Did you know that the Israeli Army (IDF) has the greatest number of vegan soldiers (1 out of 18 soldiers are vegan)? Or that Israel is home to an environmental movement that has captivated the world, providing solutions to the three pillars of sustainability (economic, social, and political)? Caring about the diverse agriculture in Israel is not new to Israelis, but what makes Israel an environmental anomaly?
Israel’s harsh agricultural conditions have forced a culture of environmental innovation. Whether it is Israel’s famous drip irrigation system, founded by Netafim in order to limit water waste, or BioBee Biological Systems, which has created innovative solutions to fruitfly aggregation and pest control, Israeli startup companies have drastically changed environmental fields for the better. Smaller and as dense as New Jersey, Israel’s limited land space has required serious climate change mitigation. Israeli Knesset Speaker, Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, is the pioneer behind Knesset’s green movement. As of 2014, the Knesset has committed to having solar panels on the top of the Knesset building, replacing all of the lights with LED light bulbs, and swapping the air conditioning system in the building with an energy center. Amir Peretz, the Minister of Environmental Protection, commented on the Knesset’s green initiative, stating, ”At a time when my office is leading an environmental revolution in industry and in the residents` homes, the symbol of the country must become a leading element in the green revolution, because it is the Knesset`s duty to protect the next generations, and protecting the environment is the way to do it. Those who want to think far must think green.” Peretz emphasizes one of the greatest motivators that the Israeli Knesset has: maintaining the safety and good quality of life of Israeli citizens. Going green achieves just that.
Some of the most pressing environmental issues in Israel are poor water and air quality, and solid waste. Over the past 25 years, Israel’s natural water passages have had an increase in chloride concentration, from 110 mg/liter to 150 mg/liter (a chloride concentration of 250 mg/liter in public drinking water is considered toxic for humans). Not only does water contamination pose a serious danger for Israeli citizens, but water scarcity is a concern for many Israelis, as Israel lacks access to many bodies of water that are safe for drinking. Despite these inherent water challenges, Israel is one of the leading countries in the world to effectively recycle water. Nearly 70% of wastewater in Israel is recycled and repurposed for use in nurturing nonfood crops and animal fodder, which is an impressive feat. As of 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have drastically increased in Israel. Although sulfur dioxide levels have significantly decreased, air pollution remains a clear danger for Israelis. In 1995, the Knesset aimed to mitigate this problem by requiring that all new cars imported to the country contain catalytic converters. The catalytic converters emit only a tenth of the air pollution that regular cars do, which illustrates the massive effect this has on the overall environmental degradation in Israel. In Israel today, each person accumulates approximately 1.7 kg of solid waste. However, there is a dearth of action from the Knesset, and solid waste remains a clear problem for the future of the state.
As we celebrate the environment this April, it is important we recognize and understand that climate change action is absolutely necessary for the safety of our Earth. In Judaism, practices such as celebrating the holiday Tu B’Shevat (a celebration of the nature that surrounds us) and the Shmita year (the seventh year of farming in which farmers let the land rest) allow us to reflect on the importance of nature. Israel is at the forefront of an environmental revolution, and despite its progress, there is still a long way to go until we have accomplished a sustainable lifestyle.