1/8 of 1%
The title of this essay might be a bit strange, but it expresses an astounding fact. This month the entire world’s population just reached the 8 billion mark – and Israel, with its nine million and four hundred thousand residents constitutes but a tiny fraction (.0012 or one-eighth of one percent) of humanity. Which raises a few questions.
First, given the huge problem of global warming and potential ecological disaster, is there anything such a national drop in the bucket can do?
Obviously, from a purely global, demographic standpoint, whether Israel increases or decreases its birth rate is meaningless in light of its very low population number compared to many other demographic giants and the absolute number of people in the world. Nevertheless, it is important also to consider the local level (Israel itself) – and here there are two other important elements to take into consideration: territorial size; climate.
What Israelis do might not have much impact on Earth as a whole, but in some respects, they can significantly influence the country’s immediate environs. One example we have already seen this past century: by planting huge numbers of trees, Israel has hugely increased its rainfall. Other examples abound: the type of energy used (coal, gas, solar – in ascending order of lower footprint) can mitigate or alternatively worsen local air pollution and residents’ standard of living. Just to give one fascinating example: ever since Tel Aviv buses switched from combustion engines (diesel) to electric engines, thereby almost totally eliminating its exhaust, real estate prices along heavily traveled public transport streets have skyrocketed in price!
The second question that Israel’s relatively tiny population raises is in fact a part answer to the first question: how does such a demographic “weakling” carry so much weight on the world’s stage? Not only is the country a Mideast regional (military) superpower, but from a global perspective it is also a scientific research & technological giant alongside the U.S., China, Germany, Great Britain, and a very few others – all having a much larger population base. Thus, what counts for “power & influence” in the world today is human capital i.e., the quality of the workforce and social institutions – far more than quantity.
What this means from a climate change standpoint is that Israeli technology could have a significant, positive influence in finding solutions to global warming and other environmental challenges. Israel is a world leader in water desalination – critical for drought-ridden countries whose water shortages (a major source for war) will only get worse in the ever-warming, midterm future. This is just part of the country’s agritech leadership on the world stage (drip irrigation, bioengineering food, etc.).
Indeed, not only can Israeli science help in mitigating the global environmental crisis, but in some respects the reverse causation is also true. Being situated in Earth’s sub-arid latitude, with the southern Negev even completely arid, parts of Israel will suffer more from the changing climate than countries further north. This in addition to the fact that Israel’s entire west borders the Mediterranean – with rising sea levels predicted to inundate parts of its coast in the coming decades (enjoy the beaches while they are still there!). Thus, Israel has a huge “personal” incentive to advance its environmental R&D.
What of Israel’s demographics? I have already explained in this column (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/doubling-israels-population-actually-great-news/) that Israel’s high birthrate is a net positive for the country. Indeed, fast or slow population growth (and certainly decline) is a major factor in the ability of a country to flourish or decline. In this respect, another global milestone will be reached in a few months: India will surpass China as the most populated country in the world – not only because of India’s higher birth rate but because China’s population is in absolute decline already today! That could (but not certainly) translate eventually into a change in geopolitical power and sway – not to mention that any drop in population numbers within such a huge country will have positive effects on the world’s carbon footprint.
From that perspective, it needs hardly repeating that adding a few million more Israelis will hardly make a dent in the world’s demographic situation. However, given the proven scientific and technological quality of its highly educated workforce, any local increase will inevitably have an outsized, positive influence finding solutions to the world’s climatic challenges. Just as the Jews constituted a mere speck among the world’s population over the entire 20th century – but still garnered approximately 20% of all Nobel Prizes – so too the Jewish State of Israel will continue to punch far above its demographic weight regarding everything having to do with our greatly challenged, global environment.