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Climate change, Israel and the elections

The entire political spectrum would do well if Israel were to take the lead in halting the rising temperatures that bode ill for the future of humanity
Plumes of smoke rise from Europe's largest lignite power plant in Belchatow, central Poland, November 28, 2018. Fossil fuels are now heating the earth faster than scientists had expected even a few years ago. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Plumes of smoke rise from Europe's largest lignite power plant in Belchatow, central Poland, November 28, 2018. Fossil fuels are now heating the earth faster than scientists had expected even a few years ago. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that, on the current trajectory, the climate in the Middle East may literally be too hot to go outside in the summertime by 2050. They estimate that this will lead to 100 million to 300 million climate change refugees by the that year worldwide. The climate change that has already happened is universally regarded as one of the factors that led to the Syrian civil war, leading to around 10 million refugees just beyond the border.

The congestion is the worst in Israel of the entire OECD, and the energy dependency on fossil fuels stands at an incredible 96 percent. Yet the understanding in Israel for this problem is close to non existent. How can this be a non-issue? The American and European environmental movement is talking about not only cutting down on car and air travel, but even about if it is moral to have children at all when they will be born into this grim-looking future. Yet not even one candidate in the Israeli political landscape is making this part of their political campaign. How can this be? To be fair, it is not that nobody cares; after all, thousands of people marched in the Peoples March for Climate last Friday. However, not one candidate in the election wants to try and win votes on this issue. The state of our understanding is so bad that some professors have to educate people that mass migration, increased war and mounting crop failures will not be stopped by maxing out your air conditioning!

Is it because the Israeli right wing so closely mirrors the American right? In America, the Republican party has more or less undergone a hostile takeover from the fossil fuel lobbyists. John McCain used to speak of climate change as a challenge in 2008, but now no one dares to step out of the party line built by the lobbyists and their paid climate deniers. We do not see actual outright denial here in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu used his UN speech in 2009 to say to the world that we should all work together to save the planet and not worry about petty things like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we also do not see this concern actually affecting policy in any dramatic way.

When natural gas was found in the Mediterranean, all concern was out the window and Bibi called it “God’s gift” to Israel. The moves that the government has undertaken, according to the Third National Communication on Climate Change, is to try to decrease the fossil fuel dependency by an unimpressive 30% by 2030, mainly by improving air conditioning efficiency and switching to natural gas. But we need to be off fossil fuels by 2050 completely and fully halve emissions by 2030 for the earth’s temperature to ”only” rise by 2 degrees C –so as to avoid the earth’s tipping points, and prevent setting ourselves on course for irreversible catastrophic climate change.

UN General Secretary António Guterres says that the world needs to change into a war footing to counter this threat comparable to the World War II mobilization before and during the war by as early as this year, 2019. This means reducing our carbon footprint globally by about 10% per year. Anybody feel on a war footing? Natural gas as an energy source might have been a good stop-gap measure 30 years ago because it is a less emitting fossil fuel than coal, but locking Israel into many years of gas dependency at this point is out of the frying pan and into the fire.

If this is the case with the right-wing government, where is the left? Where is our Green New Deal? Tamar Zandberg and the rest of the left are more or less silent on this issue — certainly not making it as central to their campaign as secularism or sexual equality. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said that it is top priority for Tel Aviv to keep its gas guzzling monster of an airport in the middle of the city so that Tel Avivians can use their God-given rights to fly to Eilat. Why? Because the government cannot be bothered to build a train track the whole way down to the south of the country. Avi Gabbay says that we need to exploit the maximum from the gas fields in the Mediterranean, but that we should tax it differently. Really? The problem would go away if we received other services from the same massive emissions increase?

Perhaps the myth of “making the desert bloom” literally has been a slogan of man against nature and as such is antithetical to ecological considerations. On the other hand, “making the desert bloom,” seen in another light, is exactly the sort of thing we need — making the dystopia of future toxic deserts and deserted cities in the instead bloom to their full potential.

Yuval Noah Harari has pointed out that all the climate deniers tend to be nationalists. It is obvious why. If you are selling the idea that we can solve all our problems within our independent states, then a global problem like climate change that is impossible for one country to solve alone must simply be denied in order to stay on message.

The good news is the example of the national water works and the water organization. Unlike the Palestinian issue, for example, there is no debate and no polarization, just steady bipartisan progress: 90% of sewage water is recycled, and the desalination plants supply 70% of domestic consumption of water. These numbers are the envy of the world (including the UN) and Israel has finally gone from water shortage to water surplus (even the Kinneret is no longer disappearing). If it continues, perhaps even the Dead Sea can be saved. But while all this exciting Israeli water technology will be important for tools for a world scarred by climate change, it does nothing to actually reduce the emissions that are causing climate change.

The difference with the water issue not being political is that the world needs to drastically start reducing fossil fuel use right now, we can’t wait for the people in power to make the right decisions, we have to start forcing them to act, whatever their politics. This means getting into the debate.

Harari is obviously right in general about nationalists, but an exception might be seen right here in his own home country. If there ever was a nationalist argument for going off fossil fuels, it would be right here. Were Israel to decarbonize its society, it would become the envy of the world, and its green technology could be sold all over the world. Moreover, Israel would be able to pull the rug from under the feet from some of its greatest rivals. If we can create a world where Iran’s oil is unsellable, Israel will have an advantage. Just imagine that Israel could offer countries the ability to decarbonize with Israeli help — how many friends would Israel potentially make in Europe and the developing world? It is a perfect deal for both center and right-wing nationalists. What is odd is that they do not want to make the commitment.

Leftists should want decarbonization to prevent war and worsening inequality. Nationalists should want it for the good of the nation. There are no losers apart for the fossil fuel lobby.

Just do it already!

About the Author
Toby Gisle is 42 years old, and a trained circus performer who now works as an English teacher in Tel Aviv. Although he grew up in London, he is originally from Sweden. His writings have appeared in a few different publications in Sweden.
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