A Tisha B’Av Message: Will We Again Fail To Heed the Warnings?

Tisha B’Av, which we commemorate this year starting in the evening of August 6, reminds us that 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.

      Today there are no prophets like Jeremiah to issue warnings, but there areincreasingly dire warnings from climate scientists that now it is not just Jerusalem but the entire world that is threatened by climate change. A strong consensus is 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, that all agree 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 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.”

     And, unlike in the time of Jeremiah, the world is getting many wake-up cals 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. As I write this in late July, many areas of the world are suffering from major, sometimes record breaking heat waves.

      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. Because of the severity of the droughts, wildfires have become increasingly frequent and severe.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.”

    There are several important reasons why future climate conditions are likely to become far worse:

  • 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, I wonder how the lives of the new couples and grandchildren will be affected by our rapidly warming world, with its increasingly severe storms and rising oceans. 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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