Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it, goes an old saying often attributed to Mark Twain. This was funnier a century ago, when humans were unaware that, in fact, our behaviours are altering the weather and the climate. The ring of truth now is that gatherings like the United Nations Climate Change conference in Scotland this week, despite all the good intentions, may very well end up changing almost nothing.
To confront the dangers we face, not just governments but every organization, business and household on the planet will need to change the way we operate. The volume and type of foods we consume, the methods of transportation we employ, the consumer goods we purchase and discard, the ways we build our homes, the very expectations we have of what defines the “good life” – all these things will need a fundamental reconsideration.
Almost all nations and people acknowledge the problem and our individual and collective roles in it. But the steps needed to effectively combat climate change are often viewed as a step too far.
Look at Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental wunderkind. To visit North America, she traveled on a carbon-neutral sailing ship that took 14 days to reach the American shore. By contrast, attendees at the Glasgow huddle almost all arrived by air, some on private jets. Outrage at the hypocrisy is muted because most of us understand the balance of options. The world’s top government officials and scientists cannot afford, say, two weeks on a sailboat to attend a few meetings. On a much smaller scale, each of us makes similar choices based on a range of considerations every day.
The profit motive is, in many ways, how we got into this mess. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, maximizing profits has often come hand-in-hand with destroying the environment – dumping refuse into waterways rather than disposing of it appropriately, exploiting non-renewable resources, encroaching on animal habitats to expand human settlement, manufacturing products with deliberately short lifespans to ensure a perpetual market for the commodities. This is not nearly a comprehensive accounting.
Is it too much to imagine that the human motivation that got us into this mess can get us out? Could capitalism save the planet? Given the litany of optimistic promises made and broken by governments around the world on this issue, trusting in businesses may be no more or less misplaced than relying on the basket of government into which we have put the eggs of our collective future.
Israel, the “Startup Nation,” seems to be an incubator for private sector climate solutions, which often involve partnerships with academia.
In one instance, Aleph Farms is creating synthetic beef that, according to a study, “reduced the carbon footprint by 92%, water footprint by 78% and land footprint by more than 95%, compared with conventional ways of producing meat.” That said, reducing or eliminating any kind of meat in our diets is a better environmental solution.
Another firm, Wiliot, has developed a smart tag – a label, basically – that can be placed on any transportable item, sending signals to a designated recipient to know whether the shipment (fresh produce, say, or pharmaceuticals) is getting to the right place at the right time at the right temperature. In addition to reduced spoilage and the lessons the comparatively simple device can provide on shipping more efficiently, the product makes it easy to measure exactly the carbon footprint of any item transported.
Beewise is a computer-assisted, automated process to ensure that bees are provided with the ideal habitat, nourishment and security needed to thrive, massively reducing the number of bee colonies lost every year due to pesticides, global warming, disease and other threats.
EcoPeace Middle East brings together Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis to create shared water solutions, recognizing that human-created borders have no meaning in the climate conversation.
These are a tiny sampling of a universe of ecological initiatives taking place in Israel, primarily in the private sector. Closer to home, environmental activism is flourishing, too. There are climate activists like those in Extinction Rebellion, which is a very visible group that does not shun controversy, and there are far more activists working quietly toward climate justice. Individual members of the Jewish community are among the activists and communal agencies that are, to varying degrees, active on the issue.
Interesting, too, is the role of the private sector here. West Coast Reduction Ltd., a multi-generational family business owned by the Diamond family, is combining business with environmental improvement. Serving restaurants, butchers, farms, feedlots and supermarkets, WCRL collects byproducts and food waste, then transforms them into components for animal feed and renewable energy, among other things.
Realizing that what is good for the environment can also be good for the economy may be key to realistic solutions to the climate crisis. “Going green” is not all about sacrifices without immediate benefit. It can create jobs, manufacture new products and technologies and draw a new map for a sustainable economy.
Developing carrots as well as sticks is crucial because, in a democracy, convincing people to give up things we take for granted can be political suicide. For our governments to be successful in this fight, they need to know that voters are prepared to accept the steps. For businesses to be successful in this endeavour, they need to know that we will pay a little (or a lot) more for products that do not destroy our habitat and imperil our future.
This brings the onus back to us. Individually and collectively, it is we who will determine whether government and business will do what is necessary to combat climate change. Each of us makes dozens of choices every day that affect the situation we are in. We vote. We shop. We drive and fly. We walk and cycle. We recycle. We….
Whatever our leaders decide in Glasgow this week, the success or failure will depend on the response of the people who sent them there: us.