There are three pieces of news that are above and beyond the importance of all other news that has come during the past year. They are certainly more important than the sum of Netanyahus affairs or even real dangers like the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons.
The first is the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) assessment that we must keep temperatures from rising over 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic climate change. The second is the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) report that we have lost 60 percent of all wildlife on earth in the past 30 years. The third is the UN’s report that 1 million species are at risk of extinction by 2050. Nothing else matters as much as these three reports, and humanity must act accordingly.
One group that has vowed to raise these issues is Extinction Rebellion, the movement born in the UK fighting the extinction of all this natural wonder, and also our own extinction. Their first demand is simple yet odd in a way:“tell the truth. Telling the truth is odd in a way because most people think they know about this issue. After all, I was taught about “the greenhouse effect” in the 1980s. But the more I think about it, the more urgent it is to get this message across, precisely because “we know”, but we obviously don’t “know” well enough to make an impact.
Ya’ara Peretz is working to change that dynamic. She is Head of Policy and Climate Action in Green Course, an environmental grassroots movement. Green Course works throughout the country, helping groups organize and mobilize in order to influence decision makers to promote just and sustainable policy. They focus on five core issues: Climate action – promoting renewable energy in Israel and stopping all pollutant industry; Marine reserves; clean and efficient public transportation; Urban renewal; bringing the petrochemical and pollutant refineries in Haifa to an end and promoting a Just Transition to a clean industry. To these ends, they will be working with non-violent direct action to make the public aware of these struggles. This country desperately needs to get on board with these issues with the urgency that is necessarily. Perhaps it has finally arrived. As she tells me when we meet in Tel Aviv that they are committed to working with“urgency and direct action. We understand that we have no time to work with conventional campaigning.”
In his book, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” David Wells Wallace shows us where science says we will end up if nothing is done about emissions, as well as some uncomfortable facts about where we are today.
Here is where ”telling the truth” shows itself to be an urgent priority. Do people know that half the greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere since the beginning of time have been emitted since I left high school in the 90s? Since the first Seinfeld episode. Do people know what the top scientists are saying will happen to regions like the Middle East by the end of the century? Not only will sea level rise make cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa unlivable, but they are predicting 200 days a year of temperatures of above 50 degrees. People will not be able to leave their homes during this time. Desertification will mean farming will collapse anywhere near the current desert zones. That means most, possibly all, of Israel. So there is a real chance that we will not be able to grow any food in this country.
Because of the carbon already in the atmosphere there is already nothing we can do about the unlivability of Bangladesh, New Delhi, and Miami by the time my children are my age. But there are still many areas we could save. Perhaps including Israel.
Telling the truth is also critically important because of what it means for the fossil fuel industry. The 1.5 degree goal means more than halving climate heating gas emissions until 2030 and achieving net neutral carbon emissions by 2050, hopefully sooner.
Within a few years or perhaps a decade, anyone working for the interests of this industry will be seen much in the same way that we see drug dealers targeting kids today. The industry is doomed, the only question is how much collapse of our society and the natural world we will allow to happen before we dismantle it. Even Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman knows this and is working for ways to get Saudi Arabia off its dependency of selling oil. Yet Israel’s energy system working with 96% fossil fuel.
We also need to tell the truth about who all this industry is good for. Special interests. And only them. One example of the power of special interest in Israel is exemplified by the red tape that stops us on the way to change. Like the rule that 100% of the tenants of every building need to agree to install solar panels on the roof. Why would anyone like this rule that seems like it is purpose built for stopping progress? This can only be special interest at play.
Special interests have a way of framing it as if we all have the same interests, and the same responsibilities. We most certainly do not. They are, however, right in one way. Even oil company executives wouldn’t want their chemical plants in the same place as where they put their kids in kindergarten. Even the plastics manufacturing bosses don’t want to go swimming in an ocean of plastic. They are just paid to pretend that they don’t care. Wells explains that unmitigated climate change looks like it could wipe out 30% of global GDP by the end of the century. Kicking out the polluters is going to be a lot cheaper than that!
Take jobs, the favorite subject of special interest groups. People do not have to have the same jobs that they always had. What we want is people to have a meaningful existence, not that they must work in the same meat, oil and gas industries for all time. If these people worked putting up solar panels on all our rooftops instead, or working with vertical gardening, it would not be a loss for society. Think of all the job losses that have come out of the digital revolution,and then all the jobs gained. This industry has been good to Israel, just as shifting to green tech would be.
We do have certain individual responsibilities when it comes to climate, above all eating less meat and fish, and flying less. But individuals will not fix this alone, no matter how many bottles we recycle. Its a hard thing to admit for a recycling and composting extremist like myself. While kicking the fossil fuel addiction is not going to be easy, a lot of the changes we need to make are not actually massively disruptive, and can be very popular if we do it cleverly. Rewilding as much land as you can turning these areas into national parks and marine parks would be hugely popular, shutting down the Haifa chemical plants and cleaning up the area will likewise only enhance the area. For success, take the divestment movement that works to takeaway investment from fossil fuels. They have had remarkable success, with 8 trillion dollars of capital divested. Take that BDS! And are kids going hungry because of this? No.
I can’t get Netanyahu’s infomercial out of my head. It was a few years ago before the gas boom, where he was pitching Israel as the “clever” Middle Eastern country. It was so successful, he said, because there are no natural resources here and all wealth had to be created though our own minds. A few years later he called the gas resources “God’s gift,” so his consistency is less than perfect. He was nonetheless right the first time, wealth can come from anywhere. If we do it right it can even benefit our societies even while avoiding the worst of the climate breakdown.