A wild fire in California, last week
A wild fire in California, last weekCredit: Noah Berger / AP Jonathan Aikhenbaum

Aug 26, 2021 Jonathan Aikhenbaum

Although there isn’t much public discussion of the issue, the Israeli government is currently reaching a critical stage in which it must decide where it really stands on the climate crisis – on the side that is fighting to alleviate the crisis, or the side that is helping to exacerbate it.

The decisive question here will be the government’s policy on the continued development of Israel’s gas economy, specifically the gas exporting policy under discussion by the Adiri 2 committee, which will convene for a public hearing next week on September 1.

Given this situation, it’s not surprising that leading economic analyst Nehemia Shtrasler (“Natural gas is here to stay,” Tuesday, Haaretz.com) repeated the misleading messages of the gas corporations and the messages expressed on television a few days before that by one of the biggest proponents of gas exports, former Energy Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz.

It is quite sad to see a top economic analyst using such a key platform in the aid of an industry that is causing such tremendous damage to the planet. But when Shtrasler disseminates several crude deceptions (aside from the misinformation spread by the Energy Ministry in official publications and similar publications from the energy companies, which has also reached students in school), then we really have a problem.

Let’s start with the title of Shtrasler’s piece: “Natural gas is here to stay,” a headline which creates the impression that the gas debate is now about its use in Israel, when in fact the gas industry and the Energy Ministry are only concerned at present with further development of the gas economy for export purposes.

Shtrasler also explains that climate change (or “global warming,” as he prefers to call it) is caused due to overuse of “coal, diesel fuel and crude oil.” Here let’s strain to find the exception as well as a key phrase that was omitted. First let’s point out that diesel is a crude oil product, so it should not be cited as an energy source in itself. It’s totally redundant, like the famous remark: “I want to play in Europe or in Spain.” And what words did Shtrasler leave out? “Natural gas,” of course, which is one of the three fuel sources that together account for two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Shtrasler asserts that only 1 percent of the methane that rises into the atmosphere comes from natural gas platforms, despite the recently published findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as well as the findings of the much more conservative International Energy Agency, which determined natural gas to be a key contributor to the worsening climate crisis, due to both its methane emission and its CO2 emissions during the burning process. Both agencies say that the search for natural gas and crude oil each has to stop.

“In Israel, we only have the sun,” Shtrasler laments, and few open spaces, and therefore he argues that setting a target for getting more than 30 percent of our power from renewable energy would be an ecological disaster and impossible. However, investigations by the Environmental Protection Ministry as well as by a number of independent planning bodies have found that we could produce 50 percent of our electricity from renewable energy from built-up spaces alone. Add to that dual-use land in agriculture, and this puts us far beyond where we are today.

Shtrasler keeps attacking the possibility of shifting to renewable energy: Europe cannot be looked to as an example, he says, since Europe has plenty of hydroelectric power, he explains, and cites in particular Norway and Albania (neither of which are EU members, as it happens). For some reason, Shtrasler’s map of Europe does not seem to include Austria (which currently produces 73 percent of its electricity from renewable energy), Denmark (62 percent), Portugal (52 percent), Germany (38 percent) or Italy (34 percent) – all of which draw heavily on the wind and sun as energy sources.

And as if that weren’t enough, Shtrasler explains that Israel did not meet its climate goals except in the energy field (thanks to natural gas, of course). But this is another inaccuracy, to put it mildly. Israel did not meet its goals to produce electricity from renewable energy (6 percent instead of 10 percent in 2020), and it is very far from reaching its efficient energy use goal (3.5 percent instead of 10 percent in 2020).

The scenes from Israel and numerous places around the world in the past weeks show that the scientists’ predictions about the climate crisis are already coming true – and even appear conservative now. And squaring off against this reality are the fuel corporations that have long shown that they will do whatever is necessary to preserve their status and profits (as we witnessed last week during the Knesset Finance Committee’s hearings on the sovereign wealth fund).

Six years after the Paris Climate Accord and with the upcoming UN Climate Conference to be held in Glasgow, the equation is very simple: Solving the climate problem requires every country to significantly reduce its hothouse gas emissions so that we reach zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. Also needed are plans to reduce energy consumption, an accelerated shift to renewable energy and, as stated above, a halt to the drilling for gas and oil. Shtrasler says, “If we only reach 30 percent solar energy and 70 percent natural gas by 2030 that’s a sufficiently ambitious target.” The science says that is not sufficient.

Dr. Aikhenbaum is the director of Greenpeace Israel.