So today, we wanted to look at the subject of climate change. I would like to have a chance to have everyone really properly introduce yourselves but b’kitzur I want to just say – I want everyone to say their name – but I want to introduce Yedidya Sinclair. He’s from the Jewish Climate Initiative, and… does a lot of work in this field. Yaakov Justin Consor is a climatologist, [&] meteorologist, [with] considerable graduate & study experience, & work, in that field. Micha Odenheimer and Shaul Judelman are established educators in the field of Jewish Environmental Education… with some really impressive projects that are… out there in the world.
I’m Matthew Mausner, I’ve been working on this for a couple of years. And it’s a labor of love, and I’ve come to understand how the original Talmud took several hundred years to be created… So I appreciate your participation and your patience.
EM I’m Elan, and I study trees.
YM I’m Yitzhak and I study Rav Kook.
DD I’m David Drapkin ….social work…
SA I’m Sarah Warner.
GG I’m Gershon I study, practice, & teach architecture.
JR I’m Jesse, [study labor relations]
MR Michelle Raz.
MM So this is a big topic. And not all of us necessarily know every one of the details. I’ve included here a scholarly conference [Monk Debates-ed.] where they presented what they considered the two sides of the discussion. Whether it’s a proper representation of that…it’s decent. It’s a good place to start. So… you have a chance to peek through that…and… open up the floor.
MM Global Warming! Is it happening, is it good, is it bad, are we…at fault? What do you guys have to say?
EM To open it up, there are patterns on the planet that change over time, that is seen throughout our glacial record and moving through times of – I think we’re now in a great time of glacial-less? A pretty ice-less planet. However with that being said, my understanding from the sources I’ve seen and the learning I’ve done is that what we’re doing isn’t necessarily – what we’re doing is accelerating the natural rate of change that would be happening. And the problem is that the world’s ecosystems aren’t able to adjust at the rate we’ve accelerated it to. So you have species that can’t move this fast. So you have coral reefs that can’t move this fast…enough. And are subsequently perishing…. under this pressure. And that coupled with many other environmental pressures of pollution and overfishing and overharvesting are converging in a global extinction, a major global extinction. Which to me is davka the point, why we’re consciously …stopping climate change is to.. protect species. For me that’s one of the things… [where] I’m coming from.
SJ Can I ask [the?] question… why do you care about climate change? What bothers YOU about climate change? That’s a different conversation than … this discussion?
MM As in it’s — an emotional issue for people, not just a scientific issue?
SJ OK because personally, a lot the different [parts of] climate change are… slowly affecting us. Is it for future generations? Is it about species? From what stems my… ….where are all my motivations…?
YM …SOMEthing’s happening. Just the amount of… All this stuff we’ve been spewing [into the atmosphere] all these years… it’s like a… semi-closed system. Can’t help but have some…impact. Pshat…And there’s species dying. There’s species dying around us.
MO What I would… What Elan said…I’m not a climatologist and there’s so much information out there … If to stop climate change you had to…pollute the ocean, let’s say. And I might say wait, let’s… think a bit and, look at this… [but] The Stopping climate change seems to actually be taking actions that will be important and HELPFUL and significant in the broader range of things that ARE [capital?] that we KNOW are [desirable?] whether or not climate change is [harmful?] over a long period of time, the data… … the system that’s been created now, it’s you know, Russia is going to fish out the Indian Ocean of all its fish in order to sell it to Mexico, it’s part of the tikun we have to do for climate change will also make us look better— look more closely at that. So I… It’s part of a larger issue of having to, start to begin to understand that we can’t just do anything, but what we do has many many effects…
MM So in a sense you’re saying that having global warming be the driving motivator of changing our life patterns positively reinforces other positive changes.
MO Yes, exactly.
YC I tend to agree with Micha … it’s not necessarily so clear exactly to what degree humans… for instance our greenhouse gases are.. causing global warming but… it is clear that humans have a very strong impact on the environment. And it is clear that by changing our practices, making them more environmentally friendly, we could have an impact on many, wide areas of healthier… reverse environmental damage.
You know it’s not just about greenhouse gases. There’s many other areas where humans are affecting the climate. In fact There are studies which suggest that land surface changes such as cutting down forests, changing land from agricultural to urban, sprawl growth etc. may be more responsible for climate change than greenhouse gases. And it’s certainly more responsible for other problems esp. flooding in certain areas, droughts in other areas.
MM Before we get too far into the general human impact on the environment, I think it’s important to make a distinction here. Between Climate Change as THE issue, or where does climate change fit in all these other issues of overfishing, deforestation, different kinds of pollution, and all these sorts of things.
Also because, in terms of, “well, it’s a win-win situation to fight climate change,” there’s certainly opinions that it’s NOT [win-win], in the sense that we do have a finite amount of resources and… policy capital to move towards environmental change. And there are people who say that if we do everything that environmentalists dream… of what the Kyoto Protocols, and if we did all this other stuff just geared towards carbon offsets and climate change, we still might have complete collapse of fisheries, complete collapse of soils, genetically engineered organisms might cause massive unpredictable die-offs in the environment… and that’s if it becomes much colder in the next ten years!
So there’s a question of resource allocation as well. Is this the, the paradigm that we want to guide our, trying to shift our collective human policy towards the environment.
MO I think one of the reasons that it COULD be a good paradigm is that it’s not… you can’t regionalize it. Like [unclear]…. it kind of blows up in this kind of intensified globalization, borders… if that’s…relevant.
YM the act of working together to fix this would be part of the tikun.
SJ It’s a real Tragedy of the Commons issue. What it brings with it is that whole idea of – Commons. Which is – [CC/GW] causes a fantastic sense of global unity, and the globe as a whole, and a global identity. He’s [MO] right that it’s abstracted from the regional. But for me that’s why it’s this whole slew of things that take us farther and farther away… because my [connection to] them is based on me being a global citizen. Which is a very interesting idea, of how much we actually live…the more we get our minds focused on…being a global citizen. How much can we live there? How much do we live there? As opposed to…most of that list of environmental problems, What seems more real for me [than] deforestation and global warming and extinctions is… really for me at the core of the problem is, we, for *me, am living a life that I’m spewing out all these pollutants into my surroundings
SJ … for me I’d really like the…fundaments of…an anthro-centric, or me-centric, ME, I’m the one who’s doing this, the problem for me is as an individual, and every other human being as individual, and going from there as opposed to going from the global problem and trying to track it down…
MO You prefer the individual?
SJ I prefer the individual. I do…in a lot of ways… as against the abstract. It’s always a real challenge to bring it back to the person. It’s too [easy] to feel…disenfranchised.
GG With what Shaul’s saying, starting with that, that’s also what I was thinking, that…they all speak about what’s going to happen to the planet…and I think the basic idea of health of the body..
SW: Another question which I think sounds the same but I think is extremely different is what is Israel’s role? I’ve been thinking about it – Israel, geographically is maybe one of the only places in the world, surely the only place this small, that is perfectly suited for every kind of alternative energy – wind (Golan), sun (Negev). I’m really into the wave energy – I think wave energy’s really exciting. Have any of you guys seen this technology – go on WeJew.com and type “wave energy.”
We have algae, we have the sea. In other words, we have the framework as Israelis that very few countries have to do everything, with every alternative source [of energy]. It sort of reinforces what you were saying that Israel is a place which sees prophecy, and therefore, it’s understood that we should be set up for that….
Solar in Israel is going to be big.
YM: There’s also the electric car.
YC: The government in Israel has been very obstructionist regarding wave energy, unfortunately. This guy who’s done most of the research, he’s had to go out to Africa and other places to find consumers for his products.
YC: Yes, there’s certain political reasons.
MO: The solar lobby?
YC: Yes, I’m not sure exactly why.
SW: So you float a pontoon on water, and the way it comes, it makes the [water] go up and down like wind would do. And it’s really cool. The question is, how do you get the owners of oil to be interested In the change. Because, from the Wall Street point of view, if you can get them on board, we can all play Frisbee.
MM: Right. That points to a big thing which is, how do the economics of all this work together. Because, in the policy making world today, economics is still God, so to speak. Even if something is considered an inherent good, it has to, not necessarily be justified, but it has to work with the economics of the people involved. So, all these projects to encourage stopping of deforestation, or use of alternative energy – there have to be reasons for the individual. Individual people make choices about where to purchase their this or where to build their this or where to do their that, and everybody has economic pressure in their decisions.
A friend of mine who’s here in spirit (he’s in Jakarta in body), works for the Nature Conservancy. The past few years. They tasked him out to go save Borneo, to save all the rain forests there. They said, go make a $100 million project happen, to give incentive to all these businesses in Borneo to use carbon offsets from other places to not cut down the rain forests. Now, they didn’t give him $100 million; that would have made his life a lot easier. But, what he did was he tried to coordinate a tremendous amount of companies in the West to buy carbon offsets, and specific companies in Indonesia who have a specific economic incentive to sell their willingness not to cut down certain forests in exchange for a certain [amount of] money. So, this economic incentive for carbon offsets is one of the main languages that the world is talking about for climate change policy. I don’t know if it’s the best way to go about it, I don’t know if it’s the only way to go about it, but how does economics play into all this?
MO: A couple of days ago, there was a big victory in my mind for Israeli society, which is that the Supreme Court decided that the privatization of prisons is illegal, despite that the Knesset passed a law allowing it. One of the things that the justices said was that economics and efficiency are not the only method for things. I think that they’ll find a way to own the sun, unless there’s a shift in the economic thinking. I don’t think globalization is about technology. It also is, but it’s about victory for a certain period of time. There may have started a shift about a year ago which the Supreme Court decision is a part of. I think part of the reason that they were able to make that decision is because I don’t think that anyone can argue after last year’s crash that capitalism is somehow superficial.
What I wanted to say is that I think the shift is going to have to be more than just technological. If the same people that control oil companies will end up also controlling the wave technology, they’ll find a way to screw that up. If there isn’t a strong kavanah that things have to be done for the common good, even if you’re trying to make some profit (and everyone wants to make parnasah, and that’s legitimate), they’ll find a way to screw it up. So I think there’s a big shift that has to take place from the idea that selfishness is the actually the most efficient and the best thing that’s going to drive the economy and create growth. If there’s not a major shift in all that, then I don’t think the whole thing will work. But I think that shift is definitely possible.
JB: I completely agree with what you’re saying. [I was talking to Matthew], I lived in Denmark for a while. They’re on the cutting edge of that. It’s all about policy. Their taxes are through the roof – a packet of [?] costs 25 cents. It’s unbelievable – they tax everything.
They give out plastic bags [in Israel] like they’re candy. I go to 5 different guys to get 5 different vegetables, and I get 5, maybe 6, plastic bags. [In Denmark], you have to pay about half a dollar for one plastic bag. So it’s unbelievable, but it really does work. And, I’m sure you know, Denmark’s really with it. They on Project Better Place; they’re at the cutting edge of all that stuff.
SW: Any of you guys see the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?” It’s a documentary, and it’s hard to find; you can find the trailer on WeJew.com. It’s basically a story about how GM only developed electric cars as a joke, to please the government to get funds.
What I was saying is that there’s a documentary, that’s absolutely right on – it’s called “Who Killed the Electric Car?” It documents that GM went right into electric cars back in the late 1980s and early 1990s assuming (and they have documents from internally) that it would never work. But they gained a lot of publicity and a lot of tax dollars. So they went to it assuming it ain’t gonna work, and no one’s going to want it anyway. Well guess what – it worked really well, and people wanted it. So they started doing shredding of whole fleet of electric cars. And this undercover reporter actually goes to the car shredding line and asks the manager, a Hispanic man, “Hey, what’s up man? Why are you shredding the cars?” He’s basically got orders from GM to shred thousands of brand new working electric cars. Because the moment they realized the technology works, and people would buy them, they had to kill the electric car, and that’s what they did. We would have been here 20 years ago had GM not done that. It’s a really important documentary, it’s hard to find; it’s called “Who Killed the Electric Car.”
MM: Which really confirms Micha’s point, which is that the people with the power, a lot of these things that improve the common good, improve democratic values and access to sustainable technologies, they have incentive for their own profit margins to really work against the common good. Thomas Friedman’s idea that oil is definitely connected to repressive regimes, there’s a certain truth to that. There’s a political undercurrent to this whole discussion, and to the whole discussion that’s happening in the world, and you see that with the Obama type people. People who believe in some sort of revolution are very much in favor of using this argument… it’s part of their whole thrust towards creating some sort of worldwide combination of incentives and disincentives (coercion) against companies to act more responsibly.
And there’s another angle of that the revolution is towards individual action to the shefa that comes down from the sun, like we’re saying – that each one of us can actually be present in enjoying the shefa of being alive on god’s earth and not be dependent and not be coerced. So, this tension between freedom and top-down, for you own good central planning… Maybe what we’re really talking about when we talk about this is what kind of world do we want, what kind of freedom do we want.
Maybe we want a totally anarchic kind of world where we each can do our own thing and charge up all of our own stuff with little solar panels, and nobody can tell us what to do. But that means we can’t tell somebody else not to do something that we disagree with. And, the other side of that is – we have a perfectly regulated world (Denmark writ large), where there’s tremendous disincentive against anyone being rich, but there might also be tremendous disincentive against anyone growing a beard. You know, there’s two sides to this.