It’s with excitement and some trepidation that I write my very first blog post today. As a trained scientist, it really isn’t in my nature to write short blips about weighty subjects like climate change.
But I’ve taken up this challenge – today, on the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day – because I simply couldn’t stand by and watch while climate change “deniers” continue to try to take center stage and to keep all of us from doing what’s necessary to head off the impending climate change disaster.
As a professor, a scientist, a Holocaust survivor and someone who has just written a book on climate change, I think I am uniquely positioned to tell the climate change story. I know that once people really grasp the science behind climate change and how each person really can help us reverse course, they take action and feel hopeful. I’ve seen it happen. Despite everything, I feel hopeful too.
So please, read on, leave comments and let’s start a discussion.
Climate Change and the Holocaust
The term itself triggers angry responses and, recently, it’s been used in a tumultuous series of climate change opinion pieces, responses and blog posts – now numbering in the hundreds – a recent focal point was an exchange in the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published under the title “No Need to Panic About Global Warming,” an opinion piece signed by 16 scientists that appeared in the January 26th edition.
Even Physics Today, got into the fray, and published this on their blog recently:
Any time somebody publishes the words “denier” “climate” “Mann” “Santer” and “Trenberth” in an online article, they might as well be blowing a dog whistle that attracts a swarm of obsessive, inarticulate, scientifically-illiterate human comment-bots. They always say the same thing (probably cutting-and-pasting from elsewhere), bringing up Holocaust deniers “we’re not that” and Lysenko “yes you are”. This discourse is at the intellectual level of a playground. This is probably the first Physics Today article they have ever read.
The comment reflects the undeniable fact that the term “deniers” has a direct association specifically with Holocaust deniers and captures much of the intellectual spirit and tone of this debate.
We are now painfully aware that the Holocaust deniers were dead wrong and that there was a planned systematic genocide. But what about climate change deniers? Can we really compare the two, the Holocaust and climate change? Does this have anything to do with science?
I am probably one of the very few who can write with some authority on both topics.
I was born in Warsaw, Poland in May, 1939. The first three years of my life were spent in the Warsaw Ghetto, as the Nazis developed their plans for systematic Jewish genocide. Before the destruction of the Ghetto in 1943, I was hidden for a time on the Aryan side by a family friend, but a Nazi “deal” to provide foreign papers to escape Poland resulted in my mother bringing me back to the Ghetto. Then a Nazi double-cross sent the remnants of my family not to safety in Palestine, but to the Bergen Belsen concentration camp as possible pawns in exchange for German prisoners of war. As the war was nearing an end, in April 1945, we were put on a train headed to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp further from the front lines. American tank commanders with the 743rd tank battalion of the American 30th Division intercepted our train near Magdeburg in Germany, liberating nearly 2500 prisoners. Within the year, my mother and I began building new lives in Palestine.
I am now a professor of Physics, studying the causes of global warming. I have just published a book on the topic: Climate Change: The Fork at the End of Now (June 2011 by Momentum Press). I publish literature regularly on climate change and energy, founded the Environmental Studies undergraduate program at Brooklyn College of CUNY, and have taught climate change on various levels for the last 15 years or so.
The last chapter of my book is titled “The Future, the Past and the ‘Just World’ Hypothesis,” where I make an attempt to understand the intensity of the climate change debates and try to answer the question, “Why do we tend to underestimate risks relating to natural hazards, when a catastrophic event has not occurred for a long time? If the catastrophic events are preventable, can this lead to catastrophic inaction?”
The Webster Dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of racial, political or cultural groups”. There is no question that the Holocaust was a genocide. Genocides do not repeat themselves exactly. They come in different guises. Despite the deniers, it is straightforward to teach students to condemn the Holocaust, but it is more difficult to teach them how to prevent future genocides. One of the most difficult parts is to see them coming. Despite the fact that Hitler published the first volume of his manifesto, Mein Kampf, in 1925, where he laid out his philosophy, he was, nevertheless, democratically elected as German Chancellor in 1933. Few people believed in 1933 that he would seriously try to accomplish what he preached or anticipated the consequences that resulted from his actions.
Predictions by the Intergovernmental Plan on Climate Change (IPCC) and most scientists, strongly suggest that we may be creating our next genocide ourselves; a “business as usual” scenario over the next 70 years (the expected lifespan of my grandchildren – my definition of “Now” in the book) will result in doubling of greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions at these levels would result in major extinctions around the globe, with more than 40% of ecosystems destroyed. The belief that we are not part of the ecosystems is a dangerous hubris. We have just passed the 7 billion population mark and even if we take the 40% prediction with a large grain of salt, we are talking about the potential genocide of billions of people.
Arnold Toynbee wrote that civilizations die from suicides, not murder. Even if the predicted consequences of “business and usual” environmental scenarios over the next 70 years turn out to be wrong in some details and even slightly wrong in timing, it’s clear that once we pass a critical point in the ability of the planet to adapt to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere, the consequences amount to global suicide – a self-inflicted genocide. We know what we must do to mitigate this possible future genocide, but we need our collective will to do so. We can’t allow the deniers to win again.
Thank you for reading this and please let me know what you think.