An existential threat to Israel is being largely ignored

Just as a person with a high fever suffers from many of its effects, there have been many negative effects of increased global temperature.

By RICHARD H. SCHWARTZ
July 3, 2019 22:16
 PLASTIC BOTTLE floats in the Mediterranean Sea, at Zikim beach near Ashkelon

PLASTIC BOTTLE floats in the Mediterranean Sea, at Zikim beach near Ashkelon. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

With another Israeli election scheduled for September 17, political parties are understandably going to focus on security issues. However, although it is an existential threat to Israel, and indeed the world, there has been almost no attention paid to climate change.

Israel and the world are on a path that will lead to a climate catastrophe and possibly an uninhabitable world by the end of this century unless major changes soon occur. And it might happen much sooner because of self-reinforcing positive feedback loops (vicious cycles) that could result in an irreversible tipping point, causing climate change to spin out of control.

Are these just outrageous exaggerations, like those past predictions of an end to the world? Not according to science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists, and virtually all peer-reviewed papers on the issue in respected scientific journals, which argue that climate change is largely caused by human activity and poses a great threat to humanity. All leaders of the 195 nations at the December 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, including Israel and the US, agreed that immediate steps must be taken to avert a climate catastrophe, and most of the nations pledged to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. While this is an important step forward, climate experts believe that even if, and it is a very big if, all the pledges are kept, they would not be enough to prevent future severe climate disruptions.

An October 2018 report by the respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization composed of leading climate experts from many countries, warned that the world may have only until 2030 to make “unprecedented changes in order to avert a climate catastrophe.”

Another major negative factor is the belief by the Pentagon and other military groups 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 refugees to flee from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms and other effects of climate change.

The world is already seeing many negative effects of climate change. Contrary to the views of many climate-change deniers, the world’s temperature has significantly increased in recent years. Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade, and all the 18 full years in the 21st century are among the 19 warmest years since temperature records started being kept in 1880, the only other year in the top being 1998. And 2016 was the warmest year globally, breaking the record held previously by 2015, and before that by 2014, the first time that there have been three consecutive years of record-high world temperatures.

Just as a person with a high fever suffers from many of its effects, there have been many negative effects of increased global temperature. Polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, faster than scientific projections. This has caused an increase in ocean levels worldwide with the potential for major flooding. Glaciers are reservoirs that providing important water for irrigating crops every spring, so their retreat will be a major threat to future food supplies for an increasing world population.

There has also been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms and floods. Of course, there have always been such climate events but climate change has made them more destructive. For example, there are three climate-related factors that increase the severity of hurricanes:

• More moisture evaporates in warmer temperatures and warmer air holds more moisture;

• The seas have risen, which increases storm surges. There is already “sunny-day flooding” in coastal cities like Miami, Florida, due to higher tides;

• The waters are warmer, which adds more energy to storms.

CALIFORNIA HAS been subjected to so many severe climate events recently that its governor, Jerry Brown, stated, “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.”

Unfortunately, prospects for the future are truly terrifying. Climate experts believe that we are close to a tipping point at which climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur. The potential for such a tipping point is increased because of self-reinforcing climate events (positive feedback loops). For example, when there are major wildfires, which are happening increasingly in our warmer world, trees which are a sink for CO2, are destroyed, and much carbon from the burning trees is released into the atmosphere, increasing the potential for additional wildfires and other climate events. Also, when ice, a very good reflector of the Sun’s rays, melts, the darker soil or water that is revealed absorbs much more of the Sun’s energy, causing more ice to melt, starting a potentially very damaging vicious cycle.

Another alarming factor is, while climate experts believe that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, the world has now reached 415 ppm, the highest value in human history, and the CO2 level is continuing to increase..

Reducing climate change is an especially important issue for Israel, as a rising Mediterranean Sea could inundate the coastal plain where much of Israel’s population and infrastructure are located. An increasingly hot and dry Middle East also makes terrorism and war in the region more likely.

Given the above, averting a climate catastrophe should be a central focus of civilization today in order to leave a livable world for future generations. Every aspect of life should be considered. The world has to shift to renewable forms of energy, improve our transportation systems, produce more efficient cars and other means of transportation, produce far less meat and other animal-based foods, reduce population growth, and do everything else possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

As president emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I want to stress the generally unknown or disregarded importance of shifts toward vegetarian and vegan diets. Animal-based agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, largely due to the emission of methane from cows and other farmed animals, since methane is from 72 to 105 times as potent as CO2 per molecule in warming the atmosphere during the 20 years that the gas is in the atmosphere.
Two studies support this conclusion:

• A 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization study, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” found that livestock agriculture emitted more GHGs in CO2 equivalents than all the cars, planes, ships and other means of transportation worldwide combined.

• A 2009 cover story in World Watch magazine, “Livestock and Climate Change,” by two environmentalists associated with the World Bank, found that the livestock sector was responsible for at least 51% of all human-induced GHGs.

So a major shift away from animal-based diets is essential to efforts to avert a climate catastrophe.

Because the threats are so great, it is essential that every person makes this issue a major priority, and make every effort to make dietary and other lifestyle changes, in order to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. 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.


Related Content

August 22, 2019
Back to school: What we teach our children

By GERSHON BASKIN

Cookie Settings