On Planet Israel, No One Wants to Be Labeled an Environmentalist

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Orot Rabin power station in Hadera.

Last week, nearly 200 of the U.K.’s wealthiest and most powerful businesspeople and CEOs, including the vice president of Coca Cola Europe, the CEOs of Heathrow Airport, Lloyds Bank and HSBC Bank, and the owners of numerous companies in the energy, construction, plastics, insurance, automobile and wholesale industries, issued a call to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to put forward a green recovery plan.

“The current crisis, in moving us all away from business as usual, has already created shifts in how we operate. … Efforts to rescue and repair the economy in response … can and should be aligned with the U.K.’s legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest,” they wrote.

Four days later, four top international economists – the governor of the Bank of England, the governor of the Bank of France, the executive director of supervision at the Netherlands Bank and the UN special envoy for climate action and finance – published another piece oozing with financial authority, which opened as follows:

“We are currently in the midst of the most severe macroeconomic shock since the second world war.” They assert: “This crisis offers us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild our economy in order to withstand the next shock coming our way: climate breakdown. Unless we act now, the climate crisis will be tomorrow’s central scenario and, unlike Covid-19, no one will be able to self-isolate from it.” 

These two texts join another that was released two weeks ago and widely discussed around the world (though not in Israel). Signed by 4,500 physicians from 90 countries, plus 350 organizations representing more than 40 million health care workers (about half of all the health care workers in the world), it calls on the countries’ leaders to ensure a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis, with special attention given to the issue of air pollution.

The letter notes that more than 7 million people die each year from the effects of air pollution, and that air pollution exacerbated the impact of the coronavirus, as “it weakens everyone’s health.” They argue that medical personnel and public health experts should also be involved in the greening of the economy, since this is a medical interest and because further environmental damage will lead to more epidemics.

But in Israel, as usual, the silence on this matter has been deafening – as if there is no global warming and the only real problem is leftist Internet commenters hurling invective at the prime minister. The Health Ministry does have an environmental health department, but there’s a reason you’ve never heard anything about it – and the height of absurdity is that air pollution does not even fall under its areas of responsibility. What do 40 million medical workers sounding the warning about the connection between air pollution and illness know anyway?

Nothing has been heard from local economists or the local business sector either. You won’t hear the CEO of a big company who’s willing to forgo profits to contribute to the environment we live in; you won’t hear a famous economist insisting on a national change of direction to lessen pollution. They remain silent because they have no interest in anything but making money and accruing power, and anything that might get in the way of that is tossed aside.

Everybody knows that in Israel, concern for the environment is the province of a handful of “crazies” and not of the “most powerful people in the economy,” who are experts in arm-twisting and bringing their business rivals to their knees. What does climate catastrophe have to do with them? What Israeli “shark” would want to be labeled a bleeding heart who cares about butterflies? Before you know it, he’ll be outed as a leftist too.

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