April 27: Repairing the world

A "Wind Energizer" built by Leviathan Energy Renewables (photo credit: Courtesy)
A "Wind Energizer" built by Leviathan Energy Renewables
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the intermediate days of Passover ineluctably draw what seems like the entire population of Israel to seek the solace of nature – and spend countless hours in traffic to and from overcrowded nature reserves and beaches – it is sometimes refreshing to consider the trees that make up the forest. While it may be hard to see through the smoke of countless barbecues, our environment is actually getting better.
This perhaps startling fact came to light on Earth Day, which this year coincided with Passover. Israel’s achievements stood out among the 196 countries observing this annual event dedicated to protecting the environment.
As befits the Start-Up Nation, Israel’s innovations in water conservation, recycling and renewable energy are making a great impact both at home and abroad.
Making the desert bloom became a reality due to water conservation techniques and new technology. Foremost among the latter was the discovery of drip irrigation by Simcha Blass in the 1930s. His original water-saving design was developed by the world’s leader in drip irrigation, Netafim, which grew from its first plant in 1965 to operations in 120 countries today.
In addition to saving water, Israel is the world’s top manufacturer of water by desalination. The world’s largest seawater desalination plant at Sorek south of Tel Aviv produces some 624,000 cubic meters (164 million gallons) of drinkable water every day. The Sorek plant was built by Israel’s leader in the field, IDE Technologies, which is exporting the technology to the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. Located in Carlsbad, California, it provides some 50 million gallons of potable water a day.
Closer to home, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement in February to share desalinated water from the Red Sea in a long-awaited plan once known as the “Red-Dead Canal.” Water will flow downhill from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea via an $800 million desalination plant to be built in Aqaba. In addition to generating some 32 billion gallons of drinking water a year, the project is expected to be a source of hydroelectric power as well as helping to replenish the Dead Sea.
Desalination is not the only way Israel generates usable water: The country treats more than 86 percent of its sewage water, producing much needed water for agriculture and earning the best rating by the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Israel is slowly gaining momentum in the field of recycling. According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, the country recycles about 25% of the waste it produces and is working toward a goal of 35%. To this end, the ministry is planning to offer incentives to municipalities to increase recycling by building 46 sorting and processing centers.
But what good is all that if one cannot breathe clean air? Haifa residents for years have been battling oil refineries, power plants and chemical factories to reduce the air pollution plaguing the city, but Environment Protection Minister Avi Gabbay acknowledges that “we have much work ahead of us.” The task would be somewhat easier if day-trippers were more careful with their barbecuing, unlike the campers who sparked a major forest fire in the North this week.
While communing with nature during the intermediate days of Passover, nearly every family travels in an automobile that spews pollution into the atmosphere, as do other vehicles. Israel is trying to remedy the situation by meeting the goals of last year’s UN Climate Change Conference by guaranteeing loans to energy efficiency programs and projects.
While long a pioneer in the home solar water-heater field, Israel is spending some $133 million to guarantee loans for new, energy-efficient programs and another $80m. for energy-efficient projects. It is estimated that such measures will save the economy about $8 billion.
The first solar photovoltaic field in the Middle East is at Kibbutz Ketura, the site of the Arava Power Company’s first solar panel installation. Today it feeds nearly 5 megawatts of electricity to the national grid.
Israel has reason to celebrate the conjunction of Passover, the festival of freedom, with Earth Day, whose Hebrew name might be Tikkun Olam Day, as we meet the responsibility that comes with our freedom by caring for and repairing the world.