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It was always a point of pride to say that Israel was the only country in the world to enter the 21st century with more trees than it did the 20th. and that Israel had the greatest percentage of its territory designated as national parks and nature reserves. Zionism, we believed, was environmentally friendly. All that may still be true, but Israel is also a littered country—many of our trails are strewn with garbage—and a country of deteriorating air quality. Our beaches and sea cliffs are receding due to climate change and our forests are annually ravaged by fires. The Jordan River is now little more than a stream and the Dead Sea is on route to being truly dead, its water levels falling a full meter every year. The Middle East is heating up faster than other regions of the world, and with temperatures set to rise by nearly two degrees Celsius by the year 2048, the Jewish State could almost become uninhabitable.
Importantly, Israel had acceded to the Paris Climate Accord and has committed to eliminate the use of fossil fuels shortly after our 100th birthday. Numerous civil society organizations work to raise awareness about the dangers posed to our environment and to promote policies for sustainability. But vastly more must be done and urgently.
Israel must explore new ways of managing its waste. Unlike most other OECD countries which employ thermal systems for waste removal, Israel remains virtually entirely dependent on landfills. Apart from the hazards the practice poses to aquifers, landfills also take up a significant amount of Israel’s highly limited space. As the rate of waste production increases, the areas designated for landfills will soon be exhausted. Thermal alternatives must be adopted. Recycling, though it exists, is still in its infancy in Israel. Nondegradable waste can be made into construction material and plant matter into compost. Plastic products, still ubiquitous in the Jewish State, must be phased out. Nothing must be thrown into the Mediterranean.
An equally vexing challenge is posed by Methane, a greenhouse gas ten times more powerful than carbon dioxide, responsible for 20% of global warming. Israel will bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility for this damage due to its extraction and sale of natural gas high levels of Methane. While it is economically unrealistic to expect Israel to cut back on its sea drilling, Israel can do much to reduce Methane leaks. It can also invest more heavily in alternative energy sources, especially solar, and build the infrastructure necessary for storing that energy. The development of mass transportation and efficient autonomous cars will also help reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
The challenges to Israel’s environment remain daunting but, in the face of them, we cannot remain passive. The public must be educated about the steps needed to preserve Israel’s beaches and coastal cliffs and to keep our national parks clean. An initiative similar to the Every Litter Bit Hurts campaign mounted in the United States in the 1960s will shame anyone throwing trash in anything other than bins. Channels leading from the Mediterranean and Red Seas—the so-called Med-Dead and Red-Dead canals—can help replenish the Dead Sea. So, too, can increasing flow of desalinized water into the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan. While we cannot determine the policies of our polluting neighbors to the north and south, we can materially impact the quality of Israel’s land, seaside, air, and water bodies and safeguard their health well into our second century.
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