Friday, July 23, 2010
[New Orleans, Louisiana August 29, 2005. A taste of more to come?]
I'm currently reading a book called "The Flooded Earth" by Peter D. Ward, professor of biology at Washington University in Seattle. The book makes predictions concerning global warming and it's affects on mankind.
Personally, I always take predictions with a little skepticism. According to Yogi Berra "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."
However the data concerning global warming seems to be very compelling.
The whole problem began in Britain about 1790. Steam engines became more advanced and these were powered by coal. Thus began the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution is the basis for all the wealth of modern society. In pre-industrial times, life was hard, painful and short for most people, as it still is for example in rural Africa today. When we think of all the miracles and advances of science, we are generally referring to the Industrial Revolution and all it's byproducts, such as good health care, plentiful food (grown with modern fertilizer and machinery), etc. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the earth's population has increased about nine fold. Average life expectancy has more than doubled. Without the Industrial Revolution, I would be writing with a quill pen on parchment by dim candlelight, if I knew how to write at all. Children often had to work the fields rather than go to school, and no money was available to pay a teacher. The chance of mankind reverting to a pre-Industrial way of life is of course nil. Bear in mind that the Industrial Revolution is still continuing full swing in China and India, which at this moment are building endless new factories, power plants, cars, etc. Industrialization is only rapidly accelerating, in spite of all the good intentions of Al Gore and others. The treaties to stop climate change are all just so much hot air. (No pun intended!) No one is voluntarily going back to 1750 and there is no cheap, clean substitute for coal.
The only small problem with the Industrial Revolution is that it may kill most of mankind off. We may consider the Industrial Revolution to be a sort of global thermonuclear war in very slow motion.
The burning of coal, along with gasoline and natural gas, which became commonly used for fuel after 1908 and 1950 respectively, creates carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a "greenhouse gas" which tends to make the earth warmer. As the earth becomes warmer, the Arctic and Antarctic ice will melt. Coastal areas will experience more frequent flooding and finally will become submerged. (Hurricane Katrina was a preview.) Many of the world's coastal areas are heavily populated urban or agricultural zones. Tropical and temperate regions will suffer more frequent drought and crop failures. Malnutrition and disease will become more widespread.
This is more or less comparable to the effects of a total global thermonuclear war, the main difference being that this disaster will happen over several centuries instead of over a few months. It's ironic that in the long term all the alleged wonders and miracles of science may do more harm than good.
What's interesting about this is that according to Jewish eschatology, this world will last only 6000 years and the Messiah must arrive before that (Talmud Sanhedrin 97a at the bottom of the page). The year 6000 of the Jewish calendar corresponds to the Christian year 2240. Furthermore, the Talmud predicts a great deal of suffering before the advent of the Messiah, "R. Johanan said: When thou seest a generation overwhelmed by many troubles as by a river, await him, as it is written, when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him;(Isaiah 59:19) which is followed by, And the Redeemer shall come to Zion. (Isaiah 59:20)" (Talmud Sanhedrin 98a)
However the Talmud also states there "R. Eleazar's disciples asked him: 'What must a man do to be spared the pangs of the Messiah?' [He answered,] 'Let him engage in [Torah] study and benevolence'."
So drive a Toyota Prius if you like. I do, by the way. However Torah study and helping others, not environmentalism, is our only possible hope.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 4:11 PM