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Tu Bishvat of Floods and Climate Change

January 19, 2011 – 10:32 pm47 Comments

An artist's impression of The Flood experienced by Noah

By Ittay Flescher

Today is the day that Jews throughout the world celebrate Tu Bishevat, the new year for trees. In mystical tradition, on this day we have the opportunity to rise through all four worlds of perception, and experience a true sense of oneness, like a tree which reaches out to connect, both above and below.

Watching the devastating force of nature manifest itself in catastrophic floods across the east coast of the Australian mainland and Tasmania this month has caused me to reflect on the relationship between God, Man and the environment.

Many scientists have suggested that global warming is behind the recent tragic floods in Brazil, Australia and Sri Lanka. Last week, David Karoly, from Melbourne University’s school of earth sciences said: “Australia has been known for more than 100 years as a land of droughts and flooding rains, but what climate change means is Australia becomes a land of more droughts and worse flooding rains.

“On some measures it’s the strongest La Nina in recorded history … [but] we also have record-high ocean temperatures in northern Australia which means more moisture evaporating into the air and that means lots of heavy rain.”

David Jones, head of climate monitoring and prediction at the Australia Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne said: “The first thing we can say with La Nina and El Nino is it is now happening in a hotter world,” adding that as a consequence there was more evaporation from land and oceans, more moisture in the atmosphere and stronger weather patterns. “So the El Nino droughts would be expected to be exacerbated and also La Nina floods because rainfall would be exacerbated,” he said, although he added that it would take years before any climate change impact on these phenomena would become clear.

In The Guardian, Prof Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office, said that as a general point, a warmer world is a wetter world:

“As the average global temperature increases, one would expect the moisture content of the atmosphere to rise, due to more evaporation from the sea surface. For every degree celciusn rise in sea surface temperature, atmospheric moisture over the oceans increases by 6-8%. Also in general, as more energy and moisture is put into the atmosphere [by warming], the likelihood of storms, hurricanes and tornadoes increases.”

With all this evidence mounting about the need to act on Climate change now, it was disappointing to read the newly elected premier of Victoria Ted Baillieu in The Age saying, ”I think there is a degree of speculation that is satisfied the climate is changing.” Before the federal election, Tony Abbott also said: “the argument (on climate change) is absolute crap… However, the politics of this are tough for us. 80% of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.”  It astounds me that these Liberal Party leaders can make statements like this despite the fact that 2010 was the equal hottest and wettest year on record, and that the decade 2001-2010 was by far the warmest on record.

Pablo Brait from Beyond Zero Emissions wrote: “If the world had acted on the climate crisis 20 years ago, then it is entirely possible that the people lost in the QLD floods would still be with us. It infuriates me that our Prime Minister and state premiers shed tears over our dead while encouraging the continuation and expansion of coal burning and coal exporting. How many more lives are they condemning by their actions?”

As we mark Tu Bishvat this year we should reflect on how God’s power is manifest in rain. In the Tanach there are number of instances where God sent destructive rain due to people’s actions. In the generation of the flood, God brought rainwater on the generation of Noah to punish them for going against God’s will. The verse states, “Now the Flood was [upon the earth]” (Bereshit 7:2). Rashi explains, “But when He brought them [the rains] down, He brought them down with mercy, so that if they [the people] would repent, they [the rains] would be rains of blessing. When they did not repent, they became a flood.” Also, the prophet Samuel calls upon God to send destructive rain to punish the people (I Samuel 12:17). These cases show in the extreme the connection between how people act and the rains that come into the world.

Today, however, there is another aspect to the people-God-rain equation. While in the past God brought rains according to people’s actions, today our actions can affect the rains that God brings into the world. In short, we affect how rain affects us–at the local, regional, and global scale.

This Tu Bishvat, let us pray that all of God’s creations are able to continue living in a world where we embody the spirit of conservation and responsibility towards the environment that is found in the writings of our sages.

Ittay Flescher is a Jewish Educator in Melbourne. This article was written based on information from the Climate Action Centre of Victoria.

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