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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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  • frosh says:

    Hi Ittay,

    While I do think the climate is changing, and man-made factors may well be a contributing factor to this, I’m not sure that we should be attributing specific weather events to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

    In the same way, a particular cold snap in winter (as experienced in the UK recently), or an unseasonably cool summer should not be used as definitive evidence that the earth is cooling.

    There were several floods in the 19th and 20th centuries of the same magnitude and in the same geographic areas as experienced this month in Queensland.

    I think, for a multitude of reasons, that we need to be dramatically reducing pollution (air, water, and land), reversing deforestation, and in general showing far more respect for the planet. I’m just concerned that in the process of trying to get everyone to do the right thing, that we don’t create ‘facts’ that can’t ultimately be substantiated, and then might actually backfire in terms of turning people away from environmentally sound behaviour.

  • Pablo says:

    Frosh – It’s a straw man argument to say we can’t attribute one particular event to global warming. No one is saying that – if you read the quotes in the article carefully you will see that. The point is, that our emissions are making these events more frequent and more severe. That has been established by climate scientists for years if not decades now. That includes floods, droughts, heatwaves and bushfires – and in Europe it may event include severe winters (they are still looking at that).

    The fact that floods like these have happened before is irrelevant – the point is they are happening more often and getting worse. The trend is clear – look at insurance company studies.

    The scientists that Ittay quotes are not basing their words on one event, they are basing what they say on trends, covering many events and measurements and modelling.

    As Ittay mentions, 2010 was the equal hottest year on record, and the wettest year on record. The decade 2001-2010 was the hottest decade on record.

    You are falling in to the trap that climate change deniers set when you say that “no one event can be attributed to global warming” – so what? Does that mean we should ignore the scientific evidence that global warming will cause worse and more frequent floods? Does that mean we shouldn’t urgently transition out of fossil fuels? Of course not.

    These floods should be an eye-opener for us. If we don’t learn the lessons and we don’t listen to our scientists people will keep dying and losing their homes at ever-greater rates.

  • I agree: any implied correlation between global warming and the flood in QLD is facile, but I am disinclined to view global warming as having been directly responsible for the flood’s severity either. This is not to suggest that I don’t believe in climate change (I do), nor that I don’t think that the change is anthropocentric (I do). I just don’t think that we can point to individual occurrences around us and suggest, as Pablo is quoted above, that were it not for the burning of coal, many of the casualties might still be with us today.

    I would be very interested to know what sorts of alternatives to coal people are providing. Where I live (which is a very safe Greens seat), the word “turbine” gets used with disconcerting frequency, despite the fact that it represents a most inefficient means of generating electricity. The safest, cleanest and most effective means remains nuclear, but we have fear-mongerers on the left who prevent this from ever being realised as an option. So with that off the table, and with piddling turbines being ever touted as the solution to our needs, what other choices do we have besides coal?

    (This is a serious question: I am entirely opposed to the burning of fossil fuels, but am genuinely in the dark as regards alternatives.)

  • Pablo says:

    Simon – Check out the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 stationary energy plan!!!!

    http://www.beyondzeroemissions.org – fully costed and very detailed – endorsed by prominent engineers and scientists.

    You can also check out the seven minute video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_I5iWUchz0

    There are no technical barriers to transitioning to 100% renewable energy using technology that is commercially available right now.

    Don’t be fooled by the arguments that there is no alternative – it is fossil fuel lobby propaganda.

    In Spain right now they have baseload solar power – solar thermal power with molten salt storage providing electricity 24 hours a day from the sun. Australia has the best solar resource on Earth. Mixed with intermittent and cheap wind power this is a perfect alternative to fossil fuels.

    And in relation to the casualties, there are numerous studies linking deaths to the impacts of climate change (see global humanitarian forum) – therefore I stand by my comment that it is POSSIBLE that those lost in the floods would still be with us if the world had responded appropriately to global warming decades ago. It is LIKELY that the record high ocean surface temperatures that made these floods so bad would have been slightly (up to 0.5 degrees) less without global warming or with reduced.

    And are you aware that nuclear also uses turbines – pretty much the same ones that coal, gas and solar thermal power stations use?

    (I’m not ideologically opposed to nuclear but to call nuclear clean, that’s a bit much considering the environmental damage from the mines and the waste produced. I don’t see why we need to use nuclear, which is not renewable when we can use solar and wind for around the same price in the short and medium term and it’s much cheaper in the long term.)

  • ariel says:

    I agree with frosh and Simon.

    Furthermore, even IF one were to make a direct connection between increased El Nino/La Nina effects and fossil fuel emissions, we find:

    Australia’s emissions + emissions in other countries coming from Australian coal = bugger all effect

    How can any serious scientist claim that 21 million people have any sizeable effect compared to 3 countries (USA,China, India) which add up to 2.4 billion people?

    The only effect in Australia to going totally zero emissions would be cleaner air and water – hugely desirable outcomes to be sure, but it will have zero effect on the world atmosphere which is caused by the big 3 mentioned above.

    As an engineer, I will say now that wind is the most inefficient and unreliable energy supply available today. All it does is make us feel good that we appear to be doing something.

    Lastly, Pablo and Ittay, who’s going to pay for all this? There are people starving because energy prices have gone up 30%. What will happen when they inevitably increase by 300%?

  • Thank you, Pablo! I will have to defer at this point to somebody with more knowledge than I have, but I appreciate the links that you sent me. Like Ariel, I am also under the impression that wind turbines are highly ineffective (which is why I referred to them above as “piddling”), and so I do not understand how a city can be powered on nothing but wind and sunshine. Though I agree: it’s a romantic notion :)

  • Pablo says:

    Actually, going to renewable energy will limit energy price rises in the future (in fact in some countries with high wind and solar penetration already – like Germany and Spain – have found that it has already reduced the price of electricity).

    The poor will die in far greater numbers due to the price rises in oil and the impacts of climate change (they are already dying due to both these factors) than the cost of renewable energy. Fossil fuels are going up in price – renewable energy is coming down and has no fuel costs once the up front capital costs have been paid and the infrastructure built. It is also more jobs rich than fossil fuel energy. If governments bothered to stand up to the fossil fuel lobby and support it now, it will very soon become cheaper than coal, oil or gas – some technologies are already close to that price parity.

    If you actually care about the poor, then avoiding runaway climate change and getting off fossil fuels is by far the best thing to do. Staying on our current path is disaster.

    All of this is outlined in the Zero Carbon Plan I linked to above. I highly recommend you read at least the summary to understand. Particularly as both your views on wind energy don’t seem to be so well informed. Wind is a fantastic source of electricity and the cheapest renewable energy currently available (for Australia – hydro is cheaper in some other countries). China’s wind capacity has been growing by 100% per year in the last four years and globally it has been growing at 30% per year for about a decade, as it has in Australia too. Spain is already getting well over 10% of their electricity from wind and Denmark will be at 50% wind energy by 2025. Wind is proven and booming all over the world.

    Simon – your views on wind and solar power are understandable – but seem to be based on your gut feelings and not current data – as I said, check out the ZCA plan.

    And finally to address Ariel’s very tired notion that because Australia is so small, we shouldn’t bother. By that same argument no country should bother reducing emissions – and guess what happens then? We get runaway climate change. Germany has about the same emissions as us, so they shouldn’t bother – neither should Japan, or France or the UK. The USA is only 25% of global emissions, as is China, so if they individually went to zero we would also still have a big problem – so they shouldn’t bother either?

    Since my tax contribution is such a small amount of the total government revenue – I shouldn’t have to pay tax by that same logic.

    Australia is a rich nation and the world’s biggest coal exporter, and the worlds biggest per capita polluter. We have some of the best solar and wind resource in the world and lots of money. If we won’t do it, then no one will and we’re all stuffed.

  • ariel says:


    Would you still pay your tiny amount of tax if you realised only 5 other people in the country were doing so and none of them were James Packer?

    Engineering question: what happens when the wind stops blowing and/or the sun stops shining for a few days?

    Energy efficiency may be defined on one level as how much energy do you end up with at point B after you transport it from point A? With wind, the answer is very small compared to nuclear, say.
    We would need to cover 2/3 of NSW in order to generate enough to power peoples’ homes, let alone heavy industry and businesses.

  • ariel says:

    should have read “we would need to cover 2/3 of NSW in windmills…”

  • eli says:

    Perhaps, just to add a little balance to the argument

    From an article @ http://www.climatechangedispatch.com

    ‘Global Warming’ Did Not Cause Brisbane Floods

    Scientists agree that the Brisbane floods are a consequence of the unusually severe la Niña phase of the el Niño Southern Oscillation, a naturally-occurring four-year cycle of warming and cooling of the world’s oceans, starting in the equatorial eastern Pacific and carried around the globe by the thermohaline circulation of ocean currents.

    Scientists also agree – for it is a matter of record – that floods of similar severity have struck the east coast of Australia before: twice in the 19th century and most recently in 1974. These earlier floods could not have been caused by manmade “global warming”, because there was not enough of it to make any difference at that time.

    The full report here http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/images/stories/papers/originals/brisbane_floods.pdf

  • Elana says:

    Nice piece, very thought provoking

  • Pablo says:

    At the risk of repeating myself:

    Ariel – read the Zero Carbon Australia stationary energy plan – it shows in great details how a mix of baseload solar thermal and wind can provide Australia’s energy needs at current levels. The International Energy Agency endorsed it as has the head of environmental engineering at Stanford University, the former chief scientist of Australia and the former chief of the Australian defence force – Oh, and Sir Gustav Nossal too.

    If you refuse to inform yourself then stop commenting on articles. Are you aware of the Enercon E-126 wind turbines? Your idea that 2/3 of NSW needs to be covered is completely absurd. The ZCA plan estimates we would need 6400 wind turbines to supply 40% of Australia’s electricity. Germany already has 19,000 wind turbines in an area about 5% the size of Australia.

    Do you understand how solar thermal with molten salt storage works? It can provide electricity night and day. Again – inform yourself before commenting.

    I repeat again – read the ZCA plan and then comment.

    And Eli – I repeat yet again. No one is claiming that climate change DIRECTLY CAUSED the floods. What scientists are saying (and you leave this out in your comment funnily enough) is that human greenhouse gas emissions are increasing the frequency and severity of natural disasters, namely droughts, floods and bushfires.

    Again – if we don’t act to get out of fossil fuels then we condemn more lives in future natural disasters.

    Really – it would be great if people educated themselves rather than twisted things and wrote badly informed points to suit their pre-arranged positions!

  • ariel says:


    I’ve read the plan; it was circulated in my office when it came out.

    The further away from urban areas the generation plant is built, the more expensive it is to transmit to those urban areas. Unless we build solar and wind farms in every suburb, we’re looking at money we don’t have.

    I’m not asking how much it costs, I’m asking where the money will come from?
    At the moment, our money is tied up with Greens/Labor projects such as the NBN. Apparently, we don’t have enough money to even help rebuild flood-hit areas, so we need a levy, but at least the opposition has their priorities right:



    Anything other than a combination of nuclear baseload with a little bit of wind plus solar panels in every house is fanciful, expensive and completely impractical outside a university classroom.

  • ariel says:

    So apparently now I’ve re read the plan and it’s funded by donations. Interesting…

    This reminds me of Seinfeld’s bit about scientists who dedicate their lives to developing the seedless watermelon:
    “AIDS, cancer…I want to focus on the melon….sure thousands are dying needlessly but this: *spit* – has got to stop!”

  • Pablo says:

    Ariel – Interesting you don’t have any facts to back up your argument, just your own personal prejudices that you refuse to change. While Beyond Zero Emissions have a 200 page document that has the following endorsers (among many more):

    – Malcolm Turnbull, MP
    – Cedric Philibert from the International Energy Agency
    – Sir Gustav Nossal AC CBE FAA FRS
    – Federal Senator Nick Xenophon
    – Nobel Laureate Dr Peter Doherty
    – Mark Z Jacobson from Standford University
    – Professor Robin Batterham, John Howard’s former chief scientist of Australia
    – Professor Carmen Lawrence, former Premier of WA

    So why would they have endorsed it if you think it is so bad? Maybe you should ask them?

    And where will the money come from? If you have actually read the plan, you’ll note that over a 30 year period, transitioning to 100% renewable energy is about the same cost as business as usual with fossil fuels. And the cost is equivalent to 3% of GDP over ten years. And after that, we’d have an electricity system that was 100% renewable with no fuel costs and double the amount of jobs.

  • Pablo says:

    Oh and since you mention donations, the plan was written by about 30 technical experts over 18 months – only one of which was paid a part-time wage. The rest were volunteers.

    Unlike most of the stuff coming from the fossil fuel lobby which is VERY well funded.

  • Pablo says:

    For those who are Liberal supporters, here’s Malcolm Turnbull talking about climate change and the ZCA plan at it’s launch to a full Sydney Town Hall in August 2010, during the Fed election campaign.

    Video and transcript available here: http://beyondzeroemissions.org/media/newswire/zero-carbon-australia-sydney-launch-event-video-bob-carr-and-malcolm-turnbull-100912

    Some choice quotes:

    “it is remarkable that on a cold winters night this issue has managed to fill the town hall. And that tells you something about the extent of the concern that Australians have about climate change and the interest in and hunger for information and knowledge about the way we can deal with it and the way we can move, as we must move, if we are to effectively combat climate change to a situation where all or almost all of our energy comes from zero or very near zero emissions sources.

    “Now our response to climate change must be guided by science. The science tells us that we have already exceeded the safe upper limit for atmospheric carbon dioxide. We are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we’ve got.

    “Now I want to congratulate Matthew and all the authors and collaborators on this report. This is a fantastic piece of work. Many people will look at it and they’ll say it’s too good to be true. And we all know that often when things are too good to be true, they probably are. But let me give you one piece of data, one fact, one insight which should give you encouragement as you read this report. You’ll see that the key technology that this project relies upon is concentrated solar thermal power. As you know the great challenge with renewable sources of energy; solar and wind in particular, is that they are intermittent. So what do we do when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. How do we store that power?

    “…there is the ability with concentrated solar thermal power stations to use the suns energy to superheat a substance, in this case molten salt, that will hold its heat for long enough to be able to continue to generate steam and hence energy after the sun has stopped shining or during or day after day of rain. So there is a real opportunity there, with that technology, to generate baseload power from solar energy something of a holy grail.”

  • ariel says:

    Actually, I’m an engineer… I don’t have prejudices, my only concern is practicality.

    Unlike Malcolm Turnbull, Carmen Lawrence and Nick Xenophon

    Have any engineers who actually work out in the field (“getting their hands dirty”) contributed to the document?

    Engineering and science are not the same thing. Engineers have to actually factor in reality to the equation, since we have to build the thing.

    I notice you don’t publish your own engineering credentials on the Beyond Zero Emissions website…

  • Pablo says:

    Ariel – the whole report was written by engineers!! Many of whom work in the field – check the title page yourself. Many are and/or working working in the energy sector directly too, both in renewable energy and fossil fuels.

    And although I am an engineer by training, I am not one of the main authors of the plan, I was merely a reviewer, but I certainly learnt a lot – I hope it is as informative for you.

    Several of the endorsers are also engineers and experts in their fields.

    Any more things you want me to disprove? You don’t seem to have many arguments left.

  • Pablo says:

    Shoshanna – where have you been? the link you give is a fraud – it has been proven to be many times over, including here in Australia when Tony Jones interviewed the director of that video.

    funny how the climate change deniers used to say that the Earth was cooling and that global warming stopped in 1998 (like what Senator Steve Fielding says) and yet 2010 was the equal hottest year on record, and the hottest 9 years on record (since 1850) have happened in the last ten years. Shoshanna, do you think the Earth is cooling? do you think it is a big conspiracy? If so, who is in it?

    Yes, climate change is scary, but there’s not point burying our heads in the sand about it. Your instinct may be to deny it is happening, but that isn’t a healthy response.

  • ariel says:


    For the record, I am against fossil fuels. However, from and ethical standpoint, there are many more priorities to consider in our society before your bold initiative. It is bold and your effort is to be congratulated. But it is not based on the daily reality of Average Joe…

    a) We have just been through a GFC
    b) People already struggle to pay energy bills which have increased “only” about 30-50% over the last couple of years. How will these people cope when the tarrifs inevitably rise by 200-300% under your plan, even if that’s only a short term spike?
    c) People are suffering in QLD and VIC from devastating floods. Also in Brazil. Our money should be tied up in helping them get back on their feet and curing their ills, even if it means burning fossil fuels to preserve their lives.
    From any ethical standpoint, current lives take precedence over future ones.

    I wish you all the best and I hope one day – perhaps in another 30-50 years, when we are in a better situation and inevitably when there will be even more advanced renewable generation technology – a plan like yours will be implemented.

  • There is no proof that the global warming theory is scientific fact or that carbon emissions is the cause. It’s all scare tactics and propaganda designed further the cause of totalitarianism. Educate yourself and open your mind.

  • And from the founder of Greenpeacce himself—http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8k17a9eWk8k

    Global warming is really all about anti-Capitalism

  • Vic says:

    Nice article. Good to see there’s at least a handful of journalists out there that realise the situation.

    And Pablo, seriously good work mate. You’re looking like a knight in shining armour fending off a pack of marauding orcs. God speed Pablo!!!

  • Ho hum … the usual to and fro about climate change (formerly known as global warming).

    But given this piece discusses Tu Bishvat and God, perhaps a Jewish theological discussion about climate change is appropriate?

    Tradition tells us that God created the world (in the form we know it) for 6000 years (this year is 5771), and the seventh millenia will usher in an entirely different, and more spiritual existence. So with “only” 229 years left, is anything we do to reduce carbon emissions going to have any meaningful impact? And *if* climate change is man-made, is anything going to significantly change during that time anyway?

    Can you be a card-carrying Green and believe in the age and lifecycle of the world as espoused by the Torah?

  • It can be neurotically unhealthy to stress over the fate of the world’s climate change. Many people are actually depressed over all this. It has gotten to the point where children are showing problems with anxiety because they are having nightmares related to the global warming scare propaganda they are being taught in school. All this over a theory that has no scientific consensus at all. It like a religion, albeit a godless gloomy one.

    Look here:http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/what_consensus_kimo_sabe/

  • Leo Braun says:

    “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”! What in practical terms meant to curb for starters the unrestrained power supply via current-limiters. Obviously consumers guidance in throttling the simultaneous appliances use at the same time, to precede the downgraded circuit breakers installation. Alleviating thus overload of the power supply network during peak-hours (mitigated already by the off-peak hot-water-heating and the variable kWh charges).

    Yet most significant results could be attained via fundamental changes in refrigeration and airconditioning systems. Where currently expelled energy via heat-exchangers / cooling towers, actually to be recycled via closed circuit operation. Imagine, no individual fridges or airconditioning units to be manufactured, instead of which modular cooling compartments integration within the kitchen cupboards to take place. Simultaneously reticulated under-floor coolling/heating to provide passive airconditioning. No nasty bacteria, dust, so no need in air-filters (requiring periodic cleaning). To ameliorate our wellbeing — no noise or draughts anymore!

    Solely having to maintain hot/cold brine circulation throughout the building, viable particularly for the high-risers, equipped with the individual energy meters. Calculating charges according to the energy used for the intermittent hot water, as needed. Under-floor cooling/heating and kitchen’s modular refrigeration units supply. Undoubtedly, kitchen’s exhaust hood, besides the toilet/bathroom exhaust fan, to draw in turn sufficient fresh-air.

  • Malki Rose says:


    Firstly it is, due to lack of evidence and the presence of far stronger evidence to the contrary, a narrowly held belief that the world will exist for a mere 6000 years. However this seems to not affect the essence of your important question.

    I see your question as essentially asking the following, “If one holds by the Torah’s position (whatever that may be) on the age, state and purpose of the planet, can one still be a card carrying greeny?”

    The answer simply put seems to be “Yes”.

    In fact I would think that anyone who maintains a position of commitment to the Torah, or at least to the first two chapters of Bereshit, is obliged to place themselves in a position of utmost responsibility for the planet and all its inhabitants’ care.

    If mankind was given dominion over all the earth and its contents, then it does not matter whether the world exists for 10,000,000 years or 10 years, we need to look after it while we are here.

    I suppose that means the more detailed answered is not “can you be a greeny AND torah dedicated”, but rather that one CANNOT possibly be Torah dedicated without being a greeny.

    (I am not saying anyone needs to necessarily chain themselves to trees or lie down in front of bulldozers)

    I detest the notion that, whether biblically or otherwise, floods and downpours are a punishment for bad behaviour, as per the entire Judeo-Christian trend of seeing all unpleasant events as punishments for being naughty. It creates, and clearly has created, a multi-millenium culture of constant guilt and motivating good from fear.

    I hope that the reason you mentioned these instances in the Torah was to demonstrate backward or primitive thinking. Yes?

    What I truly love about your article is, what I am hoping is, your contention, ‘that we effect how rain affects us’.

    In other words, that decisions made at a local, regional and global level ultimately can determine how a variety of natural events can affect us.

    Immediately upon reading your article I thought of the story of Joseph. Granted he was unable to prevent a Nile failure or an epic state of widespread famine. But there were precautions he was able to take well in advance to ensure that survival was maximise, i.e, in the mass gathering and storage of grain during the prior years of plenty.

    Then I thought of John Bradfield.

    It is in times like these, of intense flooding and inordinately upsetting destruction that one cannot help but wonder why the Australian government will not reconsider the Bradfield Scheme.

    Every government since the 1938 suggestion knows that the financial costs of setting it up would be substantial, but what is also known is how drought, famine and flood proof it would make Australia.

    You are so right Ittay, “we affect how rain affects us”.
    And it is about the decisions that are made by us, or on our behalf, will dictate how or if we survive, or at least are able to minimise the devastation of, naturally occurring phenomenon.

  • Marky says:

    “and the presence of far stronger evidence to the contrary”

    What is this far stronger evidence?

  • Ittay says:

    In response to your question about whether one can be take the threat posed by climate change seriously and be a torah observant Jew, my answer is yes for the same reasons stated by Malki. Moreover, Rambam states explicitly in commenting on Devarim 20:19 , ‘ki haadam etz hasade’ that “It is forbidden to chop down fruit trees and to deny them water so they will dry, as it says in the Torah “do not destroy its trees.” This applies not only during a siege, but in all instances that one chops down a fruit tree in a destructive manner…
    This is true not only of trees, but whoever breaks vessels or rips clothing or destroys a building, or blocks up a water source, or destroys foodstuffs, in a destructive manner has violated the prohibition of bal tashchit –do not be wasteful…”

    Like you, I am much more influenced by moreh nevuchim than chasidus on the question of providence and therefore also “detest the notion that, whether biblically or otherwise, floods and downpours are a punishment for bad behaviour”

    You have correctly understood my contention that “we effect how rain affects us” means by our actions in the here and now and not because of divine intervention.

    To all the rest of the commenters who are sceptical of whether climate change is actually caused by humans or not, I pose to you this Pascal’s Wager question.

    If climate change is not really caused by humans, but we invest the required resources to change the way Australia’s economy operates either through a CPRS or through the Beyond Zero Emissions recommendations, the worst outcome will be price hikes on some bills, cleaner water, air and more forests.

    But if climate change is really caused by humans and we do nothing, the consequences to us, our families and planets are far greater.

    I know which option seems more logical to me

  • ariel says:


    You seem to be indicating – via Pascal Wager – that it’s an all or nothing; a black and white argument:
    Either climate change is caused by humans or it isn’t.

    What about the idea held by many that humans contribute to climate change, but are not the sole contributor? That perhaps part of it is nature (or Hashem, or whatever people want to call it) is doing it’s thing?
    Are people who hold this view to be condemned as “skeptics” and “deniers”?

    “If climate change is not really caused by humans, but we invest the required resources … the worst outcome will be price hikes on some bills, cleaner water, air and more forests.”

    Re price hikes: how many people in Australia will be left literally out in the cold because of these price hikes? Do we not have a responsibility – both under Torah and most ethical systems – to protect the vulnerable?

    In an ideal world, the CPRS or Beyond Zero Emissions plan would be funded by legislating any implementation law with the following ammendments:

    a) Heavy industry which currently has a large environmental impact will be charged a levy to fund the program, but they WOULD NOT be allowed to pass this on to individual customers; they would have to absorb the cost;

    b) If necessary, those individuals who earn more than $300,000/yr salary will also be charged a levy unless they can prove that they already subscribe to green power; and

    c) The rest of ordinary tax payers will not be worse off financially.

    Unfortunately, as most governments are too afraid to suggest such a thing, I don’t see it happening.
    And most will ask the following: why should I suffer while Turnbull, Rudd and Packer (not to mention big businesses) get to continue with their lives as usual?

  • Malki & Ittay,

    I would certainly agree that the Torah mandates that we look after the world around us. There is a broad prohibition of “baal tashchis” against needless destruction, which is related to the prohibition against destroying a fruit-bearing tree. I’m all in favour of recycling, and keeping the earth clean, but what differentiates card-carrying Greens is their “environment above everything” stance, and that humans are to blame for everything, and therefore must act quickly before we all die.

    This is not as “black and white” as some Greens may have it. For example, according to Torah law, one may be allowed to destroy an orchard to build, for example, a nuclear power station, if it results in a net benefit. People have and will continue to argue whether one is better than the other.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Re David’s initial question:

    Whether or not the year 6000 will bring “an entirely different, and more spiritual existence”, we are not absolved of taking action with long term effects in mind – in terms of the environment or anything else for that matter.

    For one thing, how can we define this entirely different existence? There are widely varying opinions on what the “acharit hayamim” world will be like, and it’s entirely possible that the natural world will continue to exist, governed by the same laws of physics, and that the spiritual change will be in the perception of human beings – “Ki mal’a ha’aretz de’ah et Hashem kamayim layam mechasim”. In this case it would be irresponsible not to give serious thought to the environment in the long term.

    Secondly, we are also told not to rely on miracles. An attitude of “it doesn’t matter what we do, one day Hashem will make it all better” seems to violate this principle.

    (By the way, I am speaking theoretically – I’m not advocating for or against cutting carbon emissions or any other practical application of the issue.)

  • Shira Wenig says:

    And re Ittay & Malki’s position that the notion of natural phenomena being manifestations of God’s relationship with man is primitive outdated thinking…

    I agree that there is more to it than direct causation – you can’t say, for example, that the Queensland floods were a direct result of sin “x” committed by person “y”. We can’t pretend to understand the ways of God in such a simplistic manner.
    But it is dangerous to completely dissociate events in the physical world from our own behaviour.

    Belief in reward and punishment is one of the 13 principles of our faith. Of course this can take many forms, one of which is the extreme position of attributing specific disasters to specific people’s actions. We can reject belief in such direct causation but still retain the broad concept of reward and punishment having physical manifestations. Rather than starting with the natural event (whether good or bad) and looking back to find an action to explain it, we should start with our own behaviour, using the principle of reward and punishment as one reason why we should take constant responsibility for the way we act.

    We also believe in a God who is constantly involved with the world. The pasuk which tells us that “God’s eyes are on the land of Israel from the start to the end of the year” is understood to mean that in Israel (which does not have a steady source of water, as opposed to Egypt which has the Nile), the rainfall received during the year is a manifestation of what God feels we deserve that year. This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t take other factors into account, or that He doesn’t sometimes do things that we don’t understand at all. But we do have to view our own actions as relevant, while still realising that what God wants to give the world this year is ultimately all up to Him – this is the purpose of saying tefillat tal and geshem.

  • With respect, Shira, the fact that “reward and punishment is one of the 13 principles of our faith” only serves to demonstrate that, in his early twenties, Maimonides once thought so. There is no indication that he continued to hold by this delineation of dogma later in life, and no reason as to why any Jew today should feel obligated to do so. We’ve a long post-Maimonidean history of thinkers who rejected various of these principles outright, and there is much to indicate that Maimonides either shed or recontextualised some of them in his later philosophical writings.

    His belief in reward and punishment (principle #11) appears to have been one that he maintained, and there are ample scriptural passages to support it. But then, there are also ample scriptural passages to support the assertion that disaster x is caused by sin y, and you very rightly reject that idea. The presence of both biblical and rabbinic sources to indicate that reward and punishment is either capricious (Job 1-2), mysterious (Job 38-39; Menachot 29b, etc), or limited to another world (pHagigah 2:1 77b, etc) is sufficient to indicate that we can adapt this principle in ways other than the one that the Rambam took.

    I am not being argumentative for the sake of being argumentative, but I do think that what Shira and David have written requires qualification. Just as Shira refers to this belief as an integral aspect of Judaism, so too does David refer to the notion that this planet is little less than 6,000 years old as a principle “espoused by the Torah”. It is not espoused by the Torah, although I do acknowledge that it belongs within the realm of Torah thought and exegesis. The fact that there are very many Torah observant Jews who do not subscribe to this particular belief (a belief that, I should add, can only be held in the face of evidence to the contrary) is sufficient to indicate that it is not necessary.

    Can somebody who does embrace the notion of a 5771 year old planet, slated to either be destroyed or change immeasurably in little over two centuries, which either floods or burns in accordance with a divine plan, still be a member of the Greens? I suppose that they can do whatever they like; I’ve no doubt that some might say yes, while others might say no – and that the ones who say no will say no for different reasons. I am not a member of the Greens (and I don’t believe in such things), but I do think that a basic respect for our environment is necessary. While I’ve yet to be convinced that the floods in QLD were in any way exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change, it’s not going to hurt anybody to treat this planet a little bit better. Or as I recently saw on the back of the ute: “Save our Planet. It’s the only one with beer.”

    Happy Australia Day.

  • Open your mind and challenge your assumptions:


  • Leo Braun says:

    “You can’t say, for example, that the Queensland floods were a direct result of sin ‘x’ committed by person ‘y'”! That’s why all must be now investigated in the aftermath of the floods calamity, including the suitability of housing developments on a flood plain, the performance of flood mitigation devices and the actions of emergency services.

    Questions are already being asked about the experts strategy in running of the Wivenhoe dam, built to protect Brisbane following 1974 flood. Yet despite the forecasted La Nina weather conditions dam administrators went into the wet season 100% filled. Rather than below 80% capacity, but that was politically fraught. Guess how people would react, especially when being goaded over water wastage and punished with high water bills.

    So consequently Wivenhoe dam surged to 120% at the initial storms downpour, shortly surpassing 150% before commencement of the massive releases, what took 36 hours to reach Brisbane City (not before a large wallop of the torrent merged with Bremer and Lockyer floods inflow downstream). Simultaneously, relentless downpours at two Sydney harbours in volume per day replenished Wivenhoe dam, ultimately reaching 190% capacity (safe purportedly up to 210%) … http://www.bom.gov.au/hydro/flood/qld/fld_history/brisbane_history.shtml

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Leo – that is obviously not what I meant by sin “x”.

  • Leo Braun says:

    “It is in times like these, of intense flooding and inordinately upsetting destruction that one cannot help but wonder why the Australian govt will not reconsider the Bradfield Scheme. Every govt since the 1938 suggestion knows that the financial costs of setting it up would be substantial, but what is also known is how drought, famine and flood-proof it would make Australia”! http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/engineer-proposes-9b-plan-to-divert-north-queensland-river-water-to-parched-areas-via-canal/comments-e6freoof-1225936839926

    Sadly, instead of long overdue Bradfield Scheme implementation, scandalous decisions were made on our behalf by the jellyback spiteful pollies in wasting billions of dollars on the pink-batts, supposedly justified to revamp dilapidated matchboxes on a flood plain. Totally ignoring … http://www.bom.gov.au/hydro/flood/qld/fld_history/brisbane_history.shtml … archived data by the Bureau of Meteorology (thus forsaking Aussie battlers to endure the recurring climate’s fallout).

    Likewise billions of dollars were spent on the useless school-halls when not a day passing without a successive school-library being vandalised or burnt to the ground. Yet not a live-in janitor with the guard dog to be employed as norm. Still, jellyback spiteful pollies outperformed each other to pound on the chest within the grandiose gestures of assurance that your kids interest was in their heart. Hence the frenzied NBN compulsion, essentially to impose internet filter … http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/12/20/at-last-the-nbn-business-plan-and-its-um-just-a-business-plan/#comment-114569

  • Leo Braun says:

    “That is obviously not what I meant by sin ‘x'” [Shira Wenig]. Yeah, that tells you something about the extent of the concern that “Australians” have about climate change and the interest in. The hunger for information and knowledge about the way we can deal with it … http://galusaustralis.com/2011/01/4024/tu-bishvat-of-floods-and-climate-change/#comment-23482

  • Leo Braun says:

    Amazingly career politicians among the regular visitors to Israel didn’t bother to take notice of the Israeli building standards. Noted for the predominantly elevated multi-storey structures on the pillars which supported a matrix of the reinforced concrete beams and columns. Forming a skeleton-like-structure, swiftly risen above, before the hollow-blocks to fill the void. Thus no-load-bearing walls which could take any route and even modified later (alike the no-load-bearing doorways and windows). Patently, no solid concrete slabs, apart from the ground level carpark-area and a bomb-shelter below.

    Yet instead of the solid concrete slabs was formed a matrix of the hollow-blocks on the flat formwork in contiguous rows, lightly encased consequently with the reinforced concrete topping. Poured during simultaneous casting of the reinforced concrete beams between the rows of the hollow-blocks. Forming a ceiling below and the above floor’s substructure for plumbing and electrical installation, buried with a layer of sand.

    Finally on that sand’s surface being run heating/cooling reticulation when designated http://galusaustralis.com/2011/01/4024/tu-bishvat-of-floods-and-climate-change/#comment-23482 … before floor tiles accomplished the job. So how that compares with the matchboxes disgrace proliferation downunder? Forsaken inhabitants of which being subjected to the recurrent floods, devastating cyclones and bush fires, if not for ferocious white-ants to consume their livelihood first.

  • Marky says:

    Simon Holloway writes “the presence of both biblical and Rabbinic sources to indicate that reward and punishment is either capricious, mysterious or limited to another world is sufficient to indicate we can adapt this principle in ways other than the Rambam took”

    I think you have misunderstood the Rambam and others re reward and punishment. Generally when discussing reward and punishment they(The Rambam etc.) are indeed talking about it “limited to another world”.

    Also: (Re the world being less than 6000 years old) “a belief that can only be held in the face of evidence to the contrary”.

    According to our teachings, the earth was created as an adult world(could easily be billions of years old), just as Adam was created an adult, so the evidence is not to the contrary.

  • To respond to Marky’s second point first, the assertion that the universe was created fully formed (while it is reminiscent of a Talmudic statement that all was created “in its full form”; Rosh haShana 11a, Chullin 60a) was actually first given expression in the 19th century by a Christian scholar named Philip Henry Gosse. The analogy to Adam having been fully formed was his as well, and the reason for his naming the book Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot; omphalos means “navel” in Greek. In a nutshell, he posited the notion that God created a world that was already replete with every indication of it being ancient. Whether it was the presence of light that should have taken billions of years to arrive from its source, the layers of ice in glaciers, or the sediment that forms at the base of lakes, all of these things were brought into existence only 5771 years ago.

    The problem with this argument is that it also forces us to posit a readily created history of human cultural evolution. To suggest that God formed a world replete with ice rings, tree rings, radioactive isotopes, etc, is one thing. To suggest that he also created it with the remains of human beings, their clothing, dwellings, tools and artistry is something else entirely! Even if you could accept that fossilised remains of other animals, the dinosaurs included, were all a part of the original creation (and I don’t know why one would), can you so easily suggest the same for our own ancestors?

    One can be glib and say that the whole thing is to “test our faith”, or one can posit any of a number of other ideas to justify this belief – as I say – in the face of all evidence to the contrary, but my point is that you don’t need to. Why not just say that the account of creation is not literally true? This is what the Rambam says (Guide 2:29), and he’s good enough for me.

    As for the Rambam’s views on reward and punishment, I must respectfully note that Marky is mistaken. In his Mishne Torah (Hilkhot Teshuvah 6:1), the Rambam makes it very clear that those who sin may be punished after their deaths, but that some sins merit punishment within the sinner’s lifetime as well. In the Guide, the Rambam makes this even clearer, when he posits that the misfortune experienced by the sinner is not so much caused by God, but that it results from the person having removed himself from God’s providence (eg: Guide 3:17).

  • Leo Braun says:

    Unlike in Israel where effective window-shutters blocked scorching sunrays while providing also protection during fierce storms, relentless cyclones afflicted Aussies in northern Qld were told by the perfidious pollies to use masking-tape for protection.

    Obviously pompous career politicians among the regular visitors to Israel didn’t bother to take notice of the superior building standards … http://galusaustralis.com/2011/01/4024/tu-bishvat-of-floods-and-climate-change/#comment-24002

  • Marky says:

    Simon, I said ” ‘generally’ when discussing reward and punishment, they are talking about it in another world”.I never said this is always the case. Of course there are times when it is in this world.

    Re the punishment being the misfortune of having removed himself from G-d’s providence, wouldn’t that be proof that he is discussing punishment in another world, where it is all spiritual and one would indeed suffer by having removed oneself from G-d’s providence? In this world there would hardly be any one feeling suffering for that. Maybe your the exception, but I am talking about the rest of us…

    Re age of the world, I could go on, but prefer to leave it to the Great G-d who created everything. He can do anything, so I have no questions.

  • Leo Braun says:

    Solar collectors alongside hot-water storage-tanks on the flat-roofs conspicuously featured on the Israeli landscape as plane approached Ben Gurion Airport, yet pompous career politicians among the regular visitors to Israel didn’t bother to take notice. Consequently solar water-heating in Australia utilised only sporadically advantageous climate.

    Qui bono?

    • One thing appears clear that the fossil-fuel-industry lobbyists corrupted jellyback spiteful pollies who akin to Simon Holloway ignored Pablo’s argument that in Spain right now they have baseload solar power (solar thermal power with molten salt storage providing electricity 24 hours a day from the sun). Nevermind that Australia has the best solar resource on Earth!

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