Editorial: A time to conserve

As we look ahead to another year of activity, it’s important to remember that what we don’t use can sometimes be more important than what we do.

September 30, 2010 22:20
3 minute read.
Women with appliances

Women with appliances 58. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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As we leave the introspective holiday period, we begin a new year, a new cycle. The Torah begins anew with Genesis, which is read this Shabbat. It is there that one finds the precept that man was given the planet to “work it and preserve it,” a mantra cited by many Jewish environmentalists as the origin of conservationism.

Looking backward at past “environmental sins” yields little toward improving those problems that plague day-to-day life in this country. Looking forward, there are many ways ordinary citizens can contribute to conserving precious resources like water and electricity and reducing pollution, merely by refraining from certain behaviors. It is easy to shrug off environmental responsibility and blame “big industry” for polluting the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we live on. That may be true to some extent, but every individual can make a difference.

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The holidays provide timely illustrations of some of these easy steps. It is not big industry that is careless with fire along hiking trails, thus damaging hundreds of dunams of land – as happened over Succot at the Hatzbani nature reserve in the North. Big industry doesn’t leave its trash behind after a day at a national park or the beach.

Yom Kippur in Israel provides an environmental phenomenon not found anywhere else in the world. Air pollution readings drop to near zero for that one day of the year when all factories and cars take a break. Obviously, it is impossible to maintain that level of inactivity, but it does provide food for thought. Using public transportation more, and walking or biking more, can make a significant difference. Car pooling with colleagues takes cars off the road, too.

ON SHMINI Atzeret, we begin to include the phrase “He who makes the wind blow and the rain fall” in our prayers, and we continue to do so until Pessah. As our ancestors who lived here thousands of years ago understood, Israel is part of one of the most arid regions on earth. So the rabbis composed a prayer asking for a good rainy season that is as applicable today as it ever was. Forecasters are particularly concerned about the coming winter.

Water always comes out of the tap here in Israel, but there is precious little of it in this region. And while the government is now building the desalination plants that should help alleviate the situation in a few years, that solution has been left unconscionably late, and the public has a vital role to play in preserving depleted natural water sources.

The largest consumer of clean water is not agriculture and not industry – it is the members of the public. Warning children not to drink too much is silly; taking a five-minute shower instead of a 10- minute one can add up to a real difference.

The proof of the public’s power lies in the fact that a series of water conservation campaigns have proved wildly effective, reducing household use by 10-15 percent each time. Now, the Water Authority is taking the effort one step further. By providing water saving devices for faucets, it hopes to cut overall use by the equivalent of a quarter of the production of a desalination plant. A tiny device; a major saving.

The just-completed festival of Succot invokes a more humble, simpler life. One where the electricity- powered gadgets that run our world take a back seat to looking up at the stars through a ceiling of palms. It’s a good time to reflect that electricity generation is expensive and polluting and not always as benign as we might want to believe.

Urgent calls this summer for Israelis to refrain from using electrical appliances during peak hours underline how hard we are pushing our generating capacity, and how important responsible consumption has become to preventing power outages.

Turning off the lights in a room that is not being used, turning off a computer at the end of the workday – these are actions that take only a moment – but that reduce the drain on Israel’s overstretched power generation infrastructure.

AS WE look ahead to another year of activity, it’s important to remember that what we don’t use can sometimes be more important than what we do.

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