Last week Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan continued on his dizzying journey to make Israeli society more environmental. A few days after announcing his intention to try to change consumption habits so that Israelis will buy fewer products that are not really essential, together with other ministries Erdan launched an advanced standard for green construction. This standard is supposed to make living in new homes and homes undergoing renovation more frugal in terms of electricity and water consumption.
Praise is due to Erdan for not having stopped at confronting the wasteful and polluting consumption culture, but also for trying to change it. However, a number of disturbing questions arise with regard to the increasing gap between those who are able to choose what to consume and how green their homes will be, and those who find it hard to buy the most basic commodities or live in homes of their own.
The green building standards, like the Environmental Protection Ministry's public service broadcasts urging a change in consumption habits, are currently directed mainly at the well-off. The ministry has indeed promised to encourage the introduction of green building standards for a broader range of populations, and says intelligent consumption serves weak populations, but someone who has to make do with little doesn't need some celebrity to explain to him the deleterious effects on the environment of excessive consumption in a jocular television public service broadcast.
In extensive parts of Israel today, especially in the Negev and the Galilee, hundreds of thousands of people live in unrecognized locales or in local authorities where the economic situation is grim. The infrastructures are miserable to the point where the inhabitants are burning, as fuel, what is left over from the consumption culture the minister wants to change. In many places the sewage facilities are collapsing and the talk about saving water look tasteless.
In the Negev there are dozens of unrecognized Bedouin villages where the inhabitants learned long ago how to use solar energy and manage with a limited quantity of water because they have no hookup to electricity or water. The ministry Erdan heads is placing difficulties in the way of securing budgetary funding for dealing with environmental hazards in Bedouin locales in the Negev.
A few months ago Erdan visited the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, some of which he defined as green, and praised the activity there to set up wind turbines and solar panels. In the near future we will no doubt see him inaugurating office buildings defined as green. But the real battlefront awaits him in the Arab locales and urban neighborhoods - of Jews and of Arabs - where investment should be made in the physical and social infrastructures, rather than in another outpost or new neighborhood of towns in Judea and Samaria.
Clearly the Environmental Protection Ministry alone will not change the economic and social reality in Israel. However, if the minister has already taken on pretentious missions, and rightly so, he should set in motion moves not only in what his ministry's people call "focus authorities." These are towns that are strong enough and organized enough to participate in the changes the ministry has recently enacted in the area of waste recycling.
Of all the ministers of the environment in Israel, Erdan apparently has the most developed understanding of the new environmental thinking in the world, especially in social and economic contexts. It is very important that his ministry influences the stronger part of society that consumes most of Israel's natural resources, but he should also be making his contribution to advancing those who have been left behind and need a basic basket of environmental protection services.
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