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Archive for the ‘Israel Environment’ Category

Hi Everyone,

In the following video, Dr. Eilon Schwartz, founder of Israel’s Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership challenges us to own up to our own implications in causing climate change, as well as our reservations in fighting it, and makes important suggestions as to what we can do, at Jewish Climate Initiative/Hazon’s Vayehi Or: Values and Vision in Energy and Climate Change Workshop in Jerusalem.

Enjoy!

(If you can’t view the video from this page, click here.)

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Here in Israel we celebrated Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Independence Day, last week; fireworks, barbecues, mutual congratulations on how much we’ve achieved in 61 years (absorbing millions of immigrants, sustaining a vibrant democracy, building a dynamic economy, etc.), and a certain amount of soul-searching about how much we still haven’t: (peace, intra-Jewish harmony, a national soccer team that qualifies for the World Cup finals etc etc.).

In honor of Yom Haatzmaut, I read a brilliant 500 page book; (rather sad, I know, but that’s the kind of kid I’ve always been…). Professor Alon Tal‘s “Pollution in a Promised Land: an Environmental History of Israel” is the definitive work on the subject. In retrospect it was also the perfect read for the day.

Tal’s book does much more than its subtitle claims. As you would expect it tells the story of how Israel’s rapid economic development has come at a high environmental price; it traces the roots of Israel’s current water crisis to bad planning and short sightedness in the early years of the State; one chapter relates the staggering success, or disastrous stupidity (depending on your perspective) of the JNF’s forestry policies. (The JNF planted over 200 million trees in Israel making it the only country in the world with a net positive tree balance over the last century; the only problem was that the fir trees that were mostly planted while perfect for Northern Europe, were inappropriate to the local environment and have caused great damage to local ecosystems.)

Tal recounts the haphazardness of Israel’s urban growth, the lack of coherent transport policies and the adoption of car-based suburban development models which, today, people see are wrong for the United States, and all the more wrong for Israel, a country the size of New Jersey. And he tells the inspiring story of the Israeli Environmental movement

Professor Alon Tal, author of Pollution in a Promised Land

Professor Alon Tal, author of Pollution in a Promised Land

(in which he has played a key role), which has worked with growing success over the past two decades to set the country on more sustainable paths.

But even more than chronicling Israel’s environmental journey, PIAPL is a history of Zionism – the dream of the Jewish people’s return to its ancient homeland – told from an unusual but critically important standpoint. For Tal brings out how the early Zionist pioneers were in love with the romance of the Land of Israel, but largely clueless as to its physical reality. Intoxicated by biblical accounts of the landscape, the actual mountains, rivers, flora, fauna and diarrhoea -inducing diet were initially strange and alien to the early pioneers. Among many literary testimonies, Tal quotes Amos Oz’s description of his grandfather:

My grandfather lived in the land of Israel forty-five years and never was in the Galilee or went south to the Negev. … But the land of Israel he loved with all his soul, and he wrote love poems in her honor (in Russian).”

In this framing, the history of Zionism has been a tragic-comic epic of the Jewish people re-learning how to live in the topographical and ecological reality of the homeland that it barely knew for nearly two millennia. The drive for economic growth successfully added six million to the population rolls over the course of a century and catapulted living standards into the ranks of the world’s richest nations. But it was accomplished with scant regard to the carrying capacity of the country. Today, environmental awareness in Israel is flowering. There are still immense and urgent problems yet there are also signs of hope that the country is learning to live with the actual rivers, deserts, verdant planes, crowded cities and diminishing open spaces that constitute its physical heritage.

It all strikes me as a little bit like inheriting your grandparents’ house. All your life you’ve heard about this wonderful home, the beautiful gardens, the rolling views, the high ceilings. You’ve heard stories about it. You’ve dreamed of living there, but you’ve never actually set foot in the place. And then, one day, you find yourself living there. It’s just like everything you were always told and at the same time you have no idea how anything actually works. The toilets flood, the garden becomes overgrown and you accidentally ruin half of the appliances. Yet gradually after a few decades of living there, you begin to figure things out.

Tal is optimistic that we’ll figure it out in time. As he concludes his book:

The same Zionist zeal that allowed an ancient nation to defy all odds for an entire century can be harnessed to confront the newest national challenge. More than any of their ancestors, the present generation stands at an ecological crossroads—offered the choice of life and good, or death and evil. This “last chance” to preserve a healthy Promised Land for posterity is a weighty privilege indeed. Surely as it writes the next chapters in its environmental history, Israel will once again choose life.

What’s your experience of Israel and the environment? What are the key issues? How do you think we should be solving them? Click Here to leave your thoughts.

And Click Here to order a copy of Pollution in a Promised Land from Amazon.com.

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Dear Bibi,

It was great to read about your 100 day plan in last week’s Jerusalem Post. It certainly grapples with some of Israel’s main challenges: Iran’s nuclear program, terrorism, the economy, stemming job losses and “interfacing” with the Obama administration. Good luck with all of that. You’ll certainly need it.

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Bibi Netanyahu

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu

But there was one major issue glaringly absent from the plan; one that you must deal with if you are to effectively address every other item on the list. Energy is at the core of Israel’s – and the world’s – most urgent geo-political, environmental, economic and security challenges.

Continuing reliance on oil from oppressive Middle Eastern regimes is no longer an option. The world must move rapidly to clean, renewable energy sources. Israel can, and must be at the heart of that transformation.

Let’s see how energy policy is intertwined with every one of your target issues. Take Iran and terrorism, the first two points on the list. Iran has reached the threshold of building a nuclear bomb, which you identify as an existential threat to Israel, using the proceeds of decades of petrodollars. Hamas and Hezbollah are financed by the same dirty sources of funding. Hezbollah was able to provoke the 2006 war that laid waste to Southern Lebanon because oil-funded Iranian largesse then rebuilt the country and bought off its enraged inhabitants.

Long before most people, you grasped the connection between the undemocratic nature of Arab regimes and their continuing conflict with Israel. But there’s an equally fundamental connection that you may have missed, the one between the undemocratic nature of those regimes and their huge oil revenues.

States with access to huge monopoly rents from exporting oil and natural gas have money to buy off interest groups and potential opponents. They have no incentive to invest in education for their people or to foster economic and occupational diversity. According to Larry Diamond of Stanford University, of the twenty three nations in the world that derive most of their export income from oil and gas, not one is a democracy. It’s no coincidence. Helping the Western world to kick its oil addiction is probably the single most important and practical thing we can do towards creating a more democratic and peaceful Middle East.

And we can help, in a big way. Israel has world-leading renewable energy companies like Solel, Sunday, Ormat, and Project Better Place. An Israeli firm, Brightsource-Luz2 just landed the largest ever contract for solar energy ever signed with a utility provider. (1.3 Gigawatts with South California Edison.)

What’s more, they have achieved these extraordinary successes not thanks to, but despite, the policy of successive Israeli governments. Speak to senior executives at some of Israel’s clean energy companies; you’ll hear stories of brilliant innovators waiting a decade for zoning permission to build a solar field or of encountering nightmarish administrative delays when they want to connect renewable energy generation to the National Grid.

The feed-in tariff for solar energy recently enacted by the outgoing government was a good idea, and should be implemented. But what would arguably help the renewable energy industry even more would be the ability to compete with fossil fuels on a level playing field. If you declare renewable energy to be an Israeli national security priority and blast through the bureaucracy, the ingenuity of our inventors and entrepreneurs could do the rest.

Turning to the next two items on your shopping list, the potential economic and employment benefits of encouraging Israel’s clean technology sector are huge. The world energy market is currently worth $ 5 trillion. With the prospect of a global carbon capping agreement from 2012, a large and increasing proportion of sum will be spent on renewables. This represents a huge economic opportunity for Israeli companies. Bold government policy could help Israel enterprises to capture a large share of this enormous market.

What is more, it would bring high-tech, high skill, high wage jobs to Israel. Currently there are leading Israeli clean technology companies that do their R and D in Israel but send their construction and manufacturing abroad to avoid bureaucratic entanglement. With recession cutting into the local employment base, these jobs need to come home.

And what of Obama? We all know that behind the brave talk about unshakable friendship based on deep common interests, there are major ideological gaps between the new American and Israeli governments. It’s not just about the Palestinians, but extends to broader social, geopolitical and economic policy too.

In 1996, you wowed the Republican congress with your passion for tax cuts and deregulation. Positioning yourself as the last dinosaur of Reaganite Neo-liberalism won’t win you many friends in post bailout Washington DC today. Throughout the Bush era we were considered America’s necessary ally in the War on Terror. The new administration appears to believe that there is no such thing.

But energy is one area that cries out for deep cooperation between Israel and the US. For Barack Obama has, correctly (in my opinion), identified global climate change as a major threat to the world, and pledged that the United States will take the lead in addressing it. He has accepted the challenge of revolutionizing the way America produces and uses energy. To this end, he has committed billions of dollars towards increasing energy efficiency, promoting solar and wind power and reducing the country’s reliance on oil and goal.

We need you to accept this challenge too. Lead our country towards a future of safe, clean, renewable energy, and help us to lead the world there. Then you will be able to justly claim that Israel is America’s indispensable strategic partner in the most important economic and technological transformation of our time.

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By Yannai Kranzler

If you’re like me, you’re lifestyle has yet to be “Carbon Audited.” You might even be a bit put off by anything calling itself “An Audit.” But James Murray-White, a journalist and carbon or “green” auditor from Jerusalem is anything but imposing, and with a kind heart, concerned eyes and super-good humor, James is just the type of guy you’d want to come examine your lifestyle and suggest how to green it up.

Green Auditor, James Murray-White

Green Auditor, James Murray-White

Murray-White describes himself as an “Optimistic Hippie” who “Believes in the potential of people.” He was kind enough to answer some of our questions at Climate of Change.

Yannai K: Can you explain a little bit about what a Green Audit is?

James M.W.: A Green Audit is an interactive assessment of how to live one’s life more greenly – in consideration for the environment.

When an individual makes the link between human lifestyle and the shift in the planetary-environmental conditions, that’s where the carbon auditor comes in: to help individuals and families and business’s have a look at their lifestyles and how we’re all responsible for our energy use.

YK: How did you personally get into Green Auditing?

JMW: It’s relatively common in the UK. I was living in Bristol- a dynamic, green city. It’s like the bicycle capital of the UK. And I saw much of the affluent crowd opting not to own cars.

Getting inspired and coming here, I started thinking: Well, how can I make a contribution to Israeli society? I thought, I haven’t met anyone yet who gets brought in as a consultant to do carbon auditing, so I thought, I’ll do it- and I started on our house.

I officially got started with Mercaz Magshimim, part of the Hadassah Organization, which pioneered a scheme to support green activists. I began by auditing the lifestyles of the organizers of the program, Devorah Liss and Shoshana Finkelman.

YK: How does an audit work- What’s the process?

JMW: I use two existing models- a British and an American one, and am adapting them for Israel.

I go to the client’s home and use a series of questions:

How’s your yearly electricity usage? How do you shower? Do you use a dud shemesh (Solar water heater)? How much rubbish do you have per week- how many bags? Do you recycle? What do you recycle? Do you use energy bulbs? Energy bulbs around the house take out 200 kilos of carbon.

Then we move on to food- Does the individual have a meat-based diet? How much imported food do they eat?

Central heating is a big one. Is it gas or electricity? Is there insulation? What’s the condition of the boiler? A boiler 15 years old, for example, could be costing you 15% more in carbon.

Next comes transportation: Do you drive? How much do you walk? Do you own a car? How often do you fly? Many of the people I audit fly- so we then get into discussions about carbon offsetting. I recommend a few offsetters. I fly every couple of months and believe in paying for offsetting my flights- it’s the least I can do.

Eventually, I use a series of figures to translate the answers into tons of emitted carbon and water used.

Further questions involve shopping habits, cleaning products and so forth. I draw up a report of the audit, and email it back to the family, together with recommendations how they can improve energy efficiency. I bring a little cloth goodie bag with some light bulbs and little gadgets to save energy and water.

I’ve done about 12 family audits and one business audit, of an environmental organization- I won’t say which one. I had a fascinating time- The organization is a carbon disaster!

YK: Can you give us some tips?

At home, we use a “water butt,” and we got the plumber to put an outpipe from the washing machine and the dishwasher, to gather water into the water butt and we water our garden.

JMW: Assuming that not everyone’s ready to redo the plumbing, what else do you recommend?

Look at your job. Is there any way you can work at home for a day? Can you get to work a different way? Bus? CarShare? Train?

One of the most basic things, but we all do it, is leaving the heat on with the window open. It’s basic things like that.

YK: Do your audit recommendations end up saving people money?

Definitely. Completely.

YK: Is there a relationship between James the journalist, and James the Green Auditor?

JMW: As a journalist, I’m not interested in reporting on the war in Gaza, or politics. I’ve got no dreams of being a BBC war correspondent. I’m fascinated with currents of change in society, in the process of change- and that gets me to carbon auditing.

I also get to ask questions of professionals in the field. This is wonderful! I just met with Professor Pinhas Alpert, in the Geophysics Department at Tel Aviv University and the head of NASA in Israel. I got to spend a day hearing hard science, from a guy who is immersed in studying clouds, and seeing on the ground what they’re doing.

YK: From a journalist and green auditor’s perspective, what’s your prognosis of Israel from a green point of view?

JMW: There’s definitely a strong consciousness here, but I see it in pockets. I meet people on a daily basis, doing interesting green things. Massive cleantech innovations. Water research.

I think part of the problem is politics. The wider issues of security, tragically, really just get in the way, as we saw in the elections, where the green agenda was sadly wiped off the slate. Daniel Pederson summarized the environmental agendas of the different parties on Green Prophet. It was shocking to see main parties with no policy on energy and sustainability. And it looks like it’s going to be a Likud government and they don’t have an energy policy.

In England, it would be unthinkable for a party to run in a general election without it being in their written manifesto, how they will deal with climate change, and emissions. A lot of people care and migrate between parties on environmental issues. The previous Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, offered a complimentary green audit for every house in London, within his campaign for reelection last year.

But then again, that redoubles our efforts. We can cut down carbon use, and we can think about carbon reduction. And we can save water. Because we have to. We clearly have to.

James Murray-White is a freelance journalist from Cambridge, UK (“Scottish roots,” he adds), with a background as an actor, director and playwright- he’s currently engaged in a long-term documentary film project with the Bedouin of the Negev Desert. A Masters’ graduate in Human gaia-climate-changeEcology, James sees himself as an anthropologist, as well. He is a proud contributing editor and reviews editor for www.greenprophet.com, Israel’s premier English-language green website.

To contact James and to find out more about ordering a green audit for your home, business and lifestyle, contact James Murray-White at James@Sky-Larking.com.

Did you enjoy this post? We welcome you to visit our interviews page, for more great conversations with leaders and do-good-ers in the Jewish/Ecology world.

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Two things were clear from attending the International Renewable Energy Conference that took place in Eilat this week.

The first is that Israel is now a world leader in clean energy.

The second is that there is a small but growing group of players in the field who see this not just as a huge business opportunity, (though it certainly is that), but also as an ethical, or spiritual mission.

Israeli leadership in the field was manifested by a list of “firsts”, “biggest evers,” and breakthrough technologies that were heralded immediately before and during the conference. Brightsource-Luz2 announced that it had signed a contract with Southern California Edison to build the largest ever solar thermal generating field, which will produce 1.3 gigawatts in California. (more…)

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By Yannai Kranzler

There are a few things one notices upon visiting the website of Israel’s new Green Movement-Meimad political party:
1) Everyone’s smiling.
2) Everyone looks different from one another

And it’s hard not to think: “Hey- this party just might actually be different.”
(more…)

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As we reported on climate of change last week, The Arava Power Company just announced plans to generate

Yossi Abramowitz

Yossi Abramowitz

500 MW of solar energy in the Arava Desert over the next five years, meeting 10% of Israel’s energy needs at a stroke.

Last week, Climate of Change met Yossi Abramowitz, President of the APC and explored with him the Jewish vision underlying his drive to bring solar to energy. Yossi was previously a Jewish social entrepreneur in Boston who raised $30 million for a host of new Jewish educational and cultural initiatives including shma, kol dor and Jewish Social Action Week. In August 2006, he and his family moved to Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava Desert.

Climate of Change
: One of the things we’re interested in at Jewish Climate Initiative is the spiritual vision underlying renewable energy. The way we see it, going renewable isn’t just about attaining energy independence, or even about avoiding climate change – as vital as those goals are. There are also ethical and spiritual reasons to choose wind, solar and all the rest. It looks as if that’s also part of your outlook, right?

Yossi Abramowitz: Absolutely. I can tell you, there’s a certain amount of frustration involved in working with Israeli utility regulators, and you definitely need your own supply of renewable moral and spiritual energy. For me it’s all about Jewish Peoplehood, which has been my big passion for the last decade.

Let’s ask from the business point of view, what’s the “brand equity” of Israel today, in the eyes of the Jewish people and the world. Is it an old, tarnished brand, or a new and attractive one? The answer today is complex at best. Israel had its great pioneering period, the six day war, Entebbe and all those amazing moments, but now… there’s a new generation that doesn’t remember any of that.

If we can supply 40% of Israel’s energy from renewables by 2020, and we can, leapfrogging over every other target in the world, think what that would do to Jewish pride worldwide. Young people would start to feel completely differently about this country. We’d be leading the way to saving the world.


COC:It sounds as if for you, the significance of Israel making this move is greater than that of just any country of seven million people doing this.

YA:Yes, people, whether Jewish or not, do look at us differently. We have this idea of being a light to the nations. It’s not a very fashionable or PC idea today. I developed a twenty first century mission statement for the Jewish people that goes like this: “To be an ongoing, distinct catalyst for the advancement and evolution of morality in civilization.” We’re a catalyst because we’re small. We’re distinct because we have a unique message and purpose. And the goal is the evolution of morality and civilization. Ramping up solar energy use to world leading levels would be a real step towards fulfilling that mission.

You know, we’re in negotiations with a potential supplier in Thailand. He says to me, very excited, “I come and see you in Jerusalem.” So I tried to explain to him that we’re not in Jerusalem but a small place four hours away, but he wasn’t interested: “No no, I see you in Jerusalem,” he repeated. That means something to people worldwide.

COC:You’ve spoken about solar as “the energy of peace.” What does that mean?

YA:The Arava Power Company is already in discussion with the Jordanian government about a project to bring solar power across the border. Energy integration was part of the Israel-Jordan peace agreement but it’s never been implemented. It could be a powerful impetus to regional peace-making. To realize that the same sun shines equally on all of us, is owned by none of us, and can supply our energy needs in abundance, inherently promotes peace. The sun doesn’t recognize borders.”

COC:How did you get involved in all of this?

YA:I didn’t come to Israel to do this. I thought that I was coming to Israel to take a Sabbatical from my business career and write a book on Jewish Peoplehood.  When we decided to adopt an Ethiopian child, making five in our family in all, we decided they needed a break. We’d thought about taking a year in Israel and it seemed to be the right time. I’d volunteered at Kibbutz Ketura 25 years ago so we decided to go back there.

We got off the air-conditioned van that took us from the airport to the Kibbutz and it was like walking into the airflow of some super-charged hair dryer. I figured, “at least with all this sunlight, the whole place must be powered by solar.” Well, it took me 24 hours to figure out that there was no solar power on the kibbutz. In another 24 hours I’d worked out that there almost no domestic solar power in Israel. The great Israeli solar companies were producing technology for export, but not for the home market. I thought, “you’ve got to be kidding.” So together with a couple of guys from the Kibbutz we put together a plan to set up solar panels in a field opposite and power Ketura with sunlight. We quickly ran into a whole bureaucratic battle with the Energy Regulator. After six months, I realized that if we could win this fight for the Kibbutz, we would win it for the whole country.”

But I realized this was the fulfillment of what I wanted to say on peoplehood. What matters is not how many glossy proposals you write, or how many conferences, or how many major donors you have on board. At the end of the day, you’ve just got to do it. You just have to do it.

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As featured on Hazon’s The Jew and the Carrot.

By Nina Budabin McQuown.

Rabbi Julian Sinclair is an author, educator, and economist. He is also the co-founder and Director of Education for Jewish Climate Initiative, a Jerusalem based NGO that is articulating and mobilizing a Jewish response to climate change.  Before starting JCI, Julian worked as an economist advising the UK Government and for a British political think tank.  Meanwhile, he authored the book Lets Schmooze: Jewish Words Today and is working on completing a Phd in the mystical thought of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.  Phew!

Sinclair lives in Jerusalem and has been featured on NPR and interviewed for the New York Times by our own Leah Koenig.  Hazon is delighted to invite Rabbi Sinclair as a presenter at this year’s Hazon Food Conference, December 25-28, 2008.

Get a sneak peek at what Julian has to say below the jump.  And find out more/ register for Hazon’s Food Conference, here!

How did the Jewish Climate Initiative begin?

RJS: It began from a conversation between Michael Kagan, a friend of mine, and a friend of his, David Miron Wapner. Michael and David both come from a business/ clean technology background. Michael is a scientist and inventor who is currently involved in an algae-for-biofuels start-up. He is also a Jewish spiritual teacher. David works on US-Israel science and technology partnerships and sits on the JNF board. They suddenly realized three things: that climate change was huge, that the response out there was nowhere near adequate, and that the Jewish people had something potentially unique to contribute. Then Michael started talking to me, I got inspired by the idea.

For a long time I’ve thought that Judaism had immensely relevant wisdom to offer on environmental and economic question: Shabbat, Shemita, the detailed talmudic system of environmental law and much more. When I was working as an economist in the UK government and studying at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard fifteen years ago, I was very, very excited about these connections. As I got more into Jewish life and learning, eventually becoming a rabbi and educator, this passion took a back seat. It just wasn’t where most of the Jewish world was at. But I always felt I would come back to it. Then when the opportunity came along to co-found JCI, I realized that this was my chance to put the pieces back together. A few months later I quit my job and started working full time for JCI.

You pose this question as the basis of one of your talks: “Jews are 0.002% of the earth’s population. Even if we all trade in our SUV’s tomorrow it will barely make a dent on the problem. What then do have to contribute to the world’s most pressing moral challenge?” How does the Jewish Climate Initiative address this issue?

RJS: I think that originally it was Nigel Savage‘s question. We address it by identifying three areas in which the Jewish people have contributed way out of proportion to our numbers. 1. Torah. Jewish teaching has quite simply been the basis of ethics and spirituality for the entire Western world. 2. Activism: Jews have been at the forefront of the big movements for social change (feminism, environmentalism, Civil Rights) in a way that is totally disproportionate to our numbers. 3. Science and Technology. 20th century science was advanced to an incredible degree by discoveries from Jewish scientists. Today that remarkable creativity is continued by the hi-tech sector in Israel, a country of six million people that is the biggest tech hub outside Silicon Valley. Each of these three interconnected areas in which the Jewish people have excelled is crucial for overcoming climate change.

The section of the Jewish Climate Initiative’s website that is devoted to ethics is large. Why is ethics such a focus of the Jewish Climate Initiative?

RJS: The practical answer is that this is the area in which JCI elected to begin working. The principled response is that climate change is an ethical issue. The lifestyles of those in the rich world are already contributing to famine, drought and devastating weather conditions in countries that have done least to cause the problem. If that’s not an ethical issue, what is?

Certainly, the solution will require governments, laws and lots of money. But 70% of the American economy is accounted for by consumer spending. The seemingly huge problem of climate change is actually made up of billions of little decisions about the way we move around, heat and air condition our homes, and eat. Each one of those is an ethical question on which Judaism has much to teach.

You spoke on NPR about the controversial Shemita year ruling in 2007. How did life change for Jews in Israel (in terms of agriculture) during this past year?

RJS: It wasn’t a transformative spiritual experience for most people. At the beginning there was a round of politicking about produce certification, then Shemita receded from general consciousness. For the religious, it was one more thing to look for on food labels. Next time around, may Shemita in Israel reach its potential as a year of economic, agricultural and spiritual renewal. For that to happen, we will need to start thinking and planning now.

What other issues face Israelis in particular as consumers of food?

RJS: One good thing is that in a small country that grows a lot of its own food, most Israelis are locavores. We don’t eat stuff that has been trucked thousands of miles across the country like most people do in the US.

How does climate change affect the sustainable agriculture movement?

RJS: According to Michael Pollan and many others, the food you eat is the largest single contributor to the average American’s carbon footprint. When you factor in the fossil fuels in chemical fertilizer, the excess methane emitted by belching, farting cows that are force-fed corn and antibiotics when they were designed to eat grass, and the gas used in transportation, it amounts to a whopping 20-25% of individuals’ greenhouse gas emissions. It’s incredible that such a basic human activity as eating can be done in a way that is so destructive. Once this fact sinks in widely, and we start to see government policy that put a price on carbon emissions, sustainable agriculture should receive a huge boost.

In your life, where does your role as an activist against climate change intersect with your role as a consumer of food?

RJS: I have started shopping at the Shuk in Machane Yehuda more. The fruit and vegetables in the market just pulsate with color, freshness and health, and the packaging and transport needed to get it there and then for me to take it home is minimal—we’ve begun bringing cloth shopping bags from home. It’s not a huge step, but at least it’s something.

Mahane Yehuda Market

Mahane Yehuda Market

What lessons can the sustainable foods movement learn from the climate change movement?

RJS: I actually think that more lessons can be learned in the opposite direction. One thing that the climate change movement does very well is apocalyptic rhetoric. Apocalyptic rhetoric is great for getting headlines, but poor at motivating action. People just become closed down and paralyzed. Maybe the sustainable foods movement needs its “Inconvenient Truth” to bring home the scale and seriousness of the issues. But more importantly, the climate change movement needs to learn positive ways of influencing people. It’s an easy-sell to show people that local, organic food is healthier, yummier and will enhance their lives. In analogous ways, climate change activists need to make the case that simpler lifestyles with less running around, less commuting and less hassle will bring better and more fulfilled lives.

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We were there, in the Negev Desert on Thursday afternoon, June 12th 2008, when Luz 2
inaugurated its first solar energy generating plant.

Two of the JCI team, Michael Kagan and David Miron Wapner had a hand in setting up the company two years ago ago, so it was a proud day for them. For me it was somewhere between science fiction and biblical prophecy.

Luz2 has figured out how to produce solar energy more efficiently and cheaply than anyone else. The technology is dazzling. (Sorry!) In a tract of the Negev near Dimona, 1641 heliostats, 7 metre square mirrors, are geometrically arrayed around a 60 Metre high tower. Perched on the tower is a 15 meter tall boiler, containing densely packed silvered pipes. The mirrors are programmed to track the movements of the blazing desert sun so as to concentrate reflected sunlight precisely on designated spots on the boiler surface. This solar targeted energy heats water in the pipes to temperatures of over 500 C, generating steam that drives turbines that produces electricity. If you want a fuller description than my rudimentary science can provide, see Luz2’s site.

Inside the hospitality marquee we ate canapes on square plates and saw videotaped messages from venture capitalists, investment banks and customers who are backing the project. The Pacific Gas and Electicity Company has just signed a deal with Luz for a generating plant in the Mojave desert that will be the biggest solar energy source in the world, roughly 50 times bigger than the baby in the Negev. The company’s vision is huge. They aim to build hundreds of these things all around the world over the coming twelve years, producing electricity that can compete with and eventually undercut coal and gas powered plants. This is technology that can produce affordable, efficient solar power, and lots of it. It offers hope that we can switch to renewable sources of energy and avert dangerous climate change in the coming decades.

Arnold Goldman, Luz’s visionary founder observed in his speech that the site of the plant is called “Rotem”, a type of bush in Hebrew. Goldman remarked that “siach” the general name for a bush means conversation, and that the intense conversations that led to the development of this technology in a certain sense inhered in the physical plant of the mirrors and boiler themselves. In a remarkable book, “Moving Jewish Thought to the Centre of Modern Science”, Goldman develops a Kabbalistic theory of language and explains how it underlies the work of Luz. His comments about the Rotem bush were the only hints at such thinking that Goldman gave to this corporate audience.

After the speeches, the public address system played “Here comes the Sun”, by the Beatles. I thought of the Biblical verse, …”to you who fear my Name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing on its wings.” (Malachi 3:20.)

When I got home I told my technology-mad children where I’d been and what I’d seen. I suspect that one day I will be telling my grandchildren.

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It’s water crisis time in Israel again. Spring is here, the turtle dove sings, almond trees blossom, and the winter that’s just passed brought a mere 65% of average rainfall.

This is the fifth consecutive winter to yield below average rainfall in Israel. Some are pointing the finger at global climate change, which is projected to reduce rainfall in Israel by 30% in the coming decades and to cause critical water shortages worldwide. It’s too early to be sure of the connection sure, but the trend is alarming.

As water crises go, this is a bad one. As we look forward to six months of cloudless skies, the Kinneret, Israel’s main water source is 60 cm below where it was this time last year. It’s already close to the lowest “red line.” When it falls below that level, pumping any more water from the Kinneret risks seriously polluting it.

Why are we in this situation? After all, Israeli water engineers have been ingenious in maximizing our access to the water sources available. Yesterday I was hiking through Nahal Amud in the Galilee with a group from Hazon and the Heschel Centre, (see next post) and found myself standing in a stone-filled limestone wadi directly on top of the National Water Carrier.

The National Water Carrier is a five feet in diameter concrete pipeline that conveys a third of Israel’s drinkable water from the Kinneret to the centres of the country’s population, and the thirsty Negev beyond. Built in the 50’s and 60’s it was a triumph of Zionist pioneering ingenuity. During its construction, half of Israel’s cement output went into building the pipeline wall. It’s a man made miracle, as awe inspiring in its way as the wadi we were hiking through. Beneath our feet lay the artery which, by pumping precious life-blood to the heart and extremities of Israel has made possible the building of the country.

Today too, Israeli technology enables us to make the most of our limited water resources. Two major desalination plants opened in the past decade and now provide almost a sixth of the country’s water.

But here’s the problem: That’s exactly the amount by which water consumption has grown in Israel over the same period. We now use 796 million cubic meters of water per year, 136 million more than in 2000. As living standards have risen, the gains from new technology have been wiped out by the greater extravagance of our water use.

That’s why technology, though wonderfully helpful, is unlikely to solve this problem alone. We’ll always find ways to consume the blessings that technology yields. To avert future water crises, we’ll have to get into the habit of consuming less.

It can be done. In the face of the water shortage of the early 90’s public campaigns to conserve and reduce water usage cut consumption by 15%.

Everyone knows what to do: take shorter showers, use a bucket and not a hosepipe to wash your car, use the mini-flush lever on your toilet, don’t leave the tap on when you wash the dishes, water the garden at night not at mid day etc etc. All very doable. But when last the crisis passed, water usage bounced back to previous levels and then beyond.

Recently I had the chance to visit the bare and frugal apartment of one of Israel’s leading poskim halakhic decisors) and ask him whether there was any halakhic basis for requiring people to save water.

He looked at me as if I’d just asked him which way was up and answered,

“Of course. We should always consume only as much as we need of the blessings that God puts in in the world.” (He proved this from Mishnah Berurah, Orach Haim 242:4, which says that people should limit their consumption during the week so that Shabbat will be extra special by comparison.)

Most of us cannot live as simply as this rabbi. But we can share his gratitude for the blessing of water and learn to use it with an appreciation of its preciousness.

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