Richard H. Schwartz
Vegan, climate change,and social justice activist

A Tisha B’Av Message: Will We Again fail to Heed the Warnings?

Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the month of Av) which we commemorate this year (2017) on July 31 – August 1, reminds us that over 2,000 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, the first of many negative things 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 we are getting increasingly dire warnings from climate scientists that now it is not just Jerusalem but the entire world that is threatened by climate change and its effects, and that the climate may soon spin out of control with disastrous consequences unless we soon reduce the ways that we are emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

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 of them having new 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 I write this as I have a granddaughter who recently married and a grandson arranging a wedding in late August.

As we all suffer through a very extended heat wave in Israel, here are nine important reasons we all should be very concerned about climate change:

1. Science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists, and 99.8% of the thousands of peer-reviewed papers on the issue in respected scientific journals argue that climate change is real, is largely caused by human activities, and poses great threats to humanity. All 195 nations at the December 2015 Paris climate change conference agreed that immediate steps must be taken to combat climate change.

2.Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade and all of the 17 warmest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. 2016 is the warmest year globally since 1880, when temperature records were first kept, breaking the record held before by 2015 and previously by 2014, meaning we now have had three consecutive years of record temperatures..

3. 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.

4. There has been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods.

5. California has been subjected to so many severe climate events (heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and mudslides when heavy rains occur) recently that its governor, Jerry Brown, stated that, “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.” California serves as an example of how climate change can wreak havoc.

6. Many climates experts believe that we are close to a tipping point due to positive feedback loops,when climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur.

7. While many climate scientists think that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, the world reached 400 ppm in 2014, and the amount is increasing by 2 – 3 ppm per year.

8. While climate scientists hope that temperature increases can be limited to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), largely because that is the best that can be hoped for with current trends and momentum,  the world is now on track for an average increase of 4 – 6 degrees Celsius, which would result in great human suffering and significant threats to human civilization.

9. 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 fleeing from droughts, wildfires, 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 potential climate catastrophe a central focus of civilisation today, in order to leave a lovable world for future generations. Every aspect of life should be considered. We have to shift to renewable forms of energy, improve our transportation systems, produce more efficient cars and other means of transportation, reduce our consumption of meat, and do everything else possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The future of humanity depends on our heeding the current widespread warnings and making positive changes very soon.

About the Author
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at He is President Emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.” He is also a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Staten Island, which is part of the City University of New York.
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