By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com
The most profound, foreboding prayer that is read during the Jewish High Holy Days is the Unetaneh tokef prayer:
“On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval and who by plague...”
It always struck me as scary but somehow sounded ancient and foreign. I mean, ‘plague”? Except we’ve gone through the horror of a global deadly pandemic which took more than 1 million lives in the US, 7 million worldwide, and now we hear leprosy has been resurrected in Florida.
Well, from the past Rosh Hashanah to this one, we’ve had wildfires, floods, hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, heat waves of biblical proportions. They say they are “1000-year” floods, “1300-year drought.” The hottest the planet has been in the history of mankind.
But these are not far away and ancient events, not long ago nor far in the future. This is the impact of climate change now, and getting worse.
“We’re on a pathway to lose everything, Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (speaking for himself), declared at the New York City Climate March, which brought 75,000 activists from around the country and around the world.
“The cause of heat waves are fossil fuels, and leaders including Biden are still approving fossil projects. It’s insanity… This can’t be reversed. Stop fossil fuels or ramp down as soon as possible. I’m terrified for the future. Burning, flooding, smoke, heat waves. How will we feed 8 billion people? Heat waves will kill millions. Every year is worse, the planet is hotter. .. This is the only planet in our universe with life. We are on the brink of a 6th mass extinction. A dead planet has no economy, no politics. There is no solution – not carbon capture, not planting trees. There is no plan to deal with the decreasing habitability. We must come together. Fight.”
The Climate March was part of a plethora of New York City Climate Week events (“Burning Man for Climate Geeks,” The New York Times proclaimed), timed to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly and, as it happens, the Clinton Global Initiative.
At the Clinton Global Initiative, which forges commitments to address the major challenges facing humanity and the planet - Food insecurity (affects 300 million). Migration (40 million uprooted from their homes). Conflict. Poverty. Disease. Environmental Disaster. Inequality. – speaker after speaker said they all are interconnected and are rooted in climate change.
“Heat is deadly – in the US, extreme heat causes more deaths than any other weather-related event, especially in urban centers,” said Sarah Kapnick, Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said at the Clinton Global Initiative. “Heat is responsible for over 500,000 pre-mature deaths per year – if all the things continue, that number will grow to 1.5 million premature deaths each year. We are expecting these temps will only go up over time.”
Extreme heat also affects maternal and neonatal mortality (the US already has the worst rate of maternal mortality than any industrialized country), contributes the dramatic rise of insect-borne diseases (malaria is becoming more deadly and expanding to areas; dengue fever is rising, especially in urban areas, including places that haven’t seen the disease in generations.
“Humanity has opened the gates to hell,” warned Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, describing farmers helplessly watching crops washed away by floods, virulent disease due to rising temperatures, and the mass exodus of people fleeing historic wildfires.
“Our focus here is on climate solutions – and our task is urgent,” he told the Global Climate Summit.
He warned that climate action was being “dwarfed by the scale of the challenge”, with humanity heading towards a 2.8°C temperature rise, increasing danger and social and political instability.
Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced 43% by 2030 and reach net zero by mid-century to avoid global temperatures exceeding the dangerous 1.5°C tipping point, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But “the future is not fixed” and the Paris Agreement target of limiting temperature rise as close as possible to 1.5°C is still attainable, Guterres insisted. “We can still build a world of clear air, green jobs, and affordable clean power for all.”
The tone of activists has reached a “We’re not going to take it any more” fever pitch.
Emma Buretta, a 17-year old New York City high school student, activist and an organizer with the Fridays for Future movement, threatened that youth would withhold their vote for Biden unless he declares a climate emergency and effectively ends fossil fuels. But withholding their vote would only return Trump or some other Big Oil Republican to power and -as Trump did when he had the reins - reverse course, pull out of international climate pacts, incentivize the use of fossil fuels and effectively erase climate actions.
And it is unfair and dangerously naïve to expect Biden could simply “end fossil fuels” in face of Republican (and Manchin) obstruction in Congress and the radical rightwing Supreme Court majority. Biden couldn’t even mandate masks on airplanes in the interest of public health emergency and now, his EPA can’t protect wetlands in the interest of clean water.
But Biden gets it. As he said in his remarks to the UN General Assembly, “Record breaking heatwaves in the United States and China. Wildfires ravaging North America and Southern Europe. A fifth year of drought in the Horn of Africa. Tragic flooding in Libya that has killed thousands of people. Taken together these snapshots tell an urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and begin to climate-proof our world.
“From day one of my Administration the United States has treated this crisis as the existential threat that it is, not only to us, but to all of humanity.”
The Biden Administration, which has waged the most ambitious climate agenda in history, announced new climate actions, including the formation of a American Climate Corps, a workforce training and service initiative that will put 20,000 young people into the growing fields of climate resilience, conservation, and clean energy; $4.6 billion through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program to help states, cities and tribes tackle climate pollution; directing Federal agencies to incorporate the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions in key decisions; investing $40 million through the Department of the Interior to plug and cleanup oil and gas wells; new actions to advance the American offshore wind industry; and directing $400 million to states to adopt clean energy building codes. Biden also just cancelled oil leases in the Arctic Refuge.
“The climate crisis is real, happening now, uprooting lives across planet. Millions of climate refugees face heartbreaking decision to leave where they have lived for thousands of years,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said at the Clinton Global Initiative, announcing the American Climate Corps.
But climate activists are upset that Biden has not ended federal subsidies to Big Oil and Gas and reversed approval of the Willow oil project.
It is dangerous for the climate activists not to acknowledge Biden’s aggressive policies and historic actions and all-of-government focus on climate and environmental justice.
Here’s just a smattering of the anti-climate agenda Republicans are willing to shut down government over, according to the NRDC Action Fund:
- Rescinding a whopping $4.5 billion from IRA clean energy programs — directly undermining and blocking several of the IRA’s pro-climate goals
- Slashing EPA funding by 39% and prohibiting the EPA from enforcing the Clean Air Act — endangering our ability to protect communities from air, water, chemical, and climate pollution
- Cutting $14 billion intended to address environmental health impacts in underserved communities — abandoning communities that have been historically left behind
Meanwhile, New York State, which along with California, has been a leader in climate action, announced a slew of actions in conjunction with the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 25 states formed when Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord and was hell bent on reversing any progress toward a clean, green economy. It’s because of the Coalition, which collectively represent 60 percent of the U.S. economy and 55 percent of the U.S. population, that the United States was able to stay on course toward the Paris Accord commitments.
"It's critical that we continue the transition to create an affordable clean energy future that benefits all New Yorkers," Governor Kathy Hochul said. “Climate change is the defining challenge of our era,”
A sampling of the state’s initiatives include spending $4.2 billion from the Environmental Bond Act to preserve and restore New York’s natural resources and clean water, while supporting green jobs; setting a national precedent by requiring all-electric building construction by 2029; construction of the Champlain Hudson Power Express converter station — the first major fossil fuel site to be converted to a clean energy facility in New York City; and $200 million to help low-income families make their homes more efficient and lower their energy bills.
Climate actions don’t just mitigate and promote resilience against climate disasters (costing the US $165 billion in 2022), but actually cut costs, create jobs, and improve quality of life for families today. “Clean energy and energy affordability go hand-in-hand,” Hochul said.
But there is also the practical reality – besides the existential threat the climate crisis poses – that makes transition to 100% clean, renewable energy and a green economy inevitable: there are only 20-25 years worth of oil still in the ground, so we might as well get it done now and reduce the pain and suffering and loss of life and livehlihoods that will come from failing to confront the climate crisis.
This Rosh Hashonah’s Torah portion was the Genesis “Creation” story, where God on the sixth day, created Human and gave Human dominion over the plants, the animals “and over all earth itself.” Some like to interpret “dominion” as dominance – the right to exploit, extract, discard. But others interpret “dominion” as the responsibility to care.
There’s another theme of the High Holy Days, the obligation for “Tikkun Olam” - repairing the world.
President Bill Clinton, at Clinton Global Initiative, cited Isaiah’s exhortation to be “repairers of the breach,” in his Zoom conversation with Pope Francis.
“It’s time to work together to stop the ecological catastrophe before it’s too late,” Pope Francis said.
Indeed, the end of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer shows the way to “avert the severity” of the decree: take responsibility.
NEW YORK CITY CLIMATE MARCHERS DEMAND ACTION NOW TO END CLIMATE CRISIS
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