Thursday, December 20, 2012 | return to: columns, the column


The Column |  Global extinction: coming soon to a planet near you

by dan pine

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How green am I? I carpool to work and BART home. I run errands on foot. I keep the lights off, the showers short, the heat low, eat organic, and I am seriously considering buying a Chevy Volt.

dan pineThat ought to stop global warming.

If I sound cynical, it’s because I despair about our willingness to slow, let alone reverse, the devastating climate change certain — I repeat: certain — to come.

Even if every nation ceased burning fossil fuels today, the cumulative greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere would guarantee at least a 1.6 degree Celsius rise a few decades hence.

That’s actually a low estimate, but would still result in dire consequences. Last year humanity barfed up a 3 percent rise in greenhouse gases — about a billion tons more — over the year before; this according to the Center for International Climate and Environ-mental Research. And we’ll likely spew even more next year.

Experts say we should brace for a 5-degree rise before the next century, which will trigger routine superstorms drowning coastlines, a permanent Dust Bowl, mega-wildfires, mass starvation, mass extinction and a planet unlike anything humankind has ever known.

Have a nice day.

To the global warming skeptics out there, spare me your stupidity. The problem is real, and we are causing it.

I admit that I suffer from climate hysteria fatigue. There is only so much anguish one can absorb before the inevitable tune-out, in part because individuals can do little to solve the problem.

It will take an immediate, gargantuan international effort, with all the governments and industries of the world working together to mandate painful, zero-emissions policies that will drastically shrink the global economy.

Not bloody likely.

It makes me want to curl up with a box of See’s Candy and watch a “30 Rock” marathon. As it happens, Jewish tradition and good citizenship forbid such indulgent, defeatist thinking.

First there’s that maddeningly apt adage from Pirkei Avot: “We are not obligated to complete the task; neither are we free to abstain from it.” We each have to do something.

The Jewish Climate Initiative is one of several nonprofits putting a Jewish spin on the problem. Its website ( stresses science and policy, though Jewish ethics are equally important to the group’s vision.

There one finds passages from Torah and Talmud that proscribe abuse of the planet, for example Deuteronomy 20:19-20 and 22:6-8 (look them up). The Hebrew expression that sums it up is ba’al tashchit, a prohibition on pointless destruction of resources.

The group’s most persuasive argument is the notion that Judaism (and by extension, human civilization) is a multigenerational project we must protect.

“Whoever teaches their children Torah,” runs the passage from Kiddushin 30a, “it is as if he had taught his children and his children’s children until the end of all generations.”

The Jewish Climate Initiative urges the usual good habits to keep our personal carbon footprints small. It also sponsors campaigns to promote green technology, to divest from fossil fuel companies, and the like.

There’s nothing wrong with those steps, and we should take them. But they aren’t enough. We need more drastic action. Otherwise, we may be forced someday to live under a kind of climate fascism that would undo democracy, capitalism and their comforts for the sake of the planet.

It would suck, but it would mean our great-grandchildren have a fighting chance at survival.

Here’s the deal. Scientists agree that mass extinction is inevitable once we reach a temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius. Like I said, we’re headed for 5.

We cannot build enough seawalls or buy enough Volts to mitigate this coming calamity. To save ourselves, everything about the society we have built must change, and soon.

Otherwise everyone and everything we hold dear will boil away. Do we have the will to choose agonizing short-term pain for the sake of future generations? We had better.

Dan Pine can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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