Some 30 years ago, when I was a relatively young environment reporter, I had a discussion with my physicist uncle on the concept of global warming. After I expressed my concerns, he explained that as the temperature heated up in one place, it would cool down elsewhere. I wish I could continue that conversation with my late uncle today.
The term “global warming” is almost extinct, replaced by the more accurate but no less menacing “climate change.” And there has been a global swing to accepting that the extremes in weather are being felt everywhere. Think of the fatal floods in Germany, the heat wave in Canada, the wildfires in California and a bit of everything, combined with wild winds, in Australia.
Even worse is what happens when drastic meteorological phenomena hit poor countries where they are exacerbated by the undeveloped infrastructure, lack of budget and few means to deal with a disaster. The footage of people anywhere in the world facing those most primeval fears of fire or water cries out as an emblem of climate change.
This week I was reminded of the old joke: “Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” All eyes were on Glasgow, Scotland, where the UN Climate Change Conference, aka COP26, took place.
The idea was to finally do something about it – or as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson put it, echoing teen climate activist Greta Thunberg: Without action, “all those promises will be nothing but blah blah blah.”
I am not a fan of Thunberg, but when Sir David Attenborough talks, I listen. The 95-year-old nature filmmaker has the perspective – and sense of proportion – that Thunberg lacks. Attenborough’s compelling documentary A Life on Our Planet (available on Netflix), shows how the world has changed in his lengthy lifetime.
At COP26, Attenborough made a moving speech saying, “Everything we’ve achieved in the last 10,000 years was enabled by the stability during this time. The global temperature has not wavered over this period by more than plus or minus one degree Celsius, until now. Our burning of fossil fuels, our destruction of nature, our approach to industry, construction and learning, are releasing carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented pace and scale.”
Attenborough repeated his theme that the solution lies in using nature “as a key ally” and the need for a new – clean – industrial revolution.
This idea was warmly embraced by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, dubbing Israel the “Climate Innovation Nation.”
“As the country with the most start-ups per capita in the world, we must channel our efforts [in]to saving our world,” the former hi-tech entrepreneur told delegates and repeated later in a meeting with Bill Gates.
Bennett noted the government’s “100-step plan,” which includes phasing out coal by 2025 and cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2050 – an essential component in the global goal to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. He also described the “Green Sandbox,” to provide funds and slash bureaucracy, established in a cabinet decision approved just last week.
But notice that timing. The Glasgow climate conference has been on the agenda for years, with many mini-conferences on the way, yet the government’s response was hastily passed to enable Bennett to travel to Scotland with something to show. We don’t need more hot air from politicians and recycled slogans. Laws and regulations are worthless if they are not implemented and enforced.
Net-zero carbon emissions are highly ambitious. But words come easily, especially to a politician who, even with the longevity of Attenborough, does not expect to remain in the Prime Minister’s Residence some 30 years from now. And this is the problem that environmental policy, like other planning policy, often faces. Government ministers who can’t be assured of finishing even a four-year term in office want to cut as many red ribbons as possible, as soon as possible. This leads to declarations and short-term measures rather than strategic steps.
The National Security Council recently adopted the climate-change issue under its auspices, recognizing the drastic swings in the weather from drought to torrential rain, are indeed a threat and need a comprehensive response. They are disastrous for agriculture, wildlife and marine life, which could play havoc with the food chain. They contribute to fires and flooding, and damage infrastructure. (Already the erosion of cliffs along the long Mediterranean coastline present a danger in different places). And at a geopolitical level, the effects include “climate refugees” and scenarios of wars fought over scarce water and food supplies, including among Israel’s neighbors, cannot be dismissed.
When Johnson met Bennett, the British prime minister complimented Israel on the way the country had handled its COVID vaccination campaign, saying he wanted the UK booster campaign to “go with Israeli speed.” There is no vaccination for climate change but there are measures that can and should be taken such as: prioritizing renewable energy over fossil fuels, improving energy efficiency and using part of the revenue from the country’s gas fields to help develop renewable energy and a gradual transition to green energy.
Israel can be the shining light when it comes to solar energy, desert agriculture and desalination. Public transportation must be improved to make it an attractive and viable option over the use of private vehicles. Construction must meet green standards, including both environmentally friendly buildings and the conservation of green, public spaces. As Attenborough noted, planting trees is an essential part of the solution. But trees do not need to be restricted to woods and forests like endangered animal species in a zoo.
One of the best ways of contributing to the climate-control battle on an individual level is reducing meat consumption and preferably becoming vegetarian or vegan. Moving to a plant-based diet lowers greenhouse gas emissions – methane is the climate’s equivalent of gas warfare – and is more efficient than growing food to give to animals that are then slaughtered to be eaten. Israel is blessed with foodtech companies working on meat alternatives.
In a recent interview with me and The Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman, Environment Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg emphasized, “It is very important to expand the use of solar energy without taking open spaces.... There are some amazing solutions,” she said, “including using parking lots and even cemeteries, roads and agricultural land. Israel can lead the way with the technology we are developing.”
Zandberg noted, “Energy Minister Karin Elharrar and I cooperate on renewable energy. It’s part of our obligation not only to Israeli citizens but the entire world.”
Elharrar made headlines at the conference for the wrong reasons when the wheelchair-bound minister was left out literally in the cold in Glasgow where the conference organizers had not made the necessary measures to ensure accessibility. The British prime minister later apologized personally to her.
Shortly before the conference, President Isaac Herzog announced the establishment of the Israeli Climate Forum, which is chaired by former MK Dr. Dov Khenin and will operate with Life and Environment, the umbrella organization of green groups. The participation of the premier and two other ministers in the climate conference this week is a positive sign, but they need the full backing of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman. Bennett rushed back from Glasgow to take part in the budget debate. It’s a fitting reminder that environmental protection and the climate change battle are not a matter of Left and Right.
Caring for the world we live in, and the one we want to leave to future generations, should not be the purview of one political camp or another. Come rain or shine, participation in tackling climate change shouldn’t be a matter of which way the wind blows.