Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

It is almost too late to save our planet

All of my friends are becoming grandparents.

I am thinking about the world that our grandchildren will inherit.

If scientists are correct, and if we read the work of no less than 91 scientists from 40 countries, the International Panel on Climate Change, who have analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies — in a report that came out earlier this week — this is what my generation’s grandchildren can expect.

By 2020 – which is to say, as those grandchildren are entering their senior year of college — if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will be as much as 2.7 degrees hotter than it is now. Already, the last three years have been the warmest in history.

The prognosis for this planet sounds like the prognostications of the prophets.

  • This planet will become hotter.
  • That will lead to drought.
  • That will lead to increased wildfires.
  • And, increased famine.
  • And increased poverty.

If the atmosphere warms up 2.7 degrees, consider what will happen to the coasts of this country, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam. The coasts will flood. This affects 50 million people.

If the atmosphere warms up 3.6 degrees?

Tropical countries will be uninhabitable. People will swarm out of those countries. National borders will become irrelevant. Chaos will ensue.

If scientists are correct — between 2030 and 2050, 250, 000 people will die – every year — from malnutrition, malaria, and  various heat-related maladies. Developing countries and poorer areas will be unable to cope.

As the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton put it:

By merely continuing with our present practices and routines, we human beings will increasingly harm our own habitat, the portion of nature we require to survive, and ultimately destroy our own civilization.

It is “ecocide” — large-scale destruction of the environment.

Like we didn’t know?

Several weeks ago, an entire issue of the Sunday New York Times Magazine made it very clear: we have known about this for decades – but we have refused to heed the warnings, kicking the proverbial climate can down the alleyway.

Every single hurricane, every single super storm, should have taught us, and should have reminded us. This week, Michael. Or, the massive fires in California.

Or, Katrina, Irene, Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Florence. Warmer seas means more energy to intensify those storms. Which means more storm surges. Which means more wind damage. Which means more coastal flooding.

Those who care about this issue are facing one of the most bizarre and most troublesome trends in America today – the denial of science.

Rush Limbaugh said of climate change: “one of the most preposterous hoaxes in the history of the planet.”

He has a home in Palm Beach.

The current occupant of the White House has said that climate change is a hoax — “created by and for the Chinese.” He has vowed to increase the burning of coal and said he intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

He also has a home in Palm Beach.

There is a massive sea wall on A1A in Palm Beach. That wall keeps the beach from out of the sight lines of casual motorists – so that the occupants of the beachfront mansions can swim in exquisite isolation.

If the scientists are right, that sea wall will not protect them.

Consider this poem: Hold your breath: a song of climate change

The water’s rising

but we’re not drowning yet.

When we’re drowning

we’ll do something.

When we’re on our roofs.

When we’re deciding between saving

the cute baby or the smart baby.

When there aren’t enough helicopters

or news crews to circle

over everyone. When sharks

are in the streets. When people

are dying. When people

with wine cellars

are dying. We’ll build dams

and dikes, put stilts

on our V-8s and golf courses,

cut down anyone

who cuts down a tree…

we’ll grow wings, we’ll go

to the moon. Soon.

Why have we failed to act?

First, political reasons. It has become a partisan political issue – when nothing should be unifying this country and this world more than this.

Second, economic reasons. The deniers have a vested interest in not liking the solutions to the problem. Those solutions would entail massive changes in industry, business, and laissez faire capitalism.

We are talking about the single largest and most sweeping revolution in human behavior that our civilization has ever confronted.

And third, human reasons. When we confront something as massive and as existential as what we are confronting in our world today – what is the natural human response?

We become numb.

Everyone knows the story of Noah.

God sees the wickedness of humanity; God decides to wipe out the world with a flood, and start over; God instructs Noah on how to build an ark, with its precise dimensions; Noah brings two of every animal – or two of every kosher animal – onto the ark; forty days of rain; Noah sends out the dove to see if there is dry land; the dove returns with an olive branch in its mouth.

Then, God made a covenant with the survivors – that God would never again destroy every living creature – and that the natural cycle would endure.

But, there is a sequel to the story that never quite makes it into the Children’s Bible.

Right after he emerges from the ark, Noah plants the first vineyard in history. He drank the wine. He became drunk.

I submit to you that Noah got drunk because he was depressed. He knew that he had failed to adequately respond to the global catastrophe that loomed before him.

A third century sage, Rabbi Yohanan, taught: “If not for the water reaching his ankles, he would not have entered the ark.” (Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah 32:6)

By then, it was too late.

It is still not too late for us. If you are interested in how your synagogue can become activists in climate change and global warming — check out what Temple Solel in Hollywood, Florida is doing.



About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


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  • Perhaps we are not God’s chosen. Perhaps we are one of Her experiments. Her hypothesis – If I create a species with great intelligence and great ambition, they will end up destroying themselves. As always, God will turn out to have been right.
    If we do have immortal souls, maybe our immortal souls will be part of Her next experiment. Yipee!!

  • I like the theory that earth is a penal colony and dumping ground for the misfits of a smarter life-form. 😄

    I think the theory explains the evidence better than a god and immortal soul.

  • That is entirely possible. But even misfits could have immortal souls, to facilitate further experiments, if not by God, then by the smarter life-forms.

  • One might ask Rabbi Salkin exactly how Noah failed to do an “adequate response to the global catastrophe”, given that Noah actually did everything God explicitly told him to do regarding the catastrophe.

  • Jeffrey, nice attempt, but all people need to do is become Christians to miss all of the fun, you purport will occur. Christ is returning to take us up to Him before the trials start – if this is actually one of them – because He said He is going to destroy the world. Liberal fear mongering at it’s best Jeffrey

  • God is the actor, not man. Need to remember that in concluding man-made/influenced climate change is the same thing.

  • But only that – no more. Moses argued and bargained with God. I am sure that Noah, being human, did not pat himself on the back and say good job, He would have said why couldn’t I have saved cousin Sarah or Uncle George or at least the babies.

  • Noah brings two of every animal – or two of every kosher animal – onto the ark

    Don’t you mean fourteen of every kosher animal?

  • Noah? Please the guy is a myth and should not be used in any discussion about climate change!!

  • Noah did preach & warn the people about the situation (2 Peter 2:4-5), but just like today, people rejected the message and kept doing whatever THEY wanted to do (Luke 17:26-27). Even “cousin Sarah and uncle George.”

    Also, before God told Noah about the Ark, God did tell Noah the exact problem (Gen. 6). An extraordinary planet-wide horror of corruption & violence, brought about by sinful human choices. NO human horror-writer or movie-maker, has ever captured this terrible situation. Even the Biblical event that leads up to this horrific gig, is enough to give a serious pause.

    So, honestly, God could NOT allow “the babies”, the adult-infected babies, to grow up and replicate the mess. The babies went to heaven after God’s judgment, but God’s judgment was the only choice humans gave to God. Even 120 years of preaching from Noah, and the sight of a big Ark under construction, was ignored. Didn’t even stick their kids or babies on the boat. The gangrene-infection was total. The radical surgery, the only choice left, was equally total.

    More information:

  • Noah is NOT a myth. You have not shown that Noah didn’t exist. Moreover, Jesus affirmed the historical reality of both Noah and the Noahic Flood (Luke 17:26-27). But even without Noah, why is Salkin’s article in error? Because of THIS:

    Cutting carbon emissions is incredibly expensive. Green energy is not yet able to compete with fossil fuels to meet most of humanity’s needs. Forcing industries and communities to shift — or plying them with expensive subsidies — means everyone pays more for energy, hurting the poorest most.

    “If all the promises in the (Paris) treaty are kept, the resulting global hit to growth will reach $1 trillion to $2 trillion a year by 2030. Those resources could have been used to make everyone more resilient and prosperous.” — Bjorn Lomberg

    Lomberg shows the problem: “The new United Nations report is being talked about as though it portends the end of the world: To avoid catastrophe, we must instantly transform the entire economy no matter the costs.” Obviously that mess is what Salkin is trying to sell us today. Please don’t buy it.

  • In order to “save it”, we must understand what we are saving it from!
    I was watching the Ryder Cup a few weeks ago. Just look up into the sky! Checker Board patterns all over the place. Climate Change — YES. Man made — YES!!! Just look up!

  • Like the “true cross” Noah’s Ark has been “discovered” several times and in different places. Obviously, unless the boat broke up, not possible.

    There are three ways to reduce atmospheric CO2. First and cheapest is energy efficiency. This actually aids the poor (for whom conservative Christians show a remarkable callousness, alternating with contempt). Second, replacing fossil fuels with renewables. New solar power is actually cheaper than new fossil fuels. Third is carbon sequestration, which is quite expensive, but less necessary with greater use of the first two methods.

    The urgency now necessary to forestall disaster is in large part created by governments and people ignoring decades of warnings by scientists.

    I’ll be dead by the time the dire consequences really start to manifest themselves. But, I don’t want to hand the younger generations such a mess, and say good luck. Wait for god to bail you out. Never mind he’s a myth, or, if real, has shown total indifference to his purported children.

  • Certainly an irony in that they were (eating and) drinking (and marrying and giving in marriage.)- Luke and Hebrews – in that the first thing Noah did was get very very drunk then. So the man of righteousness – also fell prey to sinning and also had an adult son who because of his behaviour bore the curse of Canaan.

    Only Peter suggests Noah was a preacher – not Genesis, Matthew, Luke or Hebrews but rather a man of righteousness. God shut Noah in after the animals were loaded so he had no ability to choose to take in any other people.

  • Not talking the end but consequences of human acts leading to a perversion of God’s creation as intended to be..

  • don’t you people have a whole string of false prophets on this subject right up to Al Gore?…you people of the Green Religion have been consistently wrong….you have a track record stretching back to the 60’s…..only a genuine fool would take what these people say seriously.

  • The Bible is NOT a literal historical account. The stories are made up to teach important moral lessons. You seem to have missed the lessons the Bible tried to impart to you.

  • People seem to think that if they believe or dibelieve hard enough they can change the nature of reality. They can’t.

  • “So the man of righteousness – also fell prey to sinning and also had an adult son who because of his behaviour bore the curse of Canaan.” Christians are’t perfect (yet) just forgiven

  • Your “beliefs” don’t change the nature of reality. You will be suffering along with the rest of us. If you live near a coast or in a low lying area such as the Carolinas, i suggest sellling your property now while there are still fools willing to buy it and move inland!

  • Right on, Susan! Those who insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible are missing what it really is saying. The greatest truths cannot be reduced to mere words, and must be conveyed by other forms, such as parables, metaphors, etc.

  • No. Biblically, the church is not mentioned again after meeting Him in the sky. You’re mistaken Susan

  • The historical claims of the Bible — from Genesis on down — were and are meant to be accepted & trusted as actual Earth history (certainly that’s what Jesus did with Scripture’s historical claims.).

    lndeed, people’s final destinies depend on doing so.

  • You know, Noah still gets annoyed at your interpretation of the vineyard account. Jesus explained that a vineyard is a ministry in his day, so why don’t you get it, that a vineyard is a ministry in Noah’s day. Oh, that’s right, some still have a veil over their eyes.

  • The “three ways” you refer to, aren’t working. They’ve been around ever since Al Gore invented Global Warming, and they’re STILL not getting the job done.

    Hence the latest extremist UN global warming game. Just price carbon and fossil fuels out of reach NOW, whether or not solar, wind, or “electric buses”, are affordable for the great masses of low-income poor people in America and the world.

    And make no mistake: Mr. Malthus’s ghost lurks nearby. You and yo’ mama can’t afford to live, go to work, go to school, get AC in summer, vist the doctor, pay for lights & heat, buy affordable foods (tied to trucking fuel costs), without carbon and fossil fuels?
    Then BYE-BYE, baby!! Your low-income corpses will save our planet from global warming!!