ANALYSIS: Is Israel a Light to the Nations on Climate Change?

Bennett made some grand, and vague, promises at COP26. What must Israel do to actually lead the fight against global warming?

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: Climate Change, COP26
In some ways Israel is more "green" than most countries, but the war on climate change still isn't a national priority.
In some ways Israel is more "green" than most countries, but the war on climate change still isn't a national priority. Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

Speaking at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow on Monday, Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett suggested that Israel, as the leading start-up nation, could save the world.

“As the country with the most start-ups per capita in the world, we must channel our efforts into saving our world,” Bennett said, explaining that “our carbon footprint may be small, but our impact on climate change can be mighty. If we’re going to move the needle, we need to contribute Israel’s most valuable source of energy: the energy and brainpower of our people.”

This might well be true, but Judaism’s concept of tikun olam (repairing the world) must start at home, as the Jewish sages told us many centuries ago.

As we will see, Israel is far from being a country with a good record on environmental protection.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addressing the climate change summit in Glasgow.
In Glasgow, Bennett committed Israel to a “national mission” to combat climate change. But will most Israelis really be onboard?

World class innovation

But let us first take a look at some of the Israeli companies that Bennett no doubt had in mind that have indeed developed innovative methods and devices that could help save our world from becoming uninhabitable.

These companies are perhaps a small example of what Israel could do if its resources were redirected toward combatting climate change.

Israel has some of the most innovative ideas around when it comes to harnessing solar energy. Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90

Third generation solar cells

SOLRA is a company that has developed a third-generation solar cell that can harness sunlight and artificial light to produce power. “The cells themselves can be semi-transparent and can be affixed to buildings to be used as solar windows, not simply as rooftop panels or cells within a solar field,” the company says.

SOLRA CEO Avi Voldman further explained to the technology-focused news site No Camels: “We are developing the next generation of solar cells based on thin-film materials derived from perovskite, a crystalline substance that efficiently absorbs light. Perovskite-based solar cells have higher cell power conversion efficiencies and a simple fabrication process that allows for a lower cost per watt than prevailing PV solar cells. In the precise case of IoT, it is a significant trend right now and practically requires a lot of power.”

SOLRA’s system doesn’t need additional batteries to generate energy for buildings and cars, for example.

“Offices are usually covered in glass. With our solution, solar panels can be installed instead of regular glass – although the panels themselves are also made of a special kind of glass. Where our technology significantly outstrips silicon-based cells is that they have a narrow band gap,” Voldman added.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu samples some of Aleph Farms’ cultured meat in December 2020, calling it “unbelievably good.”

Feed the world

Aleph Farms is on a mission to “feed the world and to preserve the planet,” the company wrote on its website.

The Israeli start-up produces cultivated meat using an initial cell from the bovine product. Aleph Farms then feeds it with a plant-based soup, growing cells into a beef steak in a “very controlled atmosphere.”

“We do not need to kill or slaughter or harm the cow. And because it is done in very controlled and sterile conditions, we can eliminate the use of antibiotics and reduce tremendously the ecological impact of producing beef when compared to the standard industrial method,” said company Vice President Lee Recht in remarks to The Jerusalem Post.

Last year Aleph Farms conducted a life-cycle analysis that showed its meat-producing method reduces the carbon footprint by a staggering 92 percent and water footprint by 78 percent. The land footprint was reduced by an impressive 95 percent compared to the current way meat is produced.

The food industry is currently responsible for 30 percent of the greenhouse gases in the climate, and half of them are created by the meat industry, according to Recht.

The BeeHome by Beewise, an advanced living space for crucial bee colonies.

Save the bees

Beewise has developed a method to save the world’s bee population from extinction. This is critical as bees pollinate 75% of all fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts that the eight billion people on the planet consume. But their dwindling numbers now directly threatens the food supply to the world’s population.

Beewise has developed what it calls a BeeHome, a robotic device that houses up to 24 bee colonies and monitors them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The robot in BeeHome uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify the needs of the bee colonies and alert the owner of the colonies, while even administering a solution when something is wrong.

The robot also identifies sickness and determines which medication is needed. The BeeHome device also determines when it’s time for the colonies to harvest honey or if they get enough food.

The computer in BeeHome can be remotely controlled even when the owner is thousands of miles away from his farm.

Currently, only 7.59 percent of the bees in BeeHome get lost every year, but the goal of BeeWise is to reach a loss of one or two percent, a level that existed 50 years ago.

Today, 40% of all bee colonies are being lost per year due to a combination of pesticides, global warming, disease and other challenges, experts say.

“Changing the world is hard, but it is a dream. We are very excited and feel privileged and lucky to be involved in such a company. How many times can my career leave a real imprint on the planet?” BeeWise CEO Saar Safra exclaimed.

There is no resource more precious than clean drinking water, and Israel has found a solution for that, too.

Water solutions

Water is critical to life, and nowhere more so than in the Middle East. One Israeli start-up has found a possible solution to the increasing water crisis in the world.

Safe drinking water is becoming more and more scarce, as we have seen recently in countries like Iran, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, where the water supply is severely disrupted due to drought and mismanagement, but also by rising temperatures.

Watergen seeks to solve this, as well as conflicts over water, through its innovative devices that make water from the air.

“The company’s solutions are the most effective and economical way to solve the pressing issue of (drinking) water scarcity in any location and at any time, and also enable the elimination of carbon-intensive supply chains and environmentally-harmful plastic waste,” Watergen wrote on its website.

Watergen’s largest device produces 6,000 liters of water each day, but there are also plenty of machines that are suitable for home use.

Israelis rally for action against climate change. But for most of the population, it just isn’t a priority. Time will tell if Bennett can change that. Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

Not a priority

As we can see from the above start-ups, Israel does indeed, as Bennett said, have the capacity to lead the world in developing solutions to the climate change crisis.

Unfortunately, in Israel itself the protection of the environment and dealing with the climate crisis has yet to become a national priority. And we’re not talking just about political priorities.

A large majority of Israelis don’t care about environmental protection, nor is a special Police unit established 20 years ago to enforce environmental protection laws anywhere to be seen.

Just visit the shores of the Sea of Galilee or a forest in the north of Israel and you will not only be overwhelmed by the beautiful scenery and pastoral views, but also by the large amounts of garbage that Israelis produce and leave behind during visits to these national treasures. See related: Israelis Shocked by Christians Cleaning Trash at Sea of Galilee

Another problem is the use of disposable utensils in Israel. People who go on a picnic or organize a family event at home typically buy large quantities of disposable items and then throw them away.

Bennett’s new “government of change” is trying to tackle this problem by introducing a special tax on disposable items, but it remains to be seen if this will cause a drastic change in the behavior of Israelis.

An earlier government measure against the use of plastic bags in supermarkets failed to produce the desired change in habits by the public.

Other critical environmental issues like air pollution have likewise been neglected for decades. Efforts are belatedly underway to solve this, for instance by reducing stifling road traffic in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem by closing city centers. But full implementation of this is still a long way off. Meanwhile, most mass transportation options still run on diesel fuel.

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