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Op-ed

Do ‘look up,’ and make a few New Year’s resolutions to help save the planet

As a new satirical blockbuster underlines the environmental obstacles we must overcome, here are a few suggestions for steps we can all take

Sue Surkes

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Climate myopia (Avi Katz)
Illustration: Climate crisis myopia (Avi Katz)

It’s easy for movie critics to nitpick, but “Don’t Look Up,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, hits the prevailing climate myopia on the head.

In the movie, the duo of astronomers have spotted a comet set to hit and destroy planet Earth, but nobody wants to listen — neither the Trump-style president (Meryl Streep), looking to the midterms, the tech billionaire (Mark Rylance) seeking profit, nor the bottle-blonde news presenter (Cate Blanchett) who wants to keep everything light and entertaining.

The satire takes a sledgehammer to the way politicians, businesses and the popular media are failing to pay attention to the climate crisis.

“Speaking as a climate scientist doing everything I can to wake people up and avoid planetary destruction, it’s… the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen,” American climate scientist Peter Kalmus wrote in The Guardian on Wednesday.

I myself spent two days hiding under the covers, depressed, after returning from the COP26 UN Environment Conference in Glasgow last month. So many good people. So many lofty promises. And yet, so much of business is continuing as usual.

For crying out loud! The science is no longer in question. And with wildfires, floods and consequences of sea-level rise that have hit the world hard this year, including in Israel, the writing is on the wall, flashing in neon red.

The United Nations tells us that our only chance of keeping temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Centigrade,(2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), compared with pre-industrial times, is to cut global warming emissions by a whopping 45 percent by the end of this decade. Does anyone reading this see that happening?

In Israel, as elsewhere, we can’t rely on the politicians. And don’t say, ‘We’re such a small country, what difference do our emissions make?’ According to Worldometer, 143 countries out of 235 all have populations of under ten million. What if they all said the same?

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, younger and apparently more attuned to climate change than his predecessor, signed a coalition agreement this year that mandates the passing of a climate act. Two days before the Glasgow summit, he announced that Israel would align itself with most developed nations by going net-carbon neutral by 2050.

But without robust legislation, words and sadly even government decisions don’t mean implementation. With no climate act in sight, the Adam Teva V’Din organization is working together with coalition MKs to push a private member’s bill in the coming weeks aimed at forcing the government’s hand.

Our government’s — and all governments’ — inaction leads to one conclusion: We, the little folk, need to “look up,” pull up our sleeves and act, now, in the hope that we can bring about change from the bottom up.

Demonstrators in Madrid demand that world leaders at the COP25 meeting take real action against climate change, December 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

I am convinced that the most important way to force governments to listen is to get out onto the streets and (peacefully) demonstrate. The restrictions brought about by COVID-19 have certainly been a gift to the fossil fuel industry, where mass demonstrations are concerned. But wherever, and whenever, it’s possible, join the good people who are sacrificing their weekends to call for action up and down the country. Israel has not seen youth turning out in the kind of numbers seen in Europe. Hopefully, this will change.

There are also other, smaller steps — New Year’s resolutions if you like — we can all take that can contribute and help raise awareness among our families and friends.

All of this leads to one conclusion: We, the little folk, need to “look up,” pull up our sleeves, and act, now, in the hope that we can bring about change from the bottom up.

The best one is to buy and consume less — that’s the first word in the mantra of the five Rs: reduce, reuse, repair, rot and recycle.

Here are a few more ideas for the New Year:

Flex your consumer muscles, cut your waste

Waste landfills emit global warming gases and are highly polluting. According to the Bank of Israel, municipal waste per capita in Israel is among the highest in advanced economies, while the recycling rate is among the lowest, the latter hovering around the 20% mark.

  • Stop using disposable plastic, the third-largest element of trash we Israelis produce, after organic material (such as food waste) and paper/cardboard. Israel is the second-largest user per capita of disposable plastic in the world.
  • Stop using single-use plastic bags.
  • Plan meals ahead and buy accordingly so as not to waste. Israelis throw a third of all food produced into the trash.
  • Only buy clothes and shoes that you need and that will last. Shop second hand. It’s not shameful. Today, it’s super cool.
  • Beware of corporate greenwash that tries to persuade you that products are environmentally friendly when they’re not.

Eat less meat

Sorry to be the party pooper, but there’s no escaping this one.

According to Greenpeace, industrialized agriculture, including livestock rearing for meat, is responsible for some 80% of forest destruction worldwide, while the burning of forests to clear land for agriculture contributes around 60% of all the gases that create global warming.

Israel, which is complicit in this via its imports of beef from overseas, is in sixth place for per capita consumption of beef in the world (and in first place in per capita consumption of chicken). Israelis, says Greenpeace, eat more than 81 kilograms (just under 180 pounds) of beef and chicken per capita per year, which is some 40% more than the worldwide average.

Power your lives with renewable energy

This is a tough one, given the country’s dismal lack of preparedness and the challenges of installing solar panels on a commonly owned roof.

  • Explore the options for solar panels.
  • Use LED lights where possible and turn them off when you’re not using them to save energy.
  • Consider buying an electric car (there are pros and cons), but where possible, use public transport, cycle, or walk. I can promise you that shopping with an electric bike is a dream — no problems with parking or traffic jams.

Invest responsibly

If you have money to invest, there are many overseas options (as well as Israeli tech ones, if you have enough funds, knowledge and courage). You can either choose to opt-out of fossil fuels and other damaging industries, or support green initiatives in a range of fields.

Even if you don’t have spare cash, try to find out how money in your insurance policies and pensions is invested. According to a study by Israel’s Clean Money Forum, published in October, the country’s big institutional investors, responsible for our pension, provident and insurance funds, are investing more than NIS 50 billion ($16 billion) in fossil fuel industry shares and corporate bonds.

The forum’s ranking featured Altschuler Shacham as the cleanest investor and Yelin Lapidot as the dirtiest. Migdal said it would be divesting from fossil fuels. It should be watched.

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