Environmental neglect: the big absurd of nationalist politics

June 4, 2019 17:40
3 minute read.
Eagle migration to Israel

Eagle migration to Israel. (photo credit: AMIR BEN DOV)

Earlier this month, eight eagles were found dead and two others severely hurt, out of a general population of 20 in the Golan Heights. This last tragedy is part of a trend: two years ago, there were 30 eagles; four years ago, there were 50; and just over a decade ago, there were 180 eagles in the Golan Heights.

The dramatic rise in deaths is because of illegal poisonings. Farmers are trying to fend off wolves and jackals by spreading carcasses infused with poison, reaching eagles as well. It is mostly, however, a story of neglect.
Those deaths were mentioned only at the margins of news reports. Not a single government minister expressed sorrow, no one called on the police to prioritize investigations of the crime, and nobody initiated tougher legislation.

This “small news” story encapsulates the big absurd of nationalist politics.

In a way, today’s struggle for protecting the environment should have been owned by conservatives. The romantic nationalism of the late 18th and early 19th centuries had indeed been a reaction to rapid urbanization and industrialization. It glorified the certainty of rural life and the unique beauties of one’s nation. Think of Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings of Germany’s breathtaking landscapes or of Bela Bartok’s ethnomusicological foraging for old Magyar folk melodies. In the words of Czech historian and political theorist Miroslav Hroch, nationalist movements have begun by idealizing “the common man” – peasants and countrymen – as “the vehicle of elementary, universally human, national values.”

If only by name, one could assume a conservative commitment towards conservation and a cautious approach towards a radical transformation of nature. But contemporary conservatism has become completely detached from all that. Instead, it allows short term private sector interests to drain the environment and erode public goods like clean air, water and national treasures.

Yet Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin did not even tweet about the death of 50% of the Golan Heights’ eagle population. His last statement about anything to do with climate change was in November last year. His deputy, Yaron Mazuz, has not tweeted even once about the environment.

It’s no wonder, given how the Ministry of Environmental Protection is one of the most poorly budgeted in government, and that since 2014 there have been six politicians from three different parties overseeing it. A prestigious position in most countries, the current minister, Elkin, had to receive several other portfolios to “compensate” for the juniority of his office.

Instead of the environment, Elkin and his deputy have been tweeting about security, foreign affairs and partisan politics. This included celebrating US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan – but haven’t Elkin and Mazuz betrayed this sovereignty by neglecting the region and its wildlife?

But loving Israel must entail more than romantic statements. It has to be about caring for our nature, the disappearing Dead Sea, our single-use plastic epidemic, the dirty beaches, parks and streams and the country’s endangered species.

AS ISRAEL is returning to elections mode for the second time this year over corruption and conscription issues, Israel seems increasingly isolated from the world – but not only over its treatment of Palestinians.

Following the Extinction Rebellion in London, the UK and Irish governments have declared a climate emergency. Children all over the world followed Greta Thunberg in school climate strikes to force compliance with the Paris Agreement commitments. Almost all US candidates for 2020 have a progressive Green policy, and a recent CNN poll shows that climate change is top issue for registered Democrats. Ahead of federal elections in Australia, the Labor Party has taken the lead in polls over the incumbent conservative Prime Minister’s inaction on climate change.

Nevertheless, CO2 emissions are increasing every year, including in 2018. A recent UN report shows we’re going to lose a million species on the planet sometime over the next few decades. Netflix’s production Our Planet explores the unique wonders of the natural world and the interconnectivity in our biosphere: droughts, floods, fires, water scarcity and ocean acidification are enhanced by and enhance species extinction. All that in turn can also contribute to regional instability, with climate refugees and with more wars like the conflict in Syria.

The alarming rate of extinction of Israel’s eagle population should be a turning point to connect with the world’s most pressing issue and shift from environmental neglect to genuine protection. A first step in that direction would be for Israel’s next government to present a full time and fully committed minister of environmental protection with an appropriate budget to effectively address what is possibly the biggest challenge we are facing in the 21st century.

The writer is a PhD candidate and Greenpeace volunteer. He has also served as spokesperson and adviser to former minister of environmental protection, MK Amir Peretz.

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