Climate of Indifference

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Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, of Sweden, addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019.

“Change is coming, whether you like it or not,” is how the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg ended her UN speech calling for governments to wake up to the climate crisis.

Successive Israeli governments have not internalized this truth so far. Among the main tasks of the new government when it is established is to deal with the environmental crisis and its existential and economic implications. This is not just about dealing with climate change, but also responding to a long series of threats. Instead of undermining and weakening existing environmental regulations, as the Prime Minister’s Office has done so far, regulations need to be improved and expanded.

Climate changes, felt powerfully in the Mediterranean region, require Israel to move to urban planning based on greater energy efficiency of structures, efficient use of renewable energy and management of water resources to ensure the survival of ecosystems. These systems will be much more fragile in the future because of the expected warming of the region.

Treatment of waste also requires special preparedness. A great deal of waste is polluting the environment and is not recycled or utilized for energy. The government has economic tools, such as the clean-up fund, in which a large amount of money has accumulated, that can help build infrastructure for recycling and energy production. Legislation must also be urgently completed to deal with construction waste. The illegal disposal of construction waste in streams and farming areas has become the most common environmental nuisance in Israel.

Another urgent environmental problem is the disappearance of open spaces. The new government will have to change its planning policy and promote denser construction, to be served by efficient public transportation. Such planning will help reduce traffic congestion, which has become an acute national problem. An essential condition for strengthening public transportation is speeding up implementation of train line projects and dedicated bus lane construction.  

This list of tasks, which includes only some of the problems, is a testament to ongoing delays in taking steps to address the environmental crisis and sometimes  to a complete lack of such preparations. Israel established desalination plants and reduced the use of coal, and these are steps in the right direction. But a delay in the functioning of waste treatment and transportation infrastructure, and continued reliance on private vehicles and construction in open spaces show that the government has not yet taken to heart the seriousness of the situation.

Increased population density and the burden on natural resources calls for a comprehensive policy overhaul. This needs to be reflected in the allocation of funding, through shelving projects that waste resources and a preference for thrift and efficiency. Technology and improvisation skills are not enough to ensure that Israel’s citizens have clean air to breathe and good quality of life.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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