Israel’s natural water resources are currently faring better than they have in recent years. The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), which provides a quarter of Israel’s water, now stands at 211.34 meters below sea level, a meter higher than this time last year. With the rainy season hopefully on the way, the Kinneret can be expected to rise another meter or two, reaching within a meter or less of its optimal level. This will not, however, solve all of Israel’s water problems and desalination, long resisted by many, is now widely considered the best solution.
Air pollution is a worldwide concern, and Israel’s government this summer authorized a 140-million shekel plan to battle that vexing problem. The plan concentrates on reducing pollution caused by buses and taxis, increasing solar energy for electricity, and encouraging the use of improved public transportation.
The government decision states that thousands of Israelis die each year of diseases attributed to air pollution, and related illnesses cost the economy some 8 billion shekels a year. The new plan will reduce the number of deaths by 700, if the experts are correct in their calculations.
Elements of the plan include efforts to reduce a full 20 percent of the country’s electricity usage by the year 2020. This is to be accomplished by replacing energy-hungry appliances and machines with those that are more energy-efficient. At the same time, at least 10 percent of the country’s electricity needs are to be produced from solar energy by 2020.
In fact, among the eight above-mentioned world-leading Israeli companies are several that have developed energy technologies based on the sun and other natural sources.
The anti-air pollution plan calls for the removal of some 7,500 cars 20 years old and older from the country’s roads. Owners of these clunkers will be paid 3,000 shekels to hand them over for scrapping and crushing. Close to NIS 30 million will be earmarked for businesses to encourage their employees to use public transportation, to increase work done at home, and to cut down on company-owned vehicles. Some 40 million shekels will be further allocated to improving public transportation. Next April a pilot program will be activated involving the use of three city buses using only compressed natural gas – cleaner and cheaper than the fuel currently used by most vehicles.
(This past Yom Kippur, not surprisingly, amazing drops in air pollution levels were registered in Israeli cities. In Jerusalem, pollution dropped a full 95 percent, while in the Tel Aviv and Gush Dan areas it was just 8 percent of the norm.)
Another Midrash teaches, “If you have a sapling in your hand and are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling, then go out to greet the Messiah.” How better to sum up this wide-ranging topic than by noting that Israel not only seeks to prevent environmental damage but is actively involved in improving the situation: It is the only country in the world that ended the 20th century with more trees than it began with. In 1948, it had only five million trees. Now? More than 200 million.