Opinion | Little Israel solves big environmental challenges

Dr. Sol Lizerbram
Dr. Sol Lizerbram (Via JNS.org)

By Dr. Sol Lizerbram

People often ask me how Israel copes with climate change. Yet Israelis don’t look to cope; they look to solve. When Israelis wanted faster computers, they invented the Intel microchip. When they were tired of missing phone messages, they invented voicemail. And when they were fed up with peak-hour traffic, they invented Waze. As the world faces the behemothic challenge of climate change, tiny Israel — a country the size of New Jersey — could serve as a light unto the nations to solve this macro-environmental crisis.

The humble tree is the most beautifully simple tool in our climate-change-fighting toolbox. And through Jewish National Fund-USA, the philanthropic organization I lead, we have planted more than 260 million trees in Israel since 1901. That’s 12.5 billion pounds of carbon removed from the atmosphere every year. In fact, Israel was one of the only countries to enter the 21st century with a net gain in trees.

If the world were to emulate our tree-planting efforts, we could effectively mitigate the emissions produced by global industry; however, we’d be doing something far more powerful. We’d be showing a new generation — our children — that even in the face of great challenge, humanity can still come together and literally plant the seeds of hope for tomorrow. Yet trees are only part of this story.

Wherever there is water, there is life. And you’d think that a desert region considered to be the lowest place on earth and home to the lifeless salt-saturated Dead Sea would be the last place you’d find fresh water. However, in Israel’s Negev Desert, there’s not only water and life. There’s living.

Some regard the Negev Desert’s arid environment to be a window into what our world may look like if temperatures continue to rise; however, Israelis see it as the perfect testbed to trial new technologies that can solve global water insecurity and so much more. Through JNF-USA’s philanthropic investments in the region, Israel now recycles 90% of its wastewater — more than any other country in the world. As we enter a new decade, what’s become clearer is that solving climate change is the role philanthropy was born to play.

Humanity faces increasing global environmental tensions such as extreme weather events, desertification, drought, water pollution and so much more. Our world has lost a staggering 30% of its precious farmland in the past 40 years. With so much at stake, we harnessed the power of philanthropy and established the JNF-USA Joint Institute for Global Food, Water and Energy Security, a groundbreaking partnership between the University of Arizona, JNF-USA and the Arava Region in Israel’s southern desert region.

Through JNF-USA’s Joint Institute, we are empowering farmers to reclaim their fields from the harsh realities of farming in the desert. Through our institute’s research into Agrivoltaic technology, we are harnessing the power of the sun and providing shade to livestock, all while creating the perfect microclimate to grow crops. And while this technology may benefit Israel’s farmers today, the institute was founded to provide a solution to farmers around the world.

We know that farmers in developing nations may not have the resources to mitigate their own environmental impact while also dealing with the realities of climate change, like extreme temperatures that lead to crop losses. That’s why Israel, through JNF-USA, is democratizing access to sustainable farming practices. Every year, we bring hundreds of farmers from Africa and Asia to Israel to learn the latest in responsible and resource-efficient farming practices. They then return to their farms with the knowledge and tools to improve their businesses and the prosperity of their communities. This is how Israel is helping every nation no matter their economic status.

From my water-scarce home state of California to the expansive deserts of the Gulf region, we are showing the world that if Israel — a country made up of 60% desert — can change its climate reality, so, too, can any nation.

Dr. Sol Lizerbram is president of Jewish National Fund-USA. This originally
appeared on JNS.org.

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