Real change in lifestyle and habits are needed to mitigate climate change, and Israel needs to recognize the importance of regional cooperation

Firefighter and volunteers try to extinguish a fire in the village of Glatsona, Greece, Monday.
Firefighter and volunteers try to extinguish a fire in the village of Glatsona, Greece, Monday.Credit: ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP

Zafrir Rinat Aug. 9, 2021

Humanity was deluged by a flood of gloomy predictions with Monday’s publication of a new report by a team of United Nations climate scientists. The report contains important information about the severity of the climate crisis. But no less important is that it reduces our ability to deny the gravity of the situation, as so many institutions, organizations and individuals worldwide have done.

Now, it’s harder to avoid addressing the question of what we should do, and there are no easy answers. Today, there’s an understanding of what is needed to prevent a crisis and/or prepare for its effects, but people still don’t know how to change what must be changed at the requisite speed.

To effect real change, significant steps must be taken in the next decade to transition to low-carbon energy production, reduce methane-emitting agriculture – which means significantly reducing meat consumption – and switch to transportation systems that aren’t based on fossil fuels. At the same time, we must develop cities that can withstand extreme climate events, protect our coasts and maintain large natural ecosystems that will preserve our resilience and absorb some warming gases.

These are steps that can’t be based solely on improved technology; they also require real change in lifestyles and consumption habits. What has happened since the Paris Agreement on climate was signed six years ago shows that to date, change has taken place too slowly or not at all.

Renewable energy sources exist, but they are far from replacing fossil fuels to any significant extent. Electric vehicles and meat substitutes also exist, but they remain niche products.

People move through flood water after a heavy downpour in Zhengzhou city, China, last month.
People move through flood water after a heavy downpour in Zhengzhou city, China, last month.Credit: Chinatopix Via AP

Experts on the climate crisis don’t all agree about the necessary steps. Some think that without completely revamping our economic system, the world is fated to live with the UN report’s most pessimistic forecast. Others think there’s no time for such a massive change, and therefore, we have no choice but to use what the existing system offers, including recruiting corporations to be part of the solution.

And some experts have already despaired of preventing a crisis; consequently, they say we should focus on large-scale preparations for coping with it. Several leading scientific journals have recently started publishing articles on a “withdrawal strategy,” meaning a planned evacuation of coastal towns to avoid the dangers of a rising sea level.

To keep these dilemmas from increasing our paralysis and feelings of doom, we need to try to exploit all the breakthroughs that have already been achieved and expand these breakthroughs to the point where they become economically and politically influential. That’s what’s happening now with renewable energies, whose economic feasibility has increased significantly. In food production and vehicles, too, there is already a basis for future development that could make these products economically feasible and widespread.

We mustn’t pin exaggerated hopes on technology. But we also shouldn’t give up on the possibilities it offers, especially in fields like hydrogen as a substitute for fossil fuels, innovative agricultural methods and energy efficiency.

Relief workers next to a destroyed house in western Germany after heavy rain and floods, late last month.
Relief workers next to a destroyed house in western Germany after heavy rain and floods, late last month.Credit: Sascha Schuermann / AFP

How to integrate major players, including the G20 countries and corporate behemoths, into this effort is an open and complex question. But even strong countries and corporations have to take the limits of reality into account. And if there is public pressure, they may well do so sooner.

Amid this global reality, Israel will have to show that it is working to reduce emissions. Its most urgent task is to prepare for the likely possibility that the climate crisis will be felt particularly strongly in the Eastern Mediterranean. The new report mentions the Mediterranean basin as one of the regions in which extreme weather events like floods and heat waves will become more frequent, as will lengthy droughts that hurt agriculture and dry out ecosystems.

Addressing these consequences will require more than planting trees and preparing for floods. It requires a policy to slow population growth by educating and employing women and eliminating economic incentives for large families. A plan to reduce land use is also urgently needed.

And of course, there’s a burning, existential need to achieve regional stability through peace agreements. Only regional cooperation will enable us to share water resources, produce enough food for everyone and utilize the large expanses of land in neighboring countries to produce solar energy that we and our neighbors can use.

Thus instead of cooperating with the Persian Gulf states to transport oil, the time has come for Israel to cooperate with them and other nearby countries on joint ventures in water-saving irrigation technology and solar energy production.