I had originally planned to make my next post a continuation of the last one, and call it “Proof, Part 2.” However, my last blog post stirred up a lot of debate and reaction, including recognition from New York Times environmental reporter/blogger Andrew Revkin. So, I thought I’d take a slight detour and address some of the issues raised by that post.
Many thoughtful comments on this blog (thanks!!) have focused on my so-called “dragging” the Holocaust into the climate change debate. The claims were that I am “cheapening” the Holocaust, that I am not able to distinguish between deniers and skeptics and/or that I am accusing climate change deniers of using “Nazi methods” simply by using the term deniers in the context of climate change.
First of all, I could not and would not “cheapen” a genocide that killed most of my family and deprived me of my childhood between the Warsaw Ghetto and Bergen-Belsen. I was born three months before the start of this genocide in which we were targeted for annihilation because we belonged to a group that the Germans did not think had a right to exist.
But, of course, I am using the term “denier” to make a point. In 1933, very few people believed that Hitler would seriously try to accomplish what he preached and almost no one could imagine the consequences of his deadly reign. Although there was evidence available – Hitler was clear about what he wanted to do in Mein Kampf – why did people not pay attention? These “deniers” might as well have been called skeptics in their day.
I make my “climate change denier” claim for one reason. It’s easy today to teach students to condemn the Holocaust, but it’s much more difficult to teach them how to try to prevent future genocides. There are different kinds of genocides and they don’t repeat themselves; they come to us in different ways. I am not suggesting that the Holocaust is just like climate change. But what I am suggesting is that it’s hard to see a genocide – any genocide – coming. The future is hard to predict, but we can see this one coming. This genocide is of our own making, and it will effect everyone, not just one group or country.
Even if people don’t believe this or are skeptical – remember Germany as Hitler came to power – why don’t we act now? Why wait? And what, exactly, are we waiting for anyway? Are we waiting for “the answer?” Since, as I’d said earlier, the future is not totally predictable, we may never get “the answer.”
I don’t want my grandchildren to die in a climate change genocide that we could have helped head off because we were waiting for some unattainable certainty about climate change.
The preventive actions that need to be undertaken are outlined in various credible scientific reports and will be expanded upon right here in the near future. They will have to be applied on a multigenerational time scale (End of Now in my book- see the first blog).
These actions that we can take now are not meant to be “the answer” to a certain scenario. They were always meant to be an insurance policy that we can afford to pay and that we must pay. In my opinion, most of those actions can be summarized like this: at a minimum, we must require that by the “end of now” (my grandchildren’s life-span), half of our global energy use must not result in the emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and fossil fuels must not be coal based. (There’s more on all of that in my book.)
Ultimately, my main objective in “dragging” the Holocaust into this debate is that, in my opinion, long-term solutions to our climate change problem can only be attained through the educational system.
Holocaust studies and commemorations are now widespread. Here’s just one example: “United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 on Holocaust remembrance called for the establishment a programme of outreach on the subject of the ‘Holocaust and the United Nations’ and measures to mobilize civil society for Holocaust remembrance and education in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide.” Millions of children, mainly in Europe, North America, Australia, Israel, and even in China study the events. Holocaust museums are opening in places that are not directly connected with the event.
A valid question, one that probably only a person with a background similar to mine can ask is, why? The UN resolution provides a reasonable response – “to prevent future acts of genocide.” The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana wrote that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” to which the English writer and cartoonist Max Beerbohm replied, “History does not repeat itself. The Historians repeat one another.”
Teaching the Holocaust to achieve this objective requires not only the study of past events, but it also must attempt to analyze future situations that might lead to genocides – man-on-man and self-inflicted – through destruction of the physical environment.
I belong to the last generation of Holocaust survivors. The interest in study of the Holocaust is increasing, and the demand for people like me to appear before school children to tell our stories and answer their questions, is increasing. This is an opportunity that I choose to use to remind everybody within our reach that we need to pay attention to the prevention of future genocides through analysis of situations that might lead to one.