A dunam here and a dunam there

Conservationists and environmentalists revisit the question of how to most effectively promote environmental activism.

June 8, 2013 23:22
3 minute read.
A RESERVOIR built by the KKL-JNF in Emek Hefer.

KKL resevoir 370. (photo credit: Courtesy KKL Photo Archives)

Now and then, conservationists and environmentalists revisit the question of how to most effectively promote environmental activism.

Should resources be invested in preserving a specific nature spot or heritage site? Should we be aggressive and bare our teeth, or would taking more defensive actions help us meet our goals quicker and more effectively? We can draw a great deal of inspiration from aggressive struggles in which people make tremendous personal sacrifices to achieve an environmental objective.

I have always been impressed by the determination of Greenpeace activists who use tiny inflatable rafts and loud speakers as weapons against enormous whaling ships. And most Israelis were genuinely moved by the heroic struggle of Adi Lustig, a 20-year-old woman who camped out on Palmachim Beach to draw the public’s attention to the construction of a vacation village on the majestic beach. (Against all odds, her actions successfully impeded the project even after it had been approved.) It’s easy to identify with and applaud these loud, individualist kinds of struggles. First of all, they may very well end in a victory that halts or delays harmful projects. Second, these struggles are perceived, often justly, as actions of ordinary people against the establishment, the wealthy, and corruption. Finally, the media usually draws attention to this type of struggle in an effort to raise environmental awareness.

So, what’s the downside? There is nothing inherently wrong with an aggressive struggle, particularly one that is conducted tastefully and in a non-violent manner. But it is not an effective long-term strategy. For every struggle that ends in victory, there are 20 cases in which the environment is the big loser. If Israel’s environmental organizations made use of these types of “guerrilla” tactics regularly, the land would lay desolate.

KKL-JNF has been working on different, more effective strategies for decades. The National Outline Plan is a perfect example. Simply put, this little- known plan will change the environment of Israel forever. We collected data, we drew lines on maps, and, in 1995, the plan received government approval.

Though it was reached through peaceful means, the significance of this achievement is immense. The plan granted legal status to 1.6 million dunams (160,000 hectares) of forests and other open areas that we saw as important to preserve. These are the green lungs that provide air to the entire State of Israel.

The National Outline Plan wasn’t flashy but it got the job done.

It is also important to stress that we should not perceive the establishment as the embodiment of evil or as an entity that must be opposed. It is possible to work together, openly and peacefully, to take advantage of every possibility for environmental activism.

One example of this is the cooperation between KKL-JNF and the Megiddo Regional Council to turn Ramat Menashe into a biosphere reserve.

This project spans 84,000 dunams – an enormous area by Israeli standards.

At present, the biosphere has no statutory status, but it does have something possibly even more valuable: the commitment of residents and their leaders to preserve its character for generations to come. Even UNESCO was favorably impressed by this project, and, in 2011, it officially recognized Ramat Menashe as a biosphere reserve.

Education is also essential for environmental protection. KKL-JNF has made the decision to take an active role in this endeavor by constructing “green classrooms” in schoolyards that are designed to raise awareness about environmental issues and nature preservation. If these issues become ingrained in the minds of residents of this country, if environmental awareness flows in their blood, we will need far fewer dramatic one-man struggles in the future.

Unlike in soccer, in the case of environmental protection, the best offense is a good defense. A proper struggle for the environment is supposed to take place without any heroic operations. It is a tough job that requires perseverance. Aggressive tactics are sometimes inevitable when all other efforts have failed, but they often indicate that someone fell asleep on the job.

So, for the sake of Israel’s environment, let’s make sure we stay alert.

The author is the world chairman of KKL-JNF, and will discuss “Israel’s Green Tomorrow” alongside fellow experts at the Fifth Annual Israeli Presidential Conference: Facing Tomorrow 2013, in Jerusalem later this month.

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