Israel is about to miss a huge opportunity if it doesn’t make a radical change in its environmental policy.
By Ora Coren

Businesses can create products that actually clean up the environment rather than those that pollute it, the head of the Akirov Institute for Business and the Environment at Tel Aviv University said yesterday at TheMarker’s Israel 2021 conference in Jerusalem. Yehuda Kahane added that the risks to the environment also have economic and defense implications of the first order.

“Israel is behind in the world’s green revolution and is about to miss a huge opportunity if it doesn’t make a radical change in policy,” he warned.

In Kahane’s opinion, the environmental issue should be converted into a growth engine and Israel must catch up to other countries ahead of it in tackling the issue. Singapore, he said, viewed Israel in its early years of statehood as a model of how to establish a country, but has now surpassed us.

“After three lost decades, we are at the bottom compared to [the rest of] the world,” he said.

The unprecedented growth in the world’s population and the increasing life expectancy rates have led to greater consumption of energy and resources, he stated. “Over those three lost decades, we haven’t done anything to improve the situation,” he asserted.

Kahane also cautioned that the pace of industrialization in the world is on the rise and all of the resultant changes has led to the development of products whose full impact are not yet known. He cited, for example, the invention of the cell phone without investigating the impact of the radiation it emits on the user’s health.

Global warming is perceived as an environmental issue, Kahane said, but its effects are even more widespread than many realize – causing the extinction of species of animals and plants, disrupting the ecological equilibrium, leading to the disappearance of entire bee populations and placing stress on marine algae populations that produce half of the world’s oxygen.

“In the past 40 years,” he said, “we have depleted 80% of the world’s fishing grounds.”

There are ethical problems with trying to limit the world’s population growth, he acknowledged, and a drop in consumption could lead to an economic crisis – but our carbon footprint can be reduced without affecting production, he claimed.

“We started out with a world that was poor and clean, and we are becoming a world that is rich and dirty. We can become a rich and clean world if we just find the right path,” he told his audience in Jerusalem, adding that the trick is to achieve growth without pollution. Sustainability involves proper management of resources in the current generation, without harming what is being left to the next generation.

“It’s not enough to reduce what’s bad. We need to create what’s good from the beginning. It involves a conceptual change in business. We’ll produce items not only that don’t pollute but that clean the environment,” he said.

Relating specifically to Israel, Kahane said a lot can be accomplished on the environmental issue through cooperation between business and government. He said the Environmental Protection Ministry is proactive and many businesses are also getting in on the act, but many more are not doing enough. Although the government can encourage environmental awareness, the private sector can act on its own.

He said the issue should be addressed according to an order of priorities, and suggested that Israel not automatically adopt approaches adopted abroad.

On a more positive note regarding Israel, Kahane said a lot of good was coming out of a renewed pioneering spirit in the country.

Speaking at the same session, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan’s chief of staff, Alona Shefer, said the environmental issue requires long-term planning and perspective that involves various sectors.

“Green is not more expensive,” said anther panelist, Kobi Ben-Moshe, CEO of the Aviv consulting group, who also underlined the importance of getting the schools more involved in environmental education.

Panelist Roni Kobrovsky, the president of the Central Bottling Company, which bottles Cola Cola, said that in the past he had the unfortunate distinction of receiving the “black globe” award from environmental groups for being a polluter, but commented that the very fact that he was now a speaker on an environmental panel was proof that change was possible.

Yehuda (Lucien ) Bronicki, founder and chairman of the Ormat geothermal energy group, told the conference that environmental problems presented a major opportunity for Israel. He added, however, that Israel was behind other countries on environmental issues and rather than inventing new approaches, simply needed to see what was being done elsewhere.