Will dayenu be enough?

Dear Editor:

There appears to be three positions on global warming, each with an attitude and/or “scientific opinion” supporting it. The first is that there isn’t any global warming at all. The second is that there is global warming, but it is a natural phenomenon and has nothing to do with what humans are doing on this Earth. And the third is that global warming is a function, in part or whole, of what people are doing to the Earth.

The latter two positions, both agreeing that there is global warming, have produced fear, to a greater or lesser degree, that human life will be negatively affected by this phenomenon, and that, regardless of the cause, people can do something to minimize or reverse its effect. These people are suffering from whatever will refer to as “thermophobia?” The thermo refers to heat. The phobia refers to fear. The question mark (?), it should be noted, is part of the term. It relates to whether the fear is rational or not, and whether the condition is correctable or not.

I would argue that thermophobia? has recently had a positive effect on life on this Earth.

There is a traditional song in the Seder which Jews sing during the festival of Passover. It is the song “Dayenu.” Dayenu is a Hebrew word for “It would have been enough.” It is a paean to God thanking Him for each miracle He performed which enabled the Jews to escape and survive the exodus from Egyptian. For example, if He had just brought the plagues, dayenu; i.e. “it would have been enough”; and if He had just parted the Red Sea, dayenu. Here dayenu is a paean to humankind for responding to thermophobia?.

In the early 1970s I visited China. The Chinese claimed that they were controlling industrial pollution. But they failed to control my taking pictures of the dark smoke perpetually pouring out of the smokestacks of some of their factories. Indeed, during the 2008 Olympics they had to shut down the factories around Beijing so that the visiting athletes could breath during their participation. That is not to say that there is not pollution from manufacturing throughout the rest of the world. But now there is both public and governmental pressure to reduce the air pollution in many countries. If thermophobia? contributes to that cleanup, dayenu.

When I first started to drive, sometime between the Model T and the Ford Mustang, the basic concerns about the choice of automobile were image and function (e.g. family vs. p—y wagon). Yes, mileage counted, but only if you had a limited budget. Today people are avoiding gas guzzlers, not only because they are expensive, but because they have a highly poisonous carbon footprint. By God, even the Hummer is becoming extinct. People are seeking hybrids, if not all-electric cars. If the death of the gas-driven high-exhaust automobile is due in part to thermophobia?, then dayenu.

Not too many years ago we discarded garbage (trash?) willy-nilly. Who cared if the biodegradable baby went out with the eternally lasting bathtub? Now things have drastically changed. What we discard is now categorized, and how we discard each category has environmental consequences. Garbage is separated from recyclables. And recyclables are separated into categories: plastics, metal and glass are discarded apart from newspapers; magazines are apart from office papers; and used batteries are separated completely. In some communities this has become a public responsibility. In other communities failure to comply carries a serious fine. If this effort to preserve the environment is based on thermophobia?, then dayenu.

In the not-so-old days fossil fuels powered the world. Old human fossils saw no problem with using the biological carbon produced by prehistoric fossils to make their life comfortable. But today the burning of fossil fuels is condemned as reliance on a nonrenewable source of energy. In addition it pollutes our atmosphere with poisonous hydrocarbons. We have learned that the environment itself provides the source of endless energy for our ever-increasing power needs. The sun’s radiation, and wind and water abound in power potential; and they are inexhaustible. If the switch from fossil fuel to renewable natural resources as a source of power has been encouraged by thermophobia?, then dayenu.

But if it turns out that global warming has been caused by human behavior, i.e. that the ? should be removed from thermophobia; and if we are not now doing all of these things and more, will dayenu be enough?

Phil Freedman



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