A Tisha B’Av Message: How Do the Warnings Today Differ From Those of Jeremiah?

Over 2,600 years ago, Jews failed to heed the warnings of the prophet Jeremiah about the importance of changing their ways, with the result that the first Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, one of many tragedies that occurred on that day, including the destruction of the second Temple as well.

     There are comparisons between the warnings and threats in Jeremiah’s lifetime and those today that can provide insights that can be valuable in responding to current threats.

1. There are no prophets today like Jeremiah warning of the potential dangers. Instead, we are getting increasingly dire warnings from climate scientists. A strong consensus, represented by 97 percent of climate experts, all the world’s science academies that have addressed the issue, and almost every one of thousands of peer-reviews articles on the issue in respected science journals agree that climate change is real, is largely caused by human activities, and poses great threats to humanity. All the almost 200 nations at both the December 2015 Paris and the November 2021 Glasgow climate change conferences agreed, based on recommendations by their climate experts, that immediate steps must be taken to combat climate change.  Recent warnings have been so dire that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called the situation a “Code Red for Humanity, and said that “delay means death.”

2. Unlike in the time of Jeremiah, the world is getting many wake-up calls today that reinforce the warnings. 

      Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade and all of the 23 hottest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. The previous eight years are the hottest eight years in recorded history, with temperature records broken or tied in 2014,  2015, 2016, and 2020.

      Polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, faster than scientific projections. This has caused an increase elevation in oceans worldwide with the potential for major flooding. Permafrost is also starting to melt, releasing several greenhouse gases, increasing future climate threats.

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

3. While Jeremiah warned about threats to the Temple in Jerusalem, today it is the entire world that is threatened. In the summer of 2022, there were simultaneous or almost simultaneous severe, sometimes record breaking heat waves in Israel and in many parts of the US, Europe, and Asia. At the same time, largely because of the high temperatures and very dry conditions, there were major, sometimes record breaking wildfires in many parts of the US, several European countries, China, and Australia. Many areas of the world also experienced major flooding during this period.

4. The Jewish community recovered after the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. After the first Temple was destroyed, Jews moved to Babylonia where the Babylonia Talmud was created and then many returned to Israel. After the second Temple was destroyed, Jews were dispersed to many other countries, but Judaism continued because the rabbis stressed that prayer, study, and good deeds could replace the Temple sacrifices.

    By contrast,  climate threats could result in human extinction and the extinction of all life on Earth. An outrageous exaggeration? Unfortunately, no. Please consider.

  • Due to self-reinforcing positive feedback loops (vicious cycles), many climates experts believe that we are close to an irreversible tipping point when climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur. 
  • While many climate scientists think that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, it just reached 420 ppm in May, and the amount is increasing by 2 – 3 ppm per year.
  • While all the severe climate events mentioned above are due to a temperature increase of about 1.2 degrees Celsius ( slightly above two degrees Fahrenheit), the world is now on track for an average increase of three or more degrees Celsius, which would result in even greater human suffering and significant threats to human civilization.
  • The Pentagon and other military groups think 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. 

     Given the above considerations, it is essential that we don’t repeat the mistake made by our ancestors who failed to heed Jeremiah’s warnings, but that we make averting a climate catastrophe a central focus of civilization today, in order to leave a healthy, habitable, environmentally sustainable world world for future generations. 

     However, while climate change is an existential threat to Israel, the United States, and, indeed, the entire world, there has not been sufficient attention to it by most people. Unfortunately, “denial is not just a river in Egypt,” and most people today are, in effect, “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, as we head toward a giant iceberg.”

     When I hear of friends’ children or grandchildren getting married or having grandchildren or grandchildren, I wonder how the lives of the new couples and grandchildren will be affected by our rapidly warming world, with its rising oceans and increasingly severe storms. This is especially relevant to me as since I made Aliyah in 2016, my wife and I have been blessed with four grandchildren getting married and the births of five great grandchildren.

     To reduce climate threats, every aspect of life should be considered. We should shift to renewable forms of energy, improve our transportation systems, produce more efficient cars and other means of transportation, and do everything else possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

     As president emeritus of Jewish Veg and author, most recently,  of Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism,  I want to stress that the most important  component of efforts to avert a climate catastrophe is a major shift to plant-based, animal-free diets. This would not only sharply reduce emissions from cows of methane, a greenhouse gas about 80 times as potent as CO2 per unit weight in heating the atmosphere. Most importantly, it would also enable the reforestation of the vast areas now used for grazing and growing feed crops for animals, resulting in the sequestering of much atmospheric CO2, reducing it to a safer level.

      A utopian dream? Not if people recognize that the climate situation is a “Code red for humanity” and that there are now many plant-based substitutes with the appearance, texture, and taste so close to the animal products that even long time meat-eaters can’t tell the difference.    

     It is essential that this time we listen to the warnings and succeed in reducing climate threats. There is no Planet B or effective Plan B.

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