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Poll: Climate change worries Israelis — but not enough to sway their vote

While three-quarters of those surveyed acknowledge the need to act on environmental concerns, only a third take it into account in casting their ballots

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

Illustrative: A kangaroo jumping in a field amidst smoke from a bushfire in Snowy Valley Australia (SAEED KHAN / AFP,  January 4, 2020)
Illustrative: A kangaroo jumping in a field amidst smoke from a bushfire in Snowy Valley Australia (SAEED KHAN / AFP, January 4, 2020)

Three-quarters of Israelis have internalized that there is a link between air pollution and climate change, that the latter endangers humanity, and that the government has to prepare for it, a new poll indicates.

And seven in ten Israelis worry about the increasing number of pandemics and diseases connected with the climate crisis, according to the Israel Democracy Institute survey released Monday.

Despite this, only a third of voters take climate change and environmental quality into account when they cast votes in Knesset or local elections.

Residents of the northern industrial city of Haifa and its environs are particularly worried about the effects of pollution and global warming, with between eight and nine in every ten responding that the government must act to protect them, the survey of 1,009 adults, conducted last month, shows.

Residents and environmental activists have been campaigning for years to shut the Haifa Bay petrochemical industry against a backdrop of significant air pollution and above-average incidences of cancer and respiratory disease in the area.

Haifa Bay’s industrial area, May 5, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)

In October, the cabinet appointed a committee of top officials to examine the Haifa Bay’s future. It is expected to report back towards the end of January.

Among Haredim (the ultra-Orthodox population), who lead a relatively insular life away from secular education and media, environmental awareness is lower. Two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents grasp the connection between air pollution and global warming, compared with 75% of the general population. Only half think climate change endangers the human race and that the government has to act.

The combination of lower awareness and a high birthrate in the Orthodox population perhaps helps to support the survey finding that environmental awareness increases with age in the general population. It also rises with levels of income, education and political affiliation — those on the left feel particularly strongly that the government should be taking steps against climate change.

Interestingly, concern about air pollution is particularly high (72%) among Arabs, compared with the general population (64%) and the Haredim (38%).

Disposable spoons. (Youtube screenshot)

The public also expresses a strong willingness (61%) to stop using disposable utensils and dishes, but among the ultra-Orthodox this figure falls dramatically (37%). Single-use tableware is popular in religious households, where families are large and dishwashers cannot be used on the Sabbath.

But there was general opposition both to the idea of an NIS 30 ($9.2) congestion charge for entry into some urban areas, and to a system where households would pay for trash removal on the basis of weight rather than as a fixed payment via municipal property taxes — as is done at present.

The survey was conducted as part of Israel 2050: A Flourishing Economy in a Sustainable Environment, a project being conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in collaboration with various government ministries to draw up plans for cuts in carbon emissions by 2050, which Israel must submit to the United Nations by the end of 2020.

The maximum sampling error for the survey population as a whole is ±3.15%.

The survey will be presented at the Eli Hurvitz Conference on Economy and Society scheduled for December 14 to 16.

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