Joel Hoffman
Rabbi, Teacher, Columnist

Trump and Climate Change

This week President-elect Donald Trump made headlines for his statement that no one knows if climate change is real. There is a huge difference between naturally occurring climate change and man-made climate change, as well as catastrophic man-made climate change, but the media often deceptively blurs these distinctions.

The purpose of this blog is not to analyze Trump’s various statements in recent years on climate change and to figure out what he really means, rather, I will directly address the issue of climate change. In doing so, I will briefly relay my background as a naturalist and environmental advocate which I feel is an important disclaimer, what lead me to think differently, some problems with the climate data, the actual trends of climate change, the carbon dioxide-climate change relationship, and I’ll conclude with my thoughts on what this all means within a Jewish perspective.

My Background as a Naturalist and Environmental Advocate

Growing up I spent numerous hours in nature as Boy Scout, and in high school I my science fair project addressed plant growth.  (I came in first place!)  Years later, as a newly minted rabbi working at a Jewish educational organization, to share my love for nature and to teach others the positive confluence between Judaism and nature, I lead hike-&-learns and lead several Tu B’shevat Seders every year. Additionally, when it came to global warming, I accepted that the content of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” was as true as the Torah. Therefore, I saw it as a religious imperative to do my part to help save the environment.  I wrote a 3-lesson unit on Conservation in Judaism for Hebrew schools, I wrote an op-ed entitled “Why the Environment is a Jewish Issue” that was printed in a Jewish newspapers nationwide, and I was involved in my synagogue’s campaign to get members to replace their incandescent light bulbs with CFL bulbs. In recent years I’ve been teaching a multi-session unit on Eco-Judaism to my Hebrew school class, and I dabble in solar panel sales to supplement my income. In sum, I had drank the “Kool-Aid.”

What Lead Me to Think Differently?            

After 10 years of working full-time in the field of Jewish education and then six years of working as a special education teacher, this past fall I accepted a new position as a middle school science teacher. As part of this new position I began working on creating a quarter-length elective course on Environmental Science that I would teach in the third and fourth quarters. The course had to be inquiry-based and include higher order skills such as analyzing data, identifying supporting data, and relating cause and effect.  In other words, the same rigor in studying the Talmud had to be used in studying the environment. But in developing this course, as I exposed the facts of climate change to such an analysis, I found that the facts did not hold up. What I discovered was that many climate scientists manipulated their data to support the thesis of man-made catastrophic climate change. I also discovered that what the environmental advocates and the media kept telling us were facts, were in most cases the exact opposite of what the vast majority of the climate scientists have discovered.

Some Problems with the Climate Data

Dr. Michael Mann is the scientist who supplied Al Gore with his data which produced the famous hockey stick graph.  However, he would not share his raw data, and it took other scientists a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain his raw data.  An objective analysis of Dr. Mann’s research and conclusions showed manipulation. For example, the data he used to make the said graph was inconsistent in using tree ring data for the first 900 years and then for the final100 years he switched to using data from climate stations near warm population centers.  Also in making the said graph Dr. Mann purposely left out the data of the Medieval Warming Period in the 11th century and the Mini Ice Age in the 15th and 16th century.  Thus, the hockey stick graph which has turned many of us into believers was a lie. But this is not the first time climate scientists have manipulated data as we learned from the latest Wiki-leaks release.

But what about the statistic that 99% of the climate scientists who say they believe in climate change? That study was based on just 75 scientists and the question was on the existence of climate change. The survey was not about man-made climate change. Remember, there is a huge difference between climate change and man-made climate change, as well as catastrophic man-made climate change. The climate does naturally change over time, even Trump would agree with this, but what you do not hear is that 31,000 climate scientists have signed a petition stating that they do not believe in “Catastrophic Man-Made Climate Change.”

Unfortunately, there is not enough space to address the faults of the U.N.’s International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), but one can access several articles on this topic.

The Actual Trends of Climate Change  

Environmental activists cite the melting of Arctic ice as a key piece of evidence to support catastrophic climate change. However, what they fail to admit is that the ice is melting at a much slower rate than predicted.  Environmental activists also fail to mention that Antarctic sea ice, which was also predicted to decrease, is actually increasing! Additionally, closer to home in the USA, Lake Superior, which has always been used as a climate data piece, reveals that the number of days per year the lake is frozen is also increasing.

Models 10-plus years ago had predicted that sea levels would increase at an accelerated rate and the Florida Keys would be under water by now, however, the Florida Keys are still dry because the sea levels never rose at the Doom’s Day rate.  In fact, the rate of increase for sea levels lessens every year. There is also new thinking, based on actual data, that global warming actually causes sea levels to decrease because of evaporation.

Specific droughts, hurricanes, and typhoons have also been cited as evidence for climate change getting worse, however, the actual data shows that the total amount of these events are all decreasing!  It is just some of these events over the past decade have been more intense for an area than typical. Never the less, when looking at a human impact statistic, the world’s death rates from nature disasters have decreased by 97% over the past 100 years.

The Carbon Dioxide-Global Warming Relationship

Since the mid-1800s the average global temperature has risen 1.0 degree Celsius.  When one splices this data s/he sees something very interesting.  Most of this rise in temperature (0.6) occurred prior to 1940 when just 20% of the man-made CO2 entered the atmosphere. Then after 1940 when we began entering into an Economic Boom with the mass production of cars and appliances in factories that spewed record amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, during these thirty years the average global temperature decreased!  In fact, if one goes back and reads the newspapers at the time there was a global cooling scare.  Then in 1970 with the beginning of a minor recession and manufacturing decreasing, global temperatures began to rise again.

Related to this, if greenhouse gasses are causing global warming then most of the 1.0 degree of warming should occur in the upper atmosphere, but the exact opposite is true. Most of the warming has occurred on the earth and its immediate atmosphere, not in the upper atmosphere where the greenhouse gases collect.

I knew that carbon dioxide made up a very, very small part of the atmosphere, but it surprised me when I looked up the number and learned it is only 0.04 percent. That is 1/25th of one percent. Therefore, carbon dioxide must be a “super strength” catalyst.  It is, but its actual greenhouse effect because of its small volume pales in comparison to the net greenhouse effect of water vapor because of the sheer amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Mathematically speaking, a whopping 50% increase in CO2 to 600 parts per million would have the same effect a 1.5% increase in water vapor.

Perhaps the most important fact to point out is that only seven percent of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been caused by humans.  That is seven percent of the 0.04 percent.  For example, the geothermal activity at Yellowstone National Park emits 10 times more CO2 than a mid-size coal-fired power plant.

Additionally, the data from ice core analysis demonstrates that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a lagging effect from global warming, not the cause. This is easily seen by the fact that when a natural new global warming period begins carbon dioxide levels are still falling, and conversely, when a new global cooling period begins carbon dioxide levels are rising.

So what is causing the climate change? It appears to be a combination of water vapor and the sun as there is data that shows a strong correlation between the number of sun spots and the temperature on earth. In fact, many scientists are trying to move away from studying the effect of CO2 on climate to focus on the sun’s influence not just on climate, but on weather.  Unfortunately, much of the grant money for studying climate change is for the studying of CO2.

What Does This Now Mean?

Since man-made CO2 is not causing there to be catastrophic climate change, nor is the climate naturally heading in this direction, it would be better for the powers-that-be to direct the focus (I.e., funding) on reducing pollution than on reducing CO2 emissions (though there is much overlap between the two).

On an individual level, recognizing the truth about climate change does not warrant a change in my behavior. I continue to “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.”  After all, Jewish text are full of laws pertaining to waste disposal and pollution.  A famous philosophical text on the matter is a midrash that states God told Adam the following and it still applies to us today vis-a-vis pollution: “See My works, how fine and excellent they are! All that I created, I created for you. Reflect on this, and do not corrupt or desolate My world; for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)

About the Author
Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman is a special education teacher for his "day job," and in his free-time he teaches and writes about Judaism.
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