'Environment awareness shameful'

Activists decry lack of basic environmental policy in Israel.

Jordan River 298 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jordan River 298 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel has much yet to do to combat pollution, environmental activists said ahead of International Earth Day, which falls on Tuesday. Prof. Alon Tal, one of Israel's most distinguished environmental activists, told The Jerusalem Post Monday that it was important for Israel to mark Earth Day along with the rest of the world. "It matters for two reasons. One, as Israel becomes more mature and a settled nation, we would like to take our place at the table with the environmental nations. Therefore, it makes sense to be part of an international day devoted to these issues," he said. "If Israel can celebrate [New Year's], then we can certainly celebrate Earth Day," he added. Second, specifically in Israel, "there exists a menu of geopolitical and social problems that are so overwhelming that it's important to build a day into the calendar to address environmental issues," he said. According to Tal, global warming, clean air and open spaces are Israel's most pressing problems. He noted the water crisis, but did not put it at the top of his list because the state had a clear strategy for dealing with the issue. "We don't have any policies to deal with global warming and preserving our clean air through clean energies," he told the Post. "We're 10 years behind the Western world in terms of policy." The issue of open spaces was also critical for Tal. There is a constant whittling away of open spaces, he said. Tal said he would be participating in an event to help save Palmahim beach on Earth Day. "How many beaches do we have left - yet they want to build a hotel complex on Palmahim?" he asked rhetorically. Israel Union for Environmental Defense spokesman Aviad Oren concurred with Tal that certain basic issues highlighted by Earth Day were not being properly addressed here. "On Earth Day, we talk about the basics: water, air and land. Here in Israel, those three things are still not protected. The Clean Air Bill has not passed yet. Ground pollution legislation is still in its infancy. We don't have a policy on global warming," he told the Post. "Here in Israel, there is still much to internalize," so Earth Day is necessary, he said. Events highlighting environmental threats began over the weekend around the world and will continue for the rest of the week. Gala entertainment and awareness-raising events are planned or were carried off in Washington, New York, Buenos Aires, Barcelona and many other cities worldwide. While the official theme is one of fighting global warming under the banner "Call for Climate," individual cities and countries will also highlight their own challenges. Israeli green groups have also planned events to be held on Tuesday, as well as during the following week. "Since the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, Earth Day has been an annual event for people around the world to celebrate the earth and renew our commitment to building a safer, healthier and cleaner world for all of us," the Earth Day Network Web site says. The network was founded by the originators of Earth Day to coordinate and fight for the environment. Earth Day is the only event celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities. More than half a billion people participate in the network's campaigns every year, according to the site. In Israel, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) will hold daylong events on Tuesday in forests in the North, Center and South, with a focus on learning about our world and how to preserve it. Israel for Bicycles and the Tel Aviv rollers group will also hold a large party on Tuesday in Tel Aviv. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) will hold an event next Sunday at its Jerusalem location. Shomera will be leading trips into the Jerusalem Forest on Monday and Tuesday. Other organizations will be holding events as well. Details are available on their respective Web sites. Ahead of Earth Day, SPNI said the country's rivers and streams were over 90 percent weaker than they were when the state was founded 60 years ago. According to initial results from its report, Israel's rivers and streams were swifter and stronger six decades ago. SPNI noted that their output would be further reduced by the water crisis and the resulting need to overuse natural resources. The full report will be released at SPNI's conference next month. In Buenos Aires, organizers plan to address the country's four main environmental issues: garbage, energy, water and transportation. In Tokyo, the events will highlight green economy issues such as renewable energy and organic food. In the US, popular musicians and celebrities will hold concerts calling for responsible measures to prevent further damage to the climate. Former Wisconsin senator and staunch environmentalist Gaylord Nelson, who passed away in 2005, founded Earth Day nearly 40 years ago. The network's honorary chair, Denis Hayes, was a student at Harvard at the time and interrupted his studies to organize the first Earth Day. Hayes currently heads the Bullitt Foundation, a $100 million environmental foundation based in Seattle. There is also an Earth Day celebrated on March 20, the equinox, which was first suggested at a UNESCO conference in 1969. It was later adopted and endorsed by the UN, which also works with the organizers of the April 22 event, according to Wikipedia.