1) Researchers say these findings explain why many environmental problems remain unresolved despite growing environmental awareness.

source: Haaretz by Zafrir Rinat 21.06.11

Israeli environmental organizations have expanded their activity and influence significantly in the past few years, but still face budgetary shortfalls, a lack of skilled manpower and insufficient financial support from the public, a new study by Ben-Gurion University shows.

The researchers said these findings explain why many environmental problems remain unresolved despite growing environmental awareness.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Prof. Alon Tal, who also chairs the Green Movement. The findings will be presented today at the Knesset’s annual Environment Day.

Tal and his colleagues conducted interviews with leading environmental activists and experts. They found that over the past 20 years, the number of green organizations has grown from 25 to over 100, but more than half of these are organizations comprised of 50 activists or less. Only 10 percent of these groups had between 1,000 and 5,000 registered members.

The study found that in recent years, the organizations have expanded their activity into a variety of environmental fields. They have also learned to cooperate, and thus gained greater leverage over environmental issues. Their most successful campaigns included the fight against seaside construction, efforts to reduce pollution in major cities and the passage of a string of environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act and a law to protect the beaches, promoted by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

Yet for the most part, these organizations remain dependent on donations from international foundations, whose contributions constitute the lion’s share of their budgets. The rest comes from various other sources, including the government. The organizations thus have trouble maintaining financial stability and are often pushed to pursue projects that will appeal to funders but don’t necessarily have great environmental impact.

One prominent exception is the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which manages to support itself largely through membership fees.

Another significant issue is the activists’ professional qualifications. “A number of interviewees noted a decline in the influence of activists who enter the public debate armed mainly with ideology rather than expertise, statistical knowledge or coherent information,” the study said. “Many pointed out that this evident superficiality – which results from a shortage of professional experts on the green side, as well as the populism of some of the organizations – has eroded the green movement’s credibility among decision makers in the government and in industry.”

The researchers also noted that Israeli organizations generally focus on addressing the effects of construction and pollution rather than their root causes, which include accelerated population growth and the development of a Western consumer culture. Unless the green movement starts confronting these issues, they warned, Israel will become “an ecologically desolate and socially intolerable place.”

Nir Papai, SPNI’s deputy director general, rejected the study’s criticism of Israeli organizations’ professional level. “Environmental organizations’ main power lies in activism in the field, and experts merely provide backing for this,” he argued.

In contrast, “the criticism of our lack of engagement with population growth is quite correct,” he said. “But we did step up activity on the consumer culture issue over the past year.”

2) Green groups face economic, leadership challenges.

source: Jerusalem Post By SHARON UDASIN 06/21/2011

Study conducted by Israel’s foremost environmental leaders examines the status of the country’s environmental movement.

A comprehensive study on Israel’s environmental groups that reveals just how economically distressed the country’s green NGOs currently are, among other issues, will be presented to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) on Tuesday afternoon, as the central focus of the Knesset’s official Environment Day, the authors announced.

The study – called “Israel’s Environmental Movement: Trends, Needs and Potential” and commissioned by the UK-based JMG Foundation – surveyed 98 environmental organizations with a detailed questionnaire, and then conducted in-depth interviews with 30 leaders. Although more than 50 new green groups have been established in past decade and 100 are members of the umbrella organization Life and Environment, overall membership remains low – only three organizations claim more than 5,000 members, while more than half of the green NGOs have 100 or less, according to the report. Meanwhile, only about 25 percent are collecting membership dues, and about half of the groups rely on international funding for over 50% of their budgets, mostly receiving project-based grants rather than long-term financing, the writers say.

“Almost a third of the organizations reported no formal budget at all,” write the authors, headed by Green Movement co-chairman Prof. Alon Tal, Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research. “Yet, on the other end, over half of responding organizations report budgets of over NIS 100,000 – implying sufficient resources for the hiring of at least part-time staff as well as renting offices. While JNF’s prodigious land holdings make it an anomalous ‘outlier’ in any analysis, the large environmental groups report substantial budgets, with a full 10% of respondents (all national groups) reporting budgets that approach the $1 million range.”

Other particularly large groups in addition to Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund include the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel and Israel for Bicycles, both of which also have over 5,000 members each, and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva v’Din), the Israel Association of Ecology and Environmental Sciences and the Sayarut youth movement, which all fall in the 1,000-5,000 range.

“The findings unquestionably suggest that Israel’s environmental community has become more dependent during the past decade than it was previously on international support, particularly from Jewish philanthropy,” the authors write.

But even those who had such seemingly secure funds are now at risk of losing this stability.

“Unfortunately, several foundations that were responsible for the recent “boom years” of international philanthropic support have already begun to phase out support for environmental activities or have announced their intentions to do so imminently,” the report says.

The CRB Foundation, which for the past 15 years has been “a hub for Israel’s green foundations,” recently announced that it is ceasing operations within the next few years, while another financing giant, the Goldman Fund, is disbanding following the death of its namesake, Richard Goldman, according to the authors.

“For Israel’s green NGO community, this phenomenon should be alarming and constitute an existential risk,” they write. “There is still time to make a substantial shift in their fundraising strategy. Israeli society today is sufficiently affluent to make far more meaningful contributions to environmental organizations and is probably willing to do so.”

Israelis are far from shy about contributing to charities and regularly contribute to groups like anti-cancer funds, but green groups need to create a more structured framework for approaching potential donors and increasing their memberships, Tal told The Jerusalem Post on Monday afternoon.

“I think environmental organizations have become a little complacent about engaging Israeli public and asking them for support,” he said, noting that the Society for the Protection of Nature does, however, do a particularly good job in this arena.

Another problematic issue that the environmental organizations face as a whole is the lack of professional training among their leaders, according to the report.

“The survey results confirm that there is a dearth of qualified, high level experts working in-house for environmental groups,” the authors write. “Neither the Society for Protection of Nature nor the KKL can boast a Ph.D. level ecologist working in their organization.”

This deficiency could be mended not only by increasing funds to attract higher-paid professionals, but also by “integrating the activities of the universities,” something that has already begun, for example, in symposia held by the different NGOs at Tel Aviv University’s Porter School for Environmental Studies, the study says.

Among the biggest environmental issues that the groups currently must tackle include groundwater contamination, a disappearing Dead Sea, heightened cancer clusters due to air pollution, Eilat’s vanishing coral reef, poor conditions in Arab-Israeli and haredi communities, degradation of open space, greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in endocrine disruptors that have caused a drop in sperm count and early onset of female puberty, according to the study. Perhaps most significant is the country’s issue of overpopulation, which has grown from one million people in 1950 to 7.7 million people in 2011, the report says.

“A foundation initiative to change Israel society’s attitude towards large families/pro-natal policies along with the culture of consumption would for the first time address the key drivers behind Israel’s primary environmental problems,” the authors suggest.

A bit more encouraging, however, is the success of some of Israel’s green NGOs in achieving social justice, as more and more of the groups take on specialty roles.

“The ability of a few organizations to maintain working relationships with environmentalists and NGOs in Arab countries is remarkable, given the generally toxic political atmosphere prevailing between Israel and its neighbors during the past decade,” the authors say, citing Friends of the Earth Middle East as a positive example for having created the Jordan River “Peace Park.”

But much more work needs to be done in terms of achieving environmental equity, particularly along the country’s periphery, the writers note. Calling the environmental justice situation here “severe,” some 86% of the survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the idea that “disenfranchised populations suffer from environmental hazards more than established populations do.”

While the report may have highlighted some sensitive issues for Israel’s green groups, Tal told the Post that he overall expected his study to be received positively on Tuesday.

“It might make them a little uncomfortable, but I think they recognize that we have come a long way and that if we want to sustain this level of efficiency we’re going to have to think of better strategies to pull in our funding,” he said.