‘ASSUMING THAT things stay more or less the same, what will we have?’ – Buildings in Tel Aviv seen from the sea. .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel’s population and size may be minor compared to those of China and the United States, but it produces one of the largest environmental deficits per person in the world. Israel’s large ecological footprint is a well-documented phenomenon for a small group of researchers, but remains unknown to the Israeli public.
Growing population and consumption combined with a low biocapacity makes Israel increasingly dependent on global resources.
These resources take time to replenish and are not infinite. Israel’s population growth rate is uncommon in the developed world and will continue to grow, with a projected population of 20 million by 2065 (Central Bureu of Statitics) while land area presumably will stay the same. With population expected to continually rise, the country’s density will only increase, making Israel one of the densest populations in the world.
The reason for the dramatic anticipated increase involves fertility: the average Israeli woman has three babies, nearly double the fertility rate for the rest of the industrialized countries in the OECD. Higher fertility rates put more pressure on natural resources and a population in a given area.
Due to its growing population, not only are Israelis putting further pressure on the local environment, they also are making demands on energy and other natural resources overseas.
This especially exacerbates existing pressures on the planet’s lands. As the Agriculture Ministry reports: “Worldwide, nearly one third of cropland has been lost due to erosion during the past 40 years; it continues to be lost at a rate of more than 10 million hectares per annum and the impact of soil degradation on productivity is indisputable.”
Population of course is not the only factor driving Israel’s ecological footprint. Israeli consumption has increased along with average GDP. At the same time, most of the food produced in Israel is exported and more than 55% or more of all calories consumed in Israel are imported. This puts further pressure on land use and food security. Livestock consumption has a large footprint because of the amounts of grassland, feed crops, waste, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The large consumption of resources and land is reflected in the ecological footprint and biocapacity. An ecological footprint measures the ecological assets that a given population requires to produce the natural resources it consumes, and to absorb its waste, especially carbon emissions. Israel does not have the highest ecological footprint in the world. Yet, when combined with the country’s biocapacity – the productivity of its ecological assets and their ability to absorb much of the waste we generate – the picture is dramatic.
When combined, these factors produce a very different story, putting Israel fifth in the world with a biocapacity deficit (or “overshoot”) of 1,740%. This is the highest biocapacity deficit in the OECD and the developed world, even when compared to other crowded countries including Belgium at 511%, Netherlands at 417%, and the United States at 127%.
Why is this ecological overshoot so dramatic? When the world’s biocapacity is diminishing, the ability to provide for countries that exceed their own resources also fades.
Israel’s discussion on sustainability needs to account for diminishing resources, increasing dependence overseas and the future of our greenhouse gas emissions, food security, pressure on natural ecosystems of plants, animals, streams and lakes.
Why should Israelis care about this trends? The global ecological footprint has already reached 1.7 GHA for the entire planet; it is time to change the status quo. We cannot continue to deplete the lands’ and oceans’ resources while adding copious amounts of GHGs from overseas production, transportation, and a significant amount energy required for water desalination and recycling, while 97% of energy is coming from fossil fuels. While we may not be able to influence other large countries, we can start by setting an example and contribute to a global effort to become sustainable.
“Israel is on the road to an ecological, social and quality of life disaster, because as the population density rises it becomes more violent, congested and unpleasant to live in and with absolutely no room for any species other than humans,” explains Alon Tal, a professor at Tel Aviv University and co-founder of the Israel Forum for Population, Environment and Society. The country must change direction and there is no time to lose.The author is a staff researcher at The Israel Forum for Population, Environment and Society.