Global Scorching & Pharaoh's Advisers

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Global Scorching & Pharaoh's Advisers

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Dear Folks,

I'm happy to report that Philadelphia's widest-read general daily, the Philadelphia Inquirer, this morning (Sunday) published my Op/Ed piece that is both a midrash on the plagues of Exodus, and a critique of President Bush for his Pharaoh-like response to even his own advisers' warnings about global scorching.

(I call it "global scorching" because I think that "global warming" is far too warm & pleasant in overtone.)

My essay began by comparing Pharaoh's shrugging off the shriek of HIS OWN ADVISERS after seven eco-disasters — "DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT YOU ARE DESTROYING EGYPT?!" (Exod. 10:7) to Bush's blowing off as bureaucratic hot air the warning by his own advisers of serious damage to the US from global scorching. (See NY Times of June 3; abstract of the article below. On June 4, NYT and Reuters reported the blow-off.)

The piece as a whole follows. Toward its end, where the Op/Ed asks a series of questions, I have added some more in brackets, bringing home to our own synagogues the questions I raised more generally in the Op/Ed.

Shalom, AW

One of the key moments of the Biblical story of the Exodus is when, after seven eco-disasters, Pharaoh's own advisers shriek at him: "Do you not know that Egypt is destroyed?" (Exodus 10:7).

In case you thought this was a sardonic elaboration on a mythic tale, much the same story actually took place in Washington recently, and President Bush responded much like Pharaoh.

First, you recall, came the "plagues" — environmental disasters. The rivers became poisonous, undrinkable. Frogs swarmed everywhere and then died in stinking heaps. Vermin swarmed. Venomous, bloodsucking flies followed. Mad cow disease descended. Airborne infections raised boils on everyone.

Unprecedented hailstorms signaled radical climate change, shattering grass, trees, animals.

Experts in the ecological balance, who had taken to heart the unity of the universe and whose warnings had been borne out again and again as these plagues struck, now warned that the ecosystem was so ruined that a monstrous plague of locusts was about to strike.

And Pharaoh's own advisers shrieked at him: "These people deeply understand YHWH, the Breath of Life that holds all life together! Let them go forth to serve this Breath of Life" — and that's when they added: "Do you not know that Egypt is destroyed?"

But Pharaoh hardened his heart once more, and the locusts came. And after that, so darkened were the eyes of the people that the land itself was darkened as a thick dust swallowed up all vision. And then came an illness that left no house untouched by death.

On June 3, the New York Times reported that the United States had submitted to the United Nations, as required by treaty, a report on the expected impact of global scorching on the United States. The report was written not by radical outsiders, but by the President's own advisers.

The Times continues: "The report says the United States will be substantially changed in the next few decades — 'very likely' seeing the disruption of snow-fed water supplies, more stifling heat waves and the permanent disappearance of Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal marshes, for example."

The report does stress that global warming carries potential benefits for the nation, including increased agricultural and forest growth from longer growing seasons, and from more rainfall and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis.

But in summary, the Times concludes that the report says environmental havoc is coming as well: "Some of the goods and services lost through the disappearance or fragmentation of natural ecosystems are likely to be costly or impossible to replace. Other ecosystems, such as Southeastern forests, are likely to experience major species shifts or break up into a mosaic of grasslands, woodlands and forests."

And how did our Pharaonic President respond? The usually staid British press agency, Reuters, put this headline on its report: BUSH: GLOBAL CLIMATE REPORT IS BUREAUCRATIC HOT AIR.

Welcome to Egypt, friends.

Hearken to the warnings of those who focus on the Breath of Life that intertwines us all. And if you think they are doom-besotted radicals, listen to the Pharaoh's own advisers.

Time to bethink ourselves — What should we be doing?

Should we be introducing prayers for the earth into every service in all our synagogues and churches, all our mosques and temples?

[For example, our synagogues could focus attention on the 2d paragraph of the Sh'ma and its eco-teaching, rather than dropping it out entirely or mumbling thru it, as we often do.]

Should we be radically reducing our own households' use of fossil fuels? Is it "kosher" to drive an SUV?

[What would happen if our rabbis said in sermons that an SUV is no more kosher than a ham sandwich, and a lot more destructive to the earth & humankind? Would people storm out — or change?]

Or should our next car be a fuel-saving hybrid?

Should we be replacing the thick-headed, hard-hearted, pharaonic politicians — who will not turn to mass transit and encourage bike paths and apply fuel-efficiency standards to Detroit's chariots?

[Do our tikkun-olam committees take these issues to heart, organize letter-writing campaigns about them and vigils for amtrak??]

Should our congregations be teaching eco-truth to our teens and adults, as an integrated part of religious studies?

[What adult-education courses on eco-Judaism are being given in our own synagogues?]

Does this century of human and planetary history need to be different from every other century?

[What matzah, what bitter herb, are we introducing into our lives to remind us that this century IS different from all other centuries?]

I hope many of us will draw on this or other approaches to talk with rabbis and congregational committee chairs, to write letters to the editor — Jewish and general — about what needs to be done —
ranging from supporting mass transit,

to getting rid of SUV's,

to supporting the Friends of the Earth campaign for an International Right to Know Act, requiring global corporations to report in detail the impact of their operations on the earth,

to supporting organizations like The Shalom Center and COEJL in their/our efforts to raise these issues.

In particular, I think we need to look beyond only the specific issues of policy to the question of DECISION-MAKING POWER. Until we recognize the "Pharaoh's Alliance" made up of governments like the Bush Administration, institutions like the World Bank and WTO, and global corporations like Big Oil, and until we invent ways to control that kind of power, we will always be losing ground to them. Losing Earth to them.

That is why I mention the International Right to Know Act sponsored by Friends of the Earth, which would at least force global corporations to reveal what they are doing to the Earth, as domestic ones must. See



Bush administration in stark shift sends climate report to UN detailing specific and far-reaching effects it says global warming will inflict on American environment; US Climate Action Report 2002 for first time blames mostly human actions for recent global warming, singling out burning of fossil fuels as main culprit causing buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in atmosphere; recommends adapting to inevitable changes but fails to propose any major shift in administration's policy on greenhouse gases, such as making rapid reductions to limit warming; concludes that no matter what is done to cut emissions in future, nothing can be done about environmental consequences of several decades' worth of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases already in atmosphere; predictions present sharp contrast to previous statements on climate change by administration, which has always spoken in generalities and emphasized need for much more research to resolve scientific questions; findings of report discussed; photos (M)