Climate Change Should Have Israelis Perspiring a Little


By Rabbi George Stern

Climate change poses a danger to almost every nation. Israel is vulnerable — to the direct effects of climate variations and, particularly, to the political effects of the worldwide use of oil, much of it from the Middle East, which we are burning at mushrooming rates and which is (thanks to carbon dioxide emissions) the biggest factor contributing to global warming and climate change.

According to a 2007 study by Friends of the Earth, “the Middle East [is] the world’s most water-stressed region,” a condition caused, in part, by global warming. Climate change is a “threat multiplier,” because it leads to a series of reactions that can build on each other and become security threats: Water shortages can lead to mass migrations, population displacement, economic and, ultimately, political unrest.

Any factor that decreases regional water supplies reduces Israel’s ability to move towards stable relations with its neighbors. Growing conflict over water can fuel calls to arms by militants and nationalists, threatening to engulf Israel in armed conflict. One need only imagine the effects of salt-water intrusion into the coastal aquifer, Gaza’s sole source of drinking water, to comprehend the seriousness of the situation. What would you do were you among 1.5 million Gazans lacking sufficient drinking water?

Reut Snir, an Israeli environmental lawyer, cites scientific models that point to imminent effects on Israel of global warming: a 7 percent to 9 percent increase in average temperatures, dangerous to health and likely to increase the use of fuel for air-conditioning, further contributing to global warming; a rise in rainfall in the center and south of Israel, causing floods and erosion, coupled with a 10 percent to 30 percent reduction in average rainfall nationwide, leading to a likely decrease in agricultural yield and profitability; continued draining of the Dead Sea; a 3/8-inch per year rise in sea level along the coast (a foot by 2040), causing erosion and eventual damage to ancient coastal cities, such as Caesarea, which are important sources of tourism revenue.

According to Professor Uri Shani, head of Israel’s Water Authority Council, “In the next two or three years, we’ll have to learn to swim in empty swimming pools.”

The concentration of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere is higher today than at any time during the last 650,000 years and almost double the level before the Industrial Revolution. While water usage can be controlled in many ways — more-sensible irrigation, reuse of treated sewage for agriculture and genuine conservation efforts — it is clear that only a slowing, then a reversal, of climate warming will add to the overall water supply. Such a reversal is only possible if we wean ourselves from fossil fuels.

The connections between global war-ming, climate change, water supplies, oil and Israel’s security are clear. Obviously, Israel would benefit were no nations dependent on Mideast oil. One could hardly imagine a scenario in which America or other Western countries would deal with such intensity — and obeisance — with Middle Eastern satraps and dictators were we not afraid of losing oil supplies. The natural affinity we have with Israel — religious and political — would trump other Mideast relationships.

Happily, elimination of OPEC’s stranglehold over most nations of the world would be a win-win for the environment, international relations and national economies. The only way to reduce dependence on Mideast oil is to reduce use of fossil fuels. That, in turn, would enable us to more-properly fulfill the mitzvah of bal tashchit (“do not destroy”), becoming better stewards of God’s creation, and leaving a cleaner and healthier world to our children and grandchildren. Development of alternative fuels would allow more countries to be “energy-independent,” reducing the threat of conflict over scarce resources and leveling the economic playing field. Israel and the United States would surely benefit from clean fuel development, since both have substantial R&D infrastructures.

Jews have many reasons to support policies that wean us from fossil fuels, foreign and domestic. Individually we can each take steps to reduce our carbon footprints — starting with replacing standard bulbs with CFLs, purchasing recycled and non-carbon-based building materials, and buying cars that meet the highest fuel-economy standards. As people who care about America, Israel and the environment, we can do nothing less.

Rabbi George Stern is the executive director of Neighborhood Interfaith Movement.



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