Climate Change: An Abyss with many Bridges

Climate Change is overwhelming. It really feels like an abyss. But, as signs of change are becoming more visible, the abyss seems to be full of bridges, and signs of change and hope.

Last week, I joined the discussion as a keynote speaker, at the Ellinogermaniki Agogi, the Greek-German school in Athens, Greece, to formulate the vision of the schools of the future. Termed ‘Open Schools for Open Societies’ a group of leading European, American and Israeli institutions, have joined a Horizon 2020 EU funded program to formulate a new vision for education: rather than push knowledge to the students, get the students to pull knowledge. How to accomplish that? Through new models of open classes, and through activity that may resemble more workshops than traditional classrooms. With Europe putting Climate Change and Sustainable Development Goals in the top of its agenda, these programs will potentially educate the next generation of European citizens, to explore pressing issues, learn about them, and act upon them. The program is implemented first in 100 schools and then in 1000 schools throughout Europe. The impact may be considerable, raising hopes for a change in attitude and new ideas for action and change.

This week, I met with the CEO of the Holon Institute of Technology (HIT) Samuel Goldberg, where I teach sustainable design, to discuss the vision of HIT to pursue its title as a ‘Green Campus’ since 2011, and to increase activity towards promoting sustainability both in terms of operations and in terms of academic activity. HIT is already hosting a number of initiatives, including recycling of batteries, electronics, printer toner, used medicine, plastics and paper, and solar powered phone-chargers supported by the CSR of Bank Hapoalim. But what is really exciting is the student engagement in a variety of programs, including design challenges to recycle water, reuse bicycle inner tubes, re-utilize woodshop materials left-overs, matched by initiatives to reduce energy consumption and ‘green’ procurement. The program ‘Green Ambassadors’ makes school pupils more aware of environmental issues, and courses – such as those taught by the undersigned and my colleagues - expose HIT students to the opportunity of helping schools in Holon, upgrade their premises and provide outdoor learning spaces for the students. Having set an example, HIT is eager to move forward with new initiatives, to both give visibility to sustainability issues in campus and the city of Holon, and to engage students in more initiatives.

A new livestream discussion was posted online this week by the Yale School of Management, where former Secretary of State John Kerry and former US VP Al Gore held a conversation about current issues, with most central Climate Change. It is reassuring and empowering to listen to leading figures address the concerns of most of us, many of which, unfortunately, are not – yet? - addressed by politicians, and rarely covered by the press. A few phrases that I marked down while listening to this lively conversation between peers in the same journey to persuade the world – leaders and citizens alike - to move to the right direction: The debate of Climate Change is gaining more ground in recent years. Several factors have contributed to this. First, a very strong and persuasive voice has joined the debate: Mother Nature. Climate related extreme events have become more numerous and more destructive, to the point that people are responding, even Climate Change deniers. Second, millions of people are joining the debate as climate ambassadors and climate activists, bringing in new voices, new energy, and new pressure on local and national governments. Third, since the Paris agreement, where 195 countries have committed to voluntarily limit their carbon emissions and keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees centigrade, the business and industry world are shifting their focus and investments from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Yet, still we hear denial and confusion. It took many decades and many deaths to persuade people that tobacco smoking is damaging to their health. So, it is not surprising that the fossil fuel industry is adopting similar practices to spread confusion and denial on the facts of Climate Change. The book by historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, published in 2010, and later the movie ‘Merchants of Doubt’ by Robert Kenner, identifies parallels between how big interests ‘keep controversy alive’ by spreading ‘doubt and confusion after a scientific consensus has been reached’ – global warming, tobacco smoking, acid rain, DDT, and hole in ozone layer.

‘The Uninhabitable Village’ by Geeta Anand and Vikram Singh, published this week by the New York Times brings Climate Change to the level of life decisions as generations-old life patterns in southern India change. Intrigued by the fact that drought is also an issue troubling our region, I looked it up. What came up in my search was an article by Jacob Powell, news editor for Middle East Eye titled ‘Climate Change may make Middle East and North Africa uninhabitable’ where per Dr. Benjamin Cook, a Nasa scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies ‘the region is particularly vulnerable to Climate Change. The MENA region and the Mediterranean can expect reduced rainfall, increased intensity and occurrence of droughts and much more severe heat extremes’, in an area already sensitive due to limited water resources. This year, Israel's water worries return after 4 years of drought. Israeli farmers were the first to cut down on water use, as rainfall is forecast to reach its lowest level, underground aquifers are at their limit, and lake Kineret water level is dropping at its lowest since 1920. Farmers opposed the government decision, and the government backtracked and is looking at desalination. Water use in Israel is about 2 billion cubic meters with about half being fresh water use. About half is used for agriculture, 35% for domestic and public use, and about 5% for industrial use.  

Relevant links: 

'The Kerry Initiative':

‘The Uninhabitable Village’ by Geeta Anand and Vikram Singh:

Watch Livestream Kerry Initiative at Yale School of Management: A Kerry Conversation with Vice President Al Gore:

‘Climate Change may make Middle East and North Africa unihabitable’ by Jacob Powell:

‘Israel’s Natural Water Sources are Drying Up’ by Zafrir Rinat: