Rabbi Arthur Waskow – Yes, Jews have a responsibility to fight climate change
Is there a Jewish responsibility to fight climate change?
No! I don’t think there’s a responsibility for anyone to do that. For one thing, it would presume climate change is something new and totally due to fossil fuels, rather than to natural causes, and that we can control it by eliminating fossil fuels. Climate change has happened throughout human history. The core problem is the assumption that human beings and fossil fuels now play the dominant role in climate change, that we can somehow control the climate, and that what we’re facing right now is unprecedented and cataclysmic. But when you compare the predictions with what’s going on in the real world, and what’s been going on for millions of years, you recognize that we aren’t seeing anything new or any of the kinds of catastrophes some people are claiming.
We’re being told we have to eliminate the fossil fuels that are 82 percent of America’s energy, and switch to biofuels, wind and solar—which have their own human rights, environmental, even child labor problems. I don’t think we can do that. Health and living standards didn’t start improving until well into the 1800s, when we started using coal and oil. We are being told we have to accept major government interference in every aspect of our lives, and tell the most destitute families on the planet—in Africa and Asia—that they can improve their quality of life only to the extent that they can do it with wind and solar technologies. Some say those technologies are powerful enough, and that they’re clean, green and sustainable, but they’re really not.
What Jewish principles should be governing our policy choices?
Tikkun olam is the principle everyone cites. But tikkun olam works both ways. If you assume tikkun olam means fighting man-made climate change, and we implement all these systems but they end up trashing our economy and rolling back our living standards, and people in the Third World have to go on burning dung and breathing the polluted fumes, and we’re telling them they can only have enough power for a one-cubic-foot refrigerator and a light bulb in their hut—is that tikkun olam?
Jews historically have been really good at analyzing things. That’s been key to our survival. When we were prohibited from certain livelihoods, we found new ones. All of that is part of Jewish culture—being able to analyze and innovate. Now we’re being told not to think about this—to just assume that what some say about catastrophic climate change is right. That just goes against the grain.
The real moral imperative is to make sure we’re basing our decisions on sound science and full, robust debate about all the evidence. There’s a lot of hubris here, and a lot of it is rooted in a loathing of fossil fuels, even though fossil fuels have done numerous good things, including saving the whales and ensuring modern health and living standards!
What should we be doing right now?
If you have wealth and technology, you can survive all kinds of climate change. I don’t see anything catastrophic coming down the pike that humans haven’t dealt with in the past. Catastrophic changes do happen. A few years ago in Wisconsin, I dug out a rock that shows marks from the last mile-high Pleistocene glacier. Imagine what would happen to Canada and the U.S. if another glacier buried our cities. Compared with one degree of predicted temperature rise, that’s real climate change. Look at the droughts that wiped out the Anasazi and Mayans.
But if you’ve got a strong house, good energy infrastructure and technologies to warn people of a coming tsunami, for instance, survivability goes way up, and we can rebuild more quickly than in the past. So much depends on unleashing our innovative abilities and not having government bureaucrats telling us there’s only a tiny spectrum in which we can operate.
What will the earth look like in 50 years?
What did the world look like 50 years ago, in the 1970s? People like Paul Ehrlich predicted massive crop failures and famines in the 1970s, and it didn’t happen. Our cars today put out 2 percent of the pollutants they did then. What comes out of coal plant smokestacks is mostly water vapor and carbon dioxide. Who could have imagined cell phones back in 1970? We didn’t even utilize natural gas 50 years ago, and now it powers buses and cars and generates electricity. In 50 years we may have fusion, energy technologies we can’t even imagine right now. I can’t predict what human ingenuity may accomplish.
Do any of the proposed climate change policies pose a danger to the economy?
If we do what climate change activists want us to do, it will have massive impacts. The Green New Deal would have major adverse human and environmental effects. Harnessing the wind and sun takes all kinds of minerals, concrete, land and metals, and a lot of the most sophisticated new ones—rare earths, lithium, cadmium and cobalt, for batteries, turbines and solar panels—come from China and Africa under Chinese control, with child labor, slave labor, no health, environmental or labor safeguards. There are many social justice and human rights implications that climate alarmists don’t want to talk about.
To avert disasters, we need to stop talking about catastrophes. We need to think through what’s really going to work. Every one of our actions has repercussions, through our economy and our lives.
Paul Driessen is a senior policy adviser for CFACT, the Committee For a Constructive Tomorrow.
One thought on “Debate | Is There a Jewish Responsibility to Fight Climate Change? | Paul Driessen”
Paul Driessen’s response to the prompt “Is there a Jewish Responsibility to Fight Climate Change?” (Summer 2019) would be more accurately titled, “Do ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers want the Jews to worry about climate change?” The organization Driessen works for, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), is part of an elaborate network of nonprofit thinktanks heavily supported by the oil and gas industry; CFACT works to sow doubt about the scientific consensus regarding climate change. This strategy was first pioneered by tobacco interests who produced “research” to mute public health concerns associated with smoking. In addition to working for CFACT, Driessen is listed as a policy expert on the website of the Heartland Institute, an organization that worked primarily with tobacco companies to undermine public health knowledge about the dangers of smoking before moving on to climate change denial. In other words, asking Driessen to comment on this prompt is equivalent to asking the tobacco industry if Judaism has a stance on smoking.
Not only did Moment give voice to the oil and gas industry’s anti-climate crusade but it also presented this dangerous misinformation as a legitimate Jewish position. One of the things I most appreciate about Moment is that it includes a variety of voices, including perspectives with which I often disagree. At its best, Moment is a contemporary expression of the Talmudic idiom that there are seventy faces to the Torah. That said, it’s unclear to me why a position representing ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers should be part of the Jewish conversation. Simply put, it’s inappropriate to publish, without qualification, oil and gas propaganda as an expression of Jewish wisdom.