Rattling the Cage: Omen of apocalypse

What did we expect? The country roasted all summer and stayed dry in autumn – and this is what happens. There have always been forest fires, but with weather like this, they become worse.

December 8, 2010 22:38
4 minute read.
LOCAL RESIDENTS spray water while battling the for

Ein Hod 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Between the heat of this past summer and the dryness of this autumn, the fear of global warming has moved from the back of my mind to the front. It’s begun to overshadow my thoughts of the future. It tells me that my obsession with Israel and the occupation is pretty short-sighted, that there are much larger forces at play in the destiny of this country.

For me, this year has been a wake-up call, and it’s begun to put everything in a different perspective. Last Friday, a day after my wife and I got to Florence, we were sitting in this incredible Renaissance church and I was thinking – the things that mankind is capable of! And my next thought was – how much more terrible the tragedy that we stand to lose it all, forever. The way things are going, the earth is gradually going to become unlivable. Global warming – how do you stop this?

When we got back to the hotel room (which had no Internet or English- language TV), we called home and found out that the Carmel fire had been burning since the previous night. And I thought – what did we expect? The country roasted all summer and stayed dry in autumn – and this is what happens. There have always been forest fires, but with weather like this, they become worse.

I was glad to read that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu used the term “global warming” in connection with the fire, speaking as he did of “an aerial force, which we need in the era of global warming...”

This was rare; everybody else in the country, with the exception of hard-core “green” types, seem to see nothing more behind the fire than Eli Yishai and some 14-year-old Druse kid smoking a nargila.

This, too, is a little short-sighted, a little narrow. “Delayed winter rains will increase the risk of woodland fires, as most fires occur in autumn when dry vegetative matter peaks. The frequency, intensity and extent of fires will increase due to lower soil moisture, increased evaporation and increased frequency and intensity of heat waves.”

That was from a forecast of the effects that global warming will have in Israel, written for a UN report by Ben-Gurion University ecologists Guy Pe’er and Uriel N. Safriel – in October 2000.

In the decade since, the world has gotten hotter than its ever been, at least since temperature records started being kept in 1850, The Economist reports. Nine of the hottest 10 years on record came during the past decade; the one exception was 1998. And neither our senses nor the headlines have been deceiving us: 2010 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history.

Until next year, anyway.

IN ISRAEL, being so hot and tiny, you can feel and see the advance of global warming more vividly than in the West. Not only does a forest fire seem to be happening nationwide, but we’ve only got two bodies of water and everyone by now knows they’re both drying up. Long ago the water level of the Kinneret fell below the “red line,” so somebody drew a lower, “maximum red line,” then the water level fell below that, so they went down a little further and drew the “black line,” and the water level is now heading for that. We’ve run out of colors, we’re running out of water. This is what happens in the era of global warming. And it’s early yet.

“Heat waves that now set records will become commonplace,” writes The Economist, known for its conservatism and sobriety. “Rain will fall harder in the places where it falls today, increasing flooding; but in places already prone to drought, things will by and large get drier, sometimes to the point of desertification. Ice will vanish from Arctic summers and some mountaintops, permafrost will become impermanent, sea levels will keep rising.”

The “good side” of the Carmel fire that everyone’s been talking about is the contribution made by many foreign countries, including neighboring Muslim ones, of firefighters and equipment, notably planes. This made Israel feel less isolated, more connected to the rest of the world.

That’s all to the good, but it would be even better if the fire made us realize that Israel is connected to the rest of the world regardless of high-level humanitarian gestures – and that we and the rest of the world are in trouble. Even without nuclear weapons, we are all under existential threat, one that’s getting worse by the season.

The rabbis’ prayers for rain didn’t save us from the effects of global warming and neither will a commission of inquiry. Especially in a hot, dry little country like ours, we’ve got to start thinking big.

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