Global Warming and Judaism: a Yom Kippur Sermon on climate change and the Bible– a re-post from 2006

For Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, Rabbi Camille Shira Angel;

See here and here for some current resources on religion and climate change; Read entire sermon here

By Ellie M. Cohen October 2, 2006

My 4 year old daughter and I were fortunate to spend a few days in August on a beautiful high Sierra lake.  One morning we decided to attempt her first fishing lesson.  The early morning air was pine-resin, mountain fresh as we sat down at the edge of the small dock.  The lake was quite still at first—a mirror reflecting the rising sun and the forests that lined the shores. 

We carefully cast out our line, trying hard to avoid getting hooked ourselves.  Together we very gradually pulled the line in, with the lightweight reel clicking and ratcheting each step.  We had no bait —so our biggest catch was some “lakeweed.”  After a few castings, Leah took off her socks and shoes, happily dangling her feet in the still-ice-cold snow-melted water. 

Suddenly a brisk wind picked up and we snuggled closer.  She dodged the chill by laying flat on her back on the sun-warmed dock and I joined her.  The new view was enchanting.  We found ourselves looking straight up into the most magnificent blue sky — that clarity you can only see when you are a mile and a half above sea level.  Wisps of clouds moved in from the south—enormous feathers of the whitest whites as my daughter described them.  Then she asked, is that God?  I hesitated, then with great parental authority, asked…. what do you think?  She replied, “I think God is everywhere– in the clouds, in the wind, in the trees, in the birds and in the ground.”  God was definitely present in that very special moment.

The High Holidays are a time to contemplate the meaning of heaven and earth as we celebrate the creation of the world, its incredible diversity of inhabitants and the powerful forces that shape it every day.  On Yom Kippur especially— as we explore repentance and forgiveness on this holiest of days, this final day of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe—we refrain from earthly pleasures, abstain from food, even abstain from colorful clothing as our thoughts are focused towards heaven.   Yet paradoxically, Yom Kippur prayers constantly bring us back to earth by urging us to reflect on our mundane routines and behaviors to reach the lofty goals of reconciliation and renewal. 

Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Simeon observed almost 2,000 years ago, ‘Why does Scripture at times put earth before heaven and at other times heaven before earth?  To teach that the two are of equal value.[2]

What better day than today to contemplate heaven and earth, the oneness of our world, our role as stewards of God’s creation and our commitment as Jews to preserving it….. [Read more here]

Last 4 years warmest on record; ~62 million people directly impacted by extremes; accelerating climate change impacts in 2018 per WMO report


We are already seeing record sea level rise, as well as exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years.

Read more here

….“The data released in this report give cause for great concern. The past four years were the warmest on record, with the global average surface temperature in 2018 approximately 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline,” Mr Guterres wrote in the report.

“These data confirm the urgency of climate action. This was also emphasized by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. The IPCC found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require rapid and far reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities and that global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050,” wrote Mr Guterres. …

Freshwater coastal erosion impacts global carbon stores; wetlands have high carbon storage rates but can lose carbon much faster than accumulate it

Shoreline erosion can transform freshwater wetlands from carbon-storage pools to carbon sources

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

….Wave action and high water levels sweep away soils and plants at a rate much higher than nature can replace them. An accurate measurement of this carbon budget imbalance may help better prioritize coastal management efforts and improve global carbon-cycle mode.

Freshwater wetlands account for as much as 95 percent of all wetlands — freshwater and marine — and have one of the highest carbon-storage rates of any environment, the researchers said (see here reporting that wetlands just in continental US hold ~12 billion tons of C).

The study found a large mismatch between how long it takes the carbon to accumulate versus how long it takes to erode, Braun said. “Ten percent of what took 500 years to accumulate disappeared in a six-month period. This wetland — or carbon reservoir, if you are looking at it from a carbon-budget perspective — took a permanent ding. The rate at which wetlands may rebuild can never catch up to the rate at which they were eroded.”

Trees crucial to future of cities– the right amount of tree cover can lower summer daytime temperatures by as much as 10 F

-To get the maximum benefit of this cooling service, the study found that tree canopy cover must exceed 40 percent.

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

Carly D. Ziter, Eric J. Pedersen, Christopher J. Kucharik, Monica G. Turner. Scale-dependent interactions between tree canopy cover and impervious surfaces reduce daytime urban heat during summerProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201817561 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1817561116

….Impervious surfaces — like roads, sidewalks and buildings — absorb heat from the sun during the day and slowly release that heat at night. Trees, on the other hand, not only shade those surfaces from the sun’s rays, they also transpire, or release water into the air through their leaves, a process that cools things down.

To get the maximum benefit of this cooling service, the study found that tree canopy cover must exceed 40 percent. In other words, an aerial picture of a single city block would need to be nearly half-way covered by a leafy green network of branches and leaves….

Half a degree more warming may cause up to 10x more intensification of droughts and floods

–The scenario with 0.5°C more warming showed significantly greater intensification. Disaster risks could be substantially reduced by reaching the 1.5°C target.

Extreme dry and wet events will increasingly co-occur, such as the switch from extreme drought to severe flooding we saw in California in the recent past

–More intense precipitation is predicted across much of North America and Eurasia, whereas more intense droughts are projected for the Mediterranean region

Madakumbura, et al. Event-to-event intensification of the hydrologic cycle from 1.5 °C to a 2 °C warmer worldScientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-39936-2

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

In 2015, to combat the urgent threats posed by climate change, most of the world’s countries came together to establish the Paris Agreement: an ambitious plan to prevent the global temperature from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to work to further limit that temperature rise to 1.5°C.

These seemingly small numbers can mask the staggering impact and complexity that shifts in global temperature represent. For example, increased global temperature will also intensify the hydrologic cycle, significantly changing the frequency and intensity of rainfall. Flooding, droughts, mudslides, and food and water insecurity are just some of the many hazards of the resulting changes in rainfall patterns.

…. Another key finding was that the most extreme intensification would be about 10 times greater than the average intensification. “Our results suggest that extreme dry and wet events will increasingly co-occur, such as the switch from extreme drought to severe flooding we saw in California in the recent past,” says lead author Gavin D. Madakumbura. “At least in terms of disaster mitigation and water security, there would be significant benefits to limiting global warming to 1.5°C to dampen the intensification of event-to-event variability.”

For a healthier planet, eat these 50 foods; From mushrooms, beans and pulses, to nuts, tubers, seaweed, algae, cactuses, and greens, our food choices can protect our future (WWF, Knorr)

Read NPR story here; see WWF Knorr Report here (pdf)

….According to the report, 75 percent of the food we consume comes from just 12 plant sources and five animal sources. And just three crops — wheat, corn and rice — make up nearly 60 percent of the plant-based calories in most diets.

The lack of variety in agriculture is both bad for nature and a threat to food security, the report says. It argues that it’s essential we change our eating habits to protect the planet and ensure we are able to feed our growing global population….

….Maria Haga, the head of Crop Trust, an organization focused on preserving crop diversity, says the new campaign is on target. “We probably have globally like 30,000 plants that we could eat,” she says. “We eat roughly 150 of those.” And to have just a handful of crops be so dominant is “really a challenge for the whole food system.”

Haga says dependence on just a few crops is also a threat to food security…. If we’re to feed everyone with a changing climate, says Haga, we’ll need diverse crops that can adapt to extreme weather conditions. The planet has lost thousands of varieties of foods in the last hundred years, says Haga. And once they’re gone, they’re gone forever….

….people are beginning to wake up to the problem and to the wide variety of alternative foods, many of which he grew up eating. One example is the ancient grain fonio, which resembles couscous. “It’s a grain that’s great for the planet,” says Thiam. “And it’s gluten free; it’s drought resistant; it grows in two months; it scores low on the glycemic index, so it’s great for your health too.”… Besides grains like fonio, they include various mushrooms, beans and pulses, nuts, tubers, algae and cactuses…

Arctic warming drives drought

A warming Arctic weakens the temperature difference between the tropics and the poles meaning less precipitation, weaker cyclones and weaker mid-latitude westerly wind flow — a recipe for prolonged drought.

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

  1. Cody C. Routson, Nicholas P. McKay, Darrell S. Kaufman, Michael P. Erb, Hugues Goosse, Bryan N. Shuman, Jessica R. Rodysill, Toby Ault. Mid-latitude net precipitation decreased with Arctic warming during the HoloceneNature, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1060-3

When the Arctic warmed after the ice age 10,000 years ago, it created perfect conditions for drought. The temperature difference between the tropics and the poles drives a lot of weather. When those opposite temperatures are wider, the result is more precipitation, stronger cyclones and more robust wind flow. However, due to the Arctic ice melting and warming up the poles, those disparate temperatures are becoming closer.

“Our analysis shows that, when the Arctic is warmer, the jet stream and other wind patterns tend to be weaker,” says Bryan Shuman, a UW professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics. “The temperature difference in the Arctic and the tropics is less steep. The change brings less precipitation to the mid-latitudes.”….

Climate Change: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

MAGC/ One Tam /GGNPC Presentation March 14, 2019

Many thanks to the Marin Art and Garden Club, One Tam and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for inviting me to present. My presentation includes some of the latest science about climate change (as well as land use change and pollution impacts on ecosystems) globally and regionally; an overview of the United Nations efforts to address climate change including the most recent UNFCCC COP 24 meeting outcomes (which I was honored to attend representing Point Blue); and, what we can do- and are doing- to secure a vibrant future for us all. You can view a pdf of my presentation here.

Nitrogen pollution’s path to streams weaves through more forests (and faster) than suspected

Read full ScienceDaily coverage here

Sebestyen et al. Unprocessed atmospheric nitrate in waters of the Northern Forest Region in the USA and CanadaEnvironmental Science & Technology, 2019; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b01276

Scientists have completed one of the largest and longest examinations to trace unprocessed nitrate movement in forests. The team found that some nitrate occasionally moves too fast for biological uptake, resulting in ‘unprocessed’ nitrate bypassing the otherwise effective filter of forest biology.

The study links pollutant emissions from various and sometimes distant sources including industry, energy production, the transportation sector and agriculture to forest health and stream water quality.

“Nitrogen is critical to the biological productivity of the planet, but it becomes an ecological and aquatic pollutant when too much is present,” said Stephen Sebestyen, a research hydrologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station based in Grand Rapids, Minn., and the study’s lead author….

“From public land managers to woodlot owners, there is a great deal of interest in forest health and water quality. Our research identifies widespread pollutant effects, which undermines efforts to manage nitrogen pollution.”

Destruction from modest sea level rise at same time as storm in California could exceed worst wildfires and earthquakes, new research shows

Read full LATimes coverage here

Barnard et al. Dynamic flood modeling essential to assess the coastal impacts of climate change. Scientific Reports, Volume 9, Article number: 4309 (2019)

In the most extensive study to date on sea level rise in California, researchers say damage by the end of the century could be far more devastating than the worst earthquakes and wildfires in state history.

A team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists concluded that even a modest amount of sea level rise — often dismissed as a creeping, slow-moving disaster — could overwhelm communities when a storm hits at the same time. The study combines sea level rise and storms for the first time, as well as wave action, cliff erosion, beach loss and other coastal threats across California. These factors have been studied extensively but rarely together in the same model.

The results are sobering. More than half a million Californians and $150 billion in property are at risk of flooding along the coast by 2100 — equivalent to 6% of the state’s GDP, the study found, and on par with Hurricane Katrina and some of the world’s costliest disasters. The number of people exposed is three times greater than previous models that considered only sea level rise. ….Even a small shift in sea level rise could launch a new range of extremes that Californians would have to confront every single year.

“It’s not just some nuisance that’s going to pop its head up once in a while,” said Patrick Barnard, research director of the USGS Climate Impacts and Coastal Processes Team and lead author of the study. “These are significant events that are going to recur and be ten times the scale of the worst wildfires and earthquakes that we’ve experienced in modern California history.”….

….The latest National Climate Assessment, a major scientific report by 13 federal agencies, concluded $1 trillion in coastal real estate is threatened by rising sea levels, storm surges and high-tide flooding exacerbated by climate change….