Saturday, October 24, 2009

"The Right to Know Does Not Equal the Duty to Know": Part 2

Ki brov khochmah rav kaas, v'yoseef daat yoseef machov - "For in much wisdom is much grief, and increase of knowledge is increase of sorrow," says Ecclesiastes. Apparently most Israelis are familiar with this verse, and they therefore choose just not to know.
That's what I wrote in my previous blog entry in regard to Israelis not wanting to know about the occupation. But the sad truth is that this "not wanting to know" is not just an Israeli problem. Canada, and much of the world, is infected too, especially when it comes to climate change.

Climate change is pretty much inevitable at this point. If the world acts now, and in concert, we can limit its damage. If not, a very bleak future awaits my grandchildren's generation.

If we act now, starting at the upcoming Copenhagen conference, we can limit global warming to approximately 2 degrees centigrade. At that level there is still damage aplenty (e.g. 56 cm rise in ocean levels by 2100, increased droughts, more violent and unpredictable weather) but it is short of catastrophic.

If we don't act, it is virtually certain we will hit 4 degrees of average global warming by 2100. At that level we can be assured of major disruption to civilization world wide. At that level we get major crop failures of corn and soy in the world's major agricultural centres - Canada and the U.S. in particular. (And given that world population is expected to increase 50% by 2100, we can assume famines on a scale we have not seen in centuries.) Europe, Southern Africa, and South East Asia will see significant and persistent drops in precipitation. Ocean acidification will see a major die off of fish and crustaceans. There will massive coastal flooding in Bangladesh, India, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Holland, Belgium as well as islands too numerous to mention. Summertime temperatures in Toronto, where I live, and in other eastern North American cities, will hit the mid to high 40's. (See this Globe and Mail story for a good overview of all this.)

All this is known. Yet many people do not want to know.

And the leaders of Canada are the first among the head in the sand crowd, trying to minimize carbon reduction targets so the Alberta economy (aka the Oil Sands) can continue to grow "at a healthy pace." Canada proposes that it reduce emissions 3% below the benchmark 1990 level by 2020. It also proposes that those targets be "intensity targets" - that they are relative to total economic activity (which means they could actually rise in absolute terms.) For comparison the EU proposes 30 percent absolute reductions, and 25 percent reductions are what was called for in the Kyoto accords and at this point are the minimum required to keep average global warming under 2 degrees.

Meanwhile the U.S. is also dithering, threatening not to sign any deal unless cuts apply equally to China and the U.S.

China, for its part, has said it will only sign an agreement that sees global per capita emissions equalized over time.

And as our leaders argue, the clock is ticking.

* * *

At synagogue earlier today we read the following prayer - in honour of parshat Noah, and World Climate Change Day.

Elohei Haruchot, God of all spirit, all directions, all winds
You have placed in our hands power
unlike any since the world began
to overturn the orders of creation.

Please God, give us wisdom and skillful hands to heal
the Skies and the Earth from our sins;
Y'kum purkan lish'maya 'May salvation arise for the heavens'.
that the blessings of the sun flow over us
for life and not for death, for blessing and not for curse,
as it says, 'I will open for you the expanses of the Heavens
and will empty out for you a blessing beyond what is enough
and Earth's fruit will not be destroyed because of you.'

God full of compassion, remember Your covenant with all life,
the covenant of the waters of Noah.
Spread a Sukkah of compassion and peace
over us, over all Life's species;
Surround all our relations, with Shekhinah's radiance;
Water them with Your river of delights in all of their habitats.
Then 'the bow will appear in the cloud',
joyful and beautified with its colors,
and the Tree of Life will return to its original strength,
so that we and our descendants may merit to live
many days on Earth, like days of the Skies over the Land.
Blessed be the Life of the worlds!

- Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg


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