'Green issues high on election agendas'

Public much more interested in the "green cause" than in past municipal elections, activists tell 'Post.'

green now 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
green now 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Environmental groups and campaigns have achieved unprecedented success in this election season, green representatives told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. Israel has not been spared the "green wave" that has been washing over the world in the last few years. Global awareness of environmental issues is higher than ever and more people are coming out and expressing their concern. Green activists told the Post that the public was much more interested and involved in their causes than in past years. The national Green Now campaign has been a huge success, Naor Yerushalmi, coordinator of Life and Environment, said. Green Now is a joint effort of many national and local environmental groups to help candidates formulate green platforms. The campaign stressed four main points: reducing air pollution; easy access to city centers via public transportation; walking distance to a park and investment in poor neighborhoods. Israel has come later than most modern nations to preserving the environment. The Environmental Protection Ministry was only formed in 1989. By comparison, in 1990 the US substantially reworked its Clean Air Act, which was first enacted in 1970. Israel enacted its Clean Air Act this year. For many years, industrial development was given top priority over everything else, including taking care of natural resources. Factories sprang up that gave no thought to dumping hazardous materials out the back door, poisoning the soil, groundwater and nearby streams. Similarly, little thought was given to air pollution and its harmful effects. "We have had total success putting environmental issues on the agenda. Our goal was to give local green organizations a standing in this elections process, so that the day after they can use their new standing to influence policy," Yerushalmi said. Green Now was not against the candidates, but put together a plan the candidates could use as the basis for their green platforms, he added. The biggest successes were in places where local activists made the proposals their own, Yerushalmi noted. For example, in Nazareth and in Beit Shemesh, local groups built a local agenda and met with all the candidates, he said. Other cities also held events to raise environmental awareness. In Tel Aviv, the Green Forum of Tel Aviv made air pollution and planning and construction central issues. "There has definitely been more interest this time [than in the last elections]. We see that there is much more interest on the part of the candidates. This is the main thing we are pleased about. They want our materials, adopted our principles," he said. "There were very few instances where candidates refused to meet," he added. Yerushalmi also said coverage in local papers and ads on the Ynet news Web site had spread their message as well. The public has also clearly become more interested and involved, The Council for a Beautiful Israel COO Weizman Mashiah told the Post. "While I'm sure Al Gore's movie did its part, people are no longer thinking about environmental issues as a trend, but rather almost as a 'must' issue," he said. "Our 'One Plastic Bag Less' campaign, for instance, has caused a 25 percent switch to alternatives, which is a lot." Greens Spokesman Ido Tandovsky remarked upon a similar trend. "I am absolutely sure we have raised the agenda. We are running in 30 elections. People want to contribute, make things better. Last time we ran in just a few. This time we have a mass of candidates. Not all of them are politicians, but they all want to effect change. "Air pollution has no boundaries. It doesn't stop on the border between Tel Aviv and Herzliya. We need joint efforts across municipalities. The more people we have in local councils, the more power [we have] to effect change," he asserted. But Rami Livni of the Green Movement injected a note of caution. "There is no doubt that in these elections candidates are using more environmental issues in their platforms, more green slogans. However, we call on voters to invest a bit in their vote and to check into the candidates' records and vote for those who are actually green. There are 'real' greens and there are 'fake' greens," he said. "For instance, City4all, led by Dov Henin, is a green group in Tel Aviv, while there are other groups running in the city without any sort of connection to the environment which still call themselves green," he added. The Council for a Beautiful Israel ran two campaigns ahead of elections. The first was a watchdog effort to ensure campaign promotional materials did not cause litter in public places. The second was an environmental declaration they attempted to have candidates sign. Mashiah said they had gotten dozens of candidates to sign the declaration. In light of that success, they were preparing to expand it to national elections, as well. "The real test, of course, is what they do after elections," he said.