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

Purim Lessons That Can Help Save Our Imperiled Planet

Megillat Esther, which is read twice on Purim, tells how the Jews of ancient Persia were threatened with extinction and how they were miraculously saved. Today it is the entire world that is threatened by climate change and we have to find a way to avert an unprecedented catastrophe.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization composed of climate experts from many countries, warned that “unprecedented changes” were needed by 2030 for the world to have a chance to avert a climate catastrophe. Despite that warning, in May 2022 it was announced that atmospheric carbon dioxide had reached a record level, indicating hat the world is still heading in the wrong direction with regard to climate change.

Because ofmany dire warnings, like the one above, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated that the climate situation is a “Code Red for Humanity” and that “delay means death.”

The year 2022 was unprecedented for the frequency and severity of droughts, heat waves, wildfires, storms, and floods, with many records being broken.

As devastating as climate events have been recently, prospects for the future are even more frightening, for four very important reasons:


  • While all the recent severe climate events have occurred at a time when the global temperature has risen about 1.2 degrees Celsius (about 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the start of the industrial revolution, climate experts project that this will at leasttriple by the end of this century, triggering far worse climate events.
  • While climate experts believe that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide is a threshold value to avert the worse effects of climate change, the world has reached 420 ppm and it is increasing at 2 – 3 ppm per year.
  • Climate experts fear that self-reinforcing positive feedback loops (vicious cycles) could result in an irreversible tipping point such that global warming will rise uncontrollably, with catastrophic results. One example is that as the world gets hotter, more air conditioning will be used, meaning that more fossil fuel will be burned. This will release more greenhouse gases, heating the atmosphere even more, resulting in still more use of air conditioning, etc.
  • Military experts are warning that there will likely be tens of millions of desperate refugees fleeing from severe heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, and other climate events, which will promote social and political instability, terrorism, and war. Severedroughts already caused major migrations that resulted in civil wars in both Sudan and Syria.

Because they recognized the great threats to their future, the Jews of ancient Persia took major steps to save themselves. They all fasted for three days, seeking God’s help and Queen Esther risked her life by appearing before King Ahasuerus without being called by the king, something that could be punished by death at the king’s discretion.

Like the Jews of ancient Persia, the world’s people today must act to avert a calamity.. Every aspect of life should be considered in terms of reducing “carbon footprints.” Among the many positive steps that should be taken are shifting away from fossil fuels to solar, wind, and other renewable forms of energy; designing more efficient cars, lightbulbs, and other items; improving public transportation so that more people will use it; recycling; and composting.

Most importantly, we can emulate Mordechai’s nonconformity and Esther’s not eating meat, so that she could initially remain kosher while not revealing that she was Jewish, by shifting toward vegan diets.Such a shift has two major benefitsfor reducing climate threats.It would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because there would be far less cows and other farmed animals emitting methane, a very potent greenhouse gas with about 80 times the ability to heat up the planet as CO2 per unit weight. IMore importantly, it has the potential of dramatically reducing CO2 presently in the atmosphere by permitting reforesting the over 40 percent of the world’s ice-free land that is currently being used for grazing and raising feed crops for animals. This could reduce the current very dangerous level of CO2 in the atmosphere to a much safer one. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening.According to an August 14, 2022 article,“Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest through July hits new record.” We are literally committing sow suicide, eating our way to extinction.

Bottom line: To have a chance for a decent, habitable, environmentally sustainable world for future generations, theremust be a society-wide shift toward vegan diets. A Utopian dream? Perhaps, but as the title of a book by Buckminster Fuller puts it, we may have a choice today between “Utopia or Oblivion.” And it would not be utopian if people become aware that the climate situation is a “Code Red for humanity,” and that they can get plant substitutes with the appearance, texture, and taste indistinguishable from meat and other animal products.

In conclusion, to help leave a decent, habitable, environmentally stable world for future generations, it is essential that meat consumption is sharply reduced and that there be major reforestation. There is no planet B. Nor is there an effective Plan B.

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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