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The Environmental Crisis and Free Will

The connections Rabbi Stern and Rabbi Grossman have drawn between the story of Noah and the modern environmental crisis are, sadly, very much to the point. One of the salient points of the Biblical story is that the crisis is brought about by sinful human action. In the words of the Torah, “Now the Earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the Earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the Earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the Earth.” (Genesis 6:11-13)
Interestingly, many ancient peoples have stories of vast floods that nearly destroy humankind, but the Torah is unique in attaching a moral lesson (for example, in the Babylonian epic of Atrahasis, the gods decide to destroy the world because people are so noisy that they are disturbing the gods’ rest!). The Torah articulates a clear moral view in which our actions have consequence: if we act for goodness we will receive blessing, and if we act selfishly and against God’s will, we will reap the consequences of our actions.


Rabbi Jeff Sultar, writing for the environmental coalition Green Menorah, attaches this lesson to the Mishnah in Ethics of the Fathers that states: “Everything is foreseen, and free will is given” (3:15). Usually this rabbinic aphorism is understood as a statement about predetermination that tries to balance the paradox of a God who knows all and of our apparent ability to freely choose. Instead, Rabbi Sultar reads the Mishnah as a description of human nature: We are aware of the consequences of spewing carbon dioxide into the air, of consuming fossil fuels at a rate that threatens to deplete our natural resources, of dumping the byproducts of industrial processes into our waters, and of deforestation and the concomitant reduction of biodiversity. We know these things and what they mean for our planet–things are foreseen–and it will be up to us to choose whether we work to protect the Earth, for free will is given.
Let’s hope that our awareness of what the future holds in store will spur us to exercise our free will for good. If not, we may need to start building a very, very big ark.

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posted October 18, 2007 at 1:56 pm

I enjoyed your commentary.
Sad to say, some of my friends, yes even my more erudite friends, see the environmental issue as a hoax perpetrated by liberals. My mind can no longer cope with their reasoning, or lack of same.
I no longer have the desire to debate the issues. I go about my business and my life caring for the environment, as I have always done. I can no longer contend with others, and politicians, who need to the use of nomenclatures. They still appear to be in a battle of semantics, while so many of us know that we are in a battle for our continued existence, and all that we love about this planet.
“Let all who have ears…hear. Let all who have eyes…see.”
My own aphorism is…Let all who have working brains…protect them. Let all who have intelligence….keep it away from pollution. Pollution corrupts and decays.

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Chessia Kelley

posted October 19, 2007 at 9:26 am

I really enjoyed your post. It seems clear that in the case of the environment our actions have clear, visible, and possible dangerous consequences, just like the Great Flood. I believe its important to change our individual lifestyles for the cause, however, a top down model of governmental action is necessary for a large impact.
Our government has remained frightfully inactive in these terms, however they are now considering a piece of meaningful energy legislation. The bill they are about to pass includes the best fuel economy standards ever (35 mpg by 2020) and a renewable electricity standard of 15% by 2020. These are beginning steps to a large problem, however there is a chance these two key advances won’t make it through to the final bill.
One way to excercise our “free will” is to go to and sign a petition for these measures. This is our chance for real progress, and the stakes are high.

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posted October 19, 2007 at 10:39 am

The hoax part is the junk science that paints normal climate change process as “THE SKY IS FALLING!” The pollution part of your comments are right on, the consequences will likely be catastrophic. But don’t confuse the fact that it has been getting warmer for over 12,000 years, and will continue to do so, with the very real problems..
“Al Gore, Our Modern Day Chicken Little”

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posted October 19, 2007 at 11:56 am

Contrary to what Rabbi Waxman asserts – “We are aware of the consequences of spewing carbon dioxide into the air” – the consequences of emitting carbon dioxide are anything but clear. CO2 levels in the atmosphere are a *trailing* indicator of temperature, not a *leading* indicator. We have higher CO2 levels because temperature levels have increased over the past 100 or so years, not the other way around.
I’m sorry to hear that Kathleen is unable or unwilling to follow the reasoning of those of us who recognize a power grab when we see one, but the consequences of a massive expansion of government and a massive redistribution of wealth from America to China and the 3rd world greatly exceed any damage that would be caused by a modest increase in temperatures. The solution to any damage – if it occurs – is technological and therefore readily achievable. Fixing the damage caused by expanded govt. is a political problem and therefore hard to remedy.
Put simply, the reason many of us think the global warming “crisis” is a hoax is that liberals have been wrong about just about everything for the past 75+ years, and have used each of their errors to justify more government. Why should anyone except a doctrinaire liberal/leftist think global warming is any different?

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Chessia Kelley

posted October 19, 2007 at 6:00 pm

Wow, I was so inspired by this initial posting, and then I was flabbergasted by the comments! While minimal global warming is a natural process, as you suggest, I think that you can agree that the human footprint has been much more devastating in raising CO2 rates. Additionally, thats no reason not to be environmentally proactive, which can be better for our health, our wallets, and our world. I am in line with Rabbi Waxman and urge you all to use free will in order to help our planet.
The US Congress is at the moment considering passing a bill that would create a fuel economy standard of 35 mpg and a renewable electricity standard of 15%. The bills being discussed in Congress will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create cheap, renewable energy, save taxpayers money, and create jobs all at the same time. In addition they are a first step toward taking responsibility for our actions and creating a greener planet. If you are interested in asserting your free will, as the rabbi urges, you should go to and sign the petition to get the bill passed in its entirety.

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posted October 20, 2007 at 2:00 am

Wow,this is so true.We all have to do are part or the world we live in could end.Al Gore is so right,we have an impact on this world and we should all walk to work,ride bikes or skate board.Stop useing everything that is made from oil,plastics,gas,everything,to save are planet.God won’t destroy the world he made but He may let us studip humans destroy His ceation.We need to force everyone arond the world to do whatever Al say’s to save a planet before it’s to late.Volcanos,earthquakes,astriods and nukes couldn’t do as much damage as fossil fules.Let’s live in fear of Al and do whatever he tell us cus it’s in my Bible,man destroys the world in Revelation by being dependent on foreign oil and all that stuff that leads to climate change.Let’s all work together for a sociallistic country were we are told what to eat,what to drive,what to think and how to act while not thinking for ourselves and if you disagree you must be silenced.

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Superstitious Claptrap

posted October 20, 2007 at 12:00 pm

saying that global flooding 5000 years ago by an angry tribal deity was a result of human sin is not the same as climate change that results from human activities. For one thing, no is saying the ice caps are melting because Poseidon is ticked off with green house gas emissions. The former is nothing more than the fallacy of [i]post hoc ergo propter hoc[/i] – after the fact therefore because of the fact. It’s like saying it rained today because the tribe did a rain dance late last night. I think it’s sad that educated people have to resort to superstitious nonsense because they don;t understand planetary science

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Linda Bemis

posted October 21, 2007 at 11:33 am

Humans have evolved, learned, discovered, invented and influence each other. The beliefs have changed over many centuries.
What we don’t know about will be discovered in the caves and buried. So ideas, thoughts, stories and myth will be passed on until the person can believe and grasp the concept of what can be real to you.
Mysticism is a mystery to many and does anyone understand how it can work? Witch Craft is another mystery. The Power could be in the belief that it can manifest it self to be real.
The Universal Creator is a life force that constitutes the Power of LOVE for the balance of the equation because the opposite can tip the scale. How can you use BALANCE?

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posted October 23, 2007 at 3:05 pm

1/ I’m a Canadian. If there is going to be global warming, I say the sooner the better.
2/ Every 2 weeks a new coal-powered power plant starts up in China. All the free will of all the people on this blog won’t counteract a fraction of what China is doing.

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posted October 23, 2007 at 3:27 pm

I agree with the comments about using our best judgment concerning the environment and having the foresight to know that global climate is change is real and humanity’s contribution to that change is evident. But to draw a comparison between that and the destructive behaviour of a god taken literally is to turn science into superstition. If ‘God’ is a metaphor for the effects of global warming then okay but I somehow I don’t think people look at it that way. People know far more than they did 5 millenia ago. I think it’s time to drop the quaint camp fire stories and get on with the science and the appeal for reason in the face of a looming planetary crisis.

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