On July 4 last year, we huddled around fires to keep warm in Seattle. As of this writing, we’ve not gotten much more than that loudly touted 78 minutes of summer — temperatures over 80 degrees, that is. Meanwhile, across the country in Washington, D.C., where politicians are wasting taxpayer money fighting over a phony ”debt crisis,” and trying to eliminate the Clean Air and Water Acts, EPA, and conservation and alternative-energy programs, they’re sweltering under record waves of heat and humidity.
Is climate change afoot, or are these weather gyrations just “isolated events” that are “part of the Earth’s natural cycles,” as climate change deniers assert? In the interest of full disclosure: These “natural cycles” have wiped out all life on earth a dozen times. Of such cycles, the Torah just mentions The Flood, as if that was the only time such an event occurred. It also notes smaller, devastating environmental events — erasing Sodom and Gemorrah, the Egyptian plagues, swallowing Korach and Co. But it doesn’t offer much guidance on how we can address man-made environmental dangers, or climate changes — other than to tough them out, or migrate (i.e., the story of Joseph). We have become renowned for that latter skill over the ages as Wandering Jews.
But most of the world’s habitable places are already settled, so migrating to new, more promising lands is no longer a viable option. Everyone is in the same ark. So in addition to the consequences of natural cycles, climate change deniers might add a little more previously unmentioned information to their claims, to wit:
• Human output of greenhouse gases is demonstrably overloading earth’s carbon cycle, helping glaciers disappear from South Pole to North Pole, and Himalayas to Andes to Kilimanjaro, eliminating runoff water for drinking and irrigation worldwide;
• Changing ocean currents and weather patterns are affecting growing seasons, patterns of rainfall, drought and migrations, and disease vectors; rising ocean acidity levels are adversely affecting sea life, and pose threats of hydrogen sulfide blooms;
• Uncontrolled human population growth and poor resource management are running the world out of seafood, game birds and animals, and depleting fresh water and arable land for growing food.
To hedge their bets, a large group of Congressional climate change-denying politicians is working to cut federal funding for the agencies and programs that measure, report and take action on climate change. It’s simple logic: You can’t prove or disprove a claim if there’s no evidence. It’s also ironic: Science works if it agrees with one’s ideology (“natural cycles”), but not if it doesn’t (“climate change”).
We humans have survived climate changes before. We seem to have first appeared, as homo ergaster, about 2.3 million years ago, during a hiatus in our current ice age, the Pliocene-Quaternary glaciation, which started about 2.58 million years ago. Since then, world ice sheets have advanced and retreated on roughly 40,000- and 100,000-year time cycles. But — another full disclosure note to climate change deniers — there were 7,500 percent fewer people, more food per capita, and no global, human-made environmental threats back then. The explosions of our population, food supplies, inventions, and global pollution threats have all occurred in just the past 10,000 years, during the environmentally benign period since the last glacial retreat.
Today, we’re learning to survive in “new normal” Earth climates, with new patterns of heat and cold, rainfall and drought, etc. And we Jews, who are arguably history’s people of the greatest impact, now have a golden opportunity to become the world’s people of greatest sustainable impact. As the Manhattan-based Beavan family discovered in their documentary, No Impact Man, the simple act of living creates impacts on the earth. In fact, humans and their planet are resilient and designed for this; appropriate, sustainable impacts create mutual, positive effects. On the other hand, neither we, nor our planet is resilient against traumatic and catastrophic injury, carcinogenic and mutagenic poisoning, acidic waters and soils, and low-oxygen atmospheres. With the exception of natural disasters, everything on the list above is caused by humans — wars, pollution, oil rig and nuclear plant “accidents.” And they’re all avoidable.
It’s irrelevant whether or not climate change is afoot. If climate change deniers assert that humans will survive in most natural conditions, I can agree. History shows we’re an utterly adaptable, innovative species. And of all peoples on earth, we Jews have been among the best of survivors, because we’ve been so good at making things up as we go along. To give ourselves the fighting chance we need, however, we must create the healthiest possible circumstances for ourselves. And that means eliminating the pollutants, dangerous processes and man-made catastrophes that make us less resilient and able to face what the future will bring.