Smoke in the air, everywhere

I dreamt last night that while out on a run I turned a corner and spotted a massive fire not far off from where I was standing. It was hot and dry and windy. The fire fighters quickly controlled the blaze and under the massive plume of smoke was a small brush fire. The impact on the air quality was significant well beyond the scope of the fire itself.

It’s November, the air is so dry it hurts to breathe. A final hurrah of summer remains. We are in fire season. A fire closed the main road from the Zichron Yacov to Yokneam around the Meir Shefeya Youth Village this week. A plume of brown smoke off in the distance in the Jezereel Valley caught my attention this morning, on the way to my daughter’s bus stop. No wonder I dreamt of fire. There is one, just off in the distance. Hopefully they are small, accidental, and easily contained. We suffer the lingering consequences of the particulates in the air, damaging our health one breath at a time well after the fire has been conquered.

The Amazon has been burning. California suffered another round of fires. Massive swaths of Australia are on fire after years of drought. The reasons for these fires are varied. In California, hot weather, dry winds, and ineffective forest management resulted in huge swaths of land around LA and in the northern part of the state torched. Cattle ranchers are pushing farther into the Brazilian rain forest to slash and burn illegally claimed land to satiate the growing global demand for beef. Australia faces a challenging firefight after years of drought have parched the continent during a season of high heat and wind. We are all suffering from the increased pollution levels in the atmosphere, which has no respect for national sovereignty.

In Israel we have become far too familiar with the emergency of fire. Hanukkah 2010 was marred by the devastating Carmel fire, claiming 44 lives, the most deadly in Israeli history. Three years ago, in November 2016, a wave of fires, many caused by arson, ripped through the country, including causing significant damage throughout Haifa. Countless incendiary balloons and other airborne devices sent across the border from Gaza into Israel have torched thousands of acres of land in the south of the country. Earlier this year, in May 2019, during an intense heatwave the country was again up in flames. And again in July 2019, more fires broke out.

Hearing that beautiful, natural parts of the globe are going up in flames is devastating. Hearing that fires rage in proximity to population centers, putting lives at risk, is frustrating. Hearing that fires are erupting in your own country is unsettling. Hearing that a fire is just down the street and that all around you is dry and windy, is alarming.

Israel faces a multi-faceted challenge. With our growing population we need to provide more housing at the expense of open space and the trees located in those spaces. At the same time, the desire to live in close proximity to nature has become a selling point and even a luxury driving housing plans closer and closer to tree lines, and of course this added “value” allows developers to charge premiums for these units.

Can we afford the damage to the atmosphere to remove those trees and replace them with buildings and all the dust that comes with the construction? Can we risk living so close to easily ignited timber? Do we have the resources to protect homes built in close proximity to forests? And can we afford to compensate those harmed when fires destroy their homes? Are any of these choices rational or reasonable? Are we even having this conversation in Israel? If we are, it’s happening quietly, behind closed doors, when in fact it should be out in the open and fully engaging of the public. Otherwise, we’re sitting targets waiting, watching, and smelling, hoping that the next fire near us isn’t devastating, to us, personally.

About the Author
Rachel Gould made aliyah in 2010 to Haifa and now lives in Yokneam. She is a PhD Candidate in Public Policy at TAU focusing on environmental and population policies. She was a candidate for city council in Yokneam on the Mekomi list in 2018.
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