A recipe to save the Western world from the tyranny of oil and fossil fuels: Substitute alternative liquid fuels for oil, build electric and flex-fuel vehicles, produce domestic renewable energy sources and implement energy efficiency - but examine health risks assiduously before doing so.
Those were the conclusions of a distinguished panel of experts who addressed a crowd in Jerusalem on Sunday night at the American Jewish Committee building as part of a larger US initiative - the Jewish Response to the Energy Challenge (J-REC), which held a simultaneous conference in San Francisco. The event also marked the launch of the AJC's Access program.
Though the solution seems simple enough when summarized in a paragraph, each one of the panelists advocated a different No. 1 priority for Israel and the US during a discussion of the "Israel-US Partnership for Clean and Secure Energy Solutions."
Still, all agreed that Israel and the Jewish people were uniquely situated to have tremendous influence on policy, as well as the technological discoveries and their implementation.
Dr. Isaac Berzin, the keynote speaker, insisted that the key to ending Iran-sponsored terror by Hamas and Hizbullah was to end the world's reliance on oil. Berzin, founding director of the Institute for Renewable Energy Policy and an expert in the use of algae to produce fuel, explained that Iran used Chinese money from its oil sales to send Hamas and Hizbullah shiploads of arms.
He argued that it was essential specifically to replace oil, not just develop clean energy. While solar energy produced electricity, it did little to wean the world off of oil, he said. Alternative liquid fuels, such as algae, could replace oil. He advocated shifting from "hunting and gathering" our fuel to growing it in the form of energy crops.
Berzin has a $100 million algae biodiesel project in conjunction with the US Department of Energy and APS, an Arizona power company.
Dr. Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, spoke from the panel table about the dangers of oil.
"Green is the color of the environmentalists, and it is also the color of the people who want us dead, like the Iranians. Oil is a strategic commodity. Why? Because the entire transport sector can only run on gasoline. Whoever fuels the transport sector controls the world economy," Luft said.
"The first order of the day is to change the vehicle platform," he argued. "Why were countries still buying oil at $150 a barrel? Because that's what our cars, trucks, ships and planes run on. We must allow fuel competition on board the vehicle. It can happen today - it costs $100 to convert a car to become flex-fuel compatible."
Luft - the author of a new book with Anne Korin, Turning Oil Into Salt: Energy Independence Through Fuel Choice - pointed out that 95 percent of oil reserves would soon be in the hands of five or six countries in the Middle East. None of them are friendly with Israel.
However, Israeli Clean Energy Alliance chairman Hezi Kugler disagreed that the focus should be solely on oil.
"Energy security is about the control of fuel sources - not just oil, but natural gas too, which is in the hands of countries hostile to Israel," the former director-general of the National Infrastructures Ministry told the crowd.
While nothing in and of itself would make the difference environmentally, he said, "all the breakthroughs together can make a huge difference."
Astorre Modena, general partner, Terra Venture Partners, championed energy efficiency as the single most effective short-term step.
"Israel is good at bringing smarts to any process - that was the basis of the Israeli hi-tech revolution," he said. "Now it's time to bring smarts into the 'dumb' energy sector."
In the longer term, Israel should become a beta site for clean energy and clean fuel, Modena added. Speaking for one of the few venture capital funds investing in Israeli cleantech, Modena said there wasn't enough money being put into the field.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem law Professor Richard Laster advocated the precautionary principle and restraint, saying it was all very well to come up with new ideas and solutions, but they should be strenuously examined before being implemented.
"Take the cellphone - does anyone really know what using it will do to us? We need another 20 or 30 years to know. It's better to be safe than sorry," he declared.
After the experts' top priorities were laid out, a lively debate ensued about whether all of the options should be pursued at once, or just one should be tackled.
Luft declared, "You can't strip oil of its importance through energy efficiency. You don't change the playing field by going on a diet."
However, Kugler championed energy efficiency as an important environmental step.
"It's about maintaining economic growth using less electricity," he said. Electricity production accounts for 55% of Israel's greenhouse gas emissions, as well as serious air pollution.
He noted that the National Infrastructures Ministry had put a lot of effort into specific programs like green building, regulations for energy-efficient appliances, and other programs that would lead to Israel's importing a lot less fuel.
At the same time, Kugler slammed the lack of government progress smoothing the way for solar energy production. Fast land allocation processes, expedited licensing and feed-in tariffs were supposed to have been in place by mid-2009, he said, and "none of that has happened."
Kugler also described Israel's alternative energy goal of 10% by 2020 as "very modest compared with other countries' efforts."
Finally, Berzin and event co-chair Lisa Wolf suggested that clean energy could be a uniting factor between the Jewish Diaspora and Israel. Panel moderator Ze'ev Gross called environmental conservation a Jewish value handed down from the very beginning, when Adam was charged by God with working and conserving the Garden of Eden in Genesis.
At the same time, Luft urged Jewish groups like the AJC and others to put pressure on the US administration and Congress to craft energy policies that reduce dependence on oil. He cited two Jewish US legislators, Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Barbara Boxer, who he said "threw energy security under the bus in favor of environmental concerns" when they crafted the US's energy policy.
The conference was also sponsored by Presentense and Gvahim.