas produced by animal production – methane – stays in the atmosphere for only about 20 years. This means that if meat consumption could be reduced, the main greenhouse gas affecting global warming could also be reduced relatively quickly. Raising animals for food is also inefficient, he stressed, noting that “at a time when water is a precious commodity, it takes 14 times as much water to raise an animal than to raise [the equivalent amount of] plant food.” [Methane is not the main greenhouse gas (CO2 is), but it is significant because, during the 20 years it is in the atmosphere, it is 72-105 (depending on the number’s source) as potent per molecule as CO2.] [Also, the correct statement above is that the amount of water per person on an animal-based diet is as much as 14 times as much as for a person on a vegan diet.] Judaism, he maintained, has very strong teachings in regard to showing compassion for and proper treatment of animals, which he has cited and documented extensively during his career. Although it is “utopian” to think that every Jewish person will become a vegetarian, if people could cut back on eating meat for a few days every week, it could have a great effect. “I am basically arguing that Jews have a choice, and that choice should be made in light of Jewish values towards animal compassion,” he said. [I mentioned not only animal compassion, but also other Jewish teachings that should be considered in making dietary choices: preserving human health, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, helping hungry people, and pursuing peace.] Although his focus is on Jews and vegetarianism, Schwartz has also been involved in interfaith efforts to highlight the religious roots of vegetarianism. Schwartz, an ardent Zionist, stressed that if one feels that climate change is an issue, one has to do something about it. “I just feel that there is an existential threat to Israel and to the whole world that is being overlooked, and diet changes can make a big difference,” he said. He also noted that “military experts think this could be a catalyst for violence, terror… a multiplier effect with refugees fleeing from climate change.” Of course, not everyone agrees with such dire predictions, and the debate on climate change, especially in the United States, is a fraught, politicized issue. However, Schwartz dismisses outright those who doubt the potential for environmental disaster, and notes that “97 percent of climate scientists and 99.9% of peer-reviewed papers on issue in respected scientific journals argue that climate change is real, is largely caused by human activities and poses great threats to humanity.” During his visit in Israel, Schwartz gave several lectures, and he filmed and uploaded to YouTube interviews with a number of experts, academics, politicians, activists and rabbis, including the director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. “Pretty much everyone agrees that climate change is an existential threat,” Schwartz said. Israel, although it has a very high per-capita meat consumption, is also “a leader in terms of veganism and laws about animal compassion,” he noted, and called the country the “greatest place for activism.” Schwartz also praised the recent changes in the Knesset building, which have made it one of the “greenest” parliament buildings in the world. He also noted that Israel has banned the production and import of foie gras, a delicacy of engorged goose liver produced by force feeding the geese. In fact, Schwartz, who has two daughters and their families living in Israel, is now, along with his wife, “very seriously considering making aliya” and relocating to the Holy Land. “I am hoping to stay active, and there is no better place than in Israel and Jerusalem,” he said. But it might not be so easy. Besides the challenge of moving “after 55 years [actually 47] on Staten Island,” when he recently visited a senior citizens’ center in Israel to see if it would be suitable, the “incredulous workers” showed him a lunch menu that offered only chicken or hamburgers, which he described as “madness and sheer insanity.• ======== Material below about my veg events in Israel, including a link to my Times of Israel blog giving links to You Tube videos of my talks, interviews, and other activities in Israel As indicated in my Times of Israel blog (link below), I just returned from Israel where I made extensive efforts to increase awareness that climate change is an existential threat to Israel, the US, and indeed the entire world, and that a shift away from the production and consumption of meat is essential to efforts to avert a climate catastrophe. I gave 8 talks (5 of which are on YouTube), was interviewed 4 times, twice on radio programs, and I filmed interviews with many leading Israelis, all of which are now on YouTube. The key Israelis who I interviewed include the director of the Green Knesset program, the founder and director of EcoPeace/Middle East, the founder and director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, the former chief rabbi of Ireland, the director and students, faculty, and staff of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, an institute that has Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and international students, some leading Israeli rabbis, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, the coordinator of the Jewish Vegetarian Society in Jerusalem, and two leading animal rights activists. Here is the link to the blog with links to my talks, interviews, and other activities in Israel: Please let me know if you would like any further information about this. Thanks, and best wishes,   Richard (Schwartz)

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