Saturday, December 11, 2010

Now can Israel talk about climate change?

Lucy Michaels in Ha’aretz (Israel): As the Carmel forest fires begin to die down, the public has inevitably begun to ask how the catastrophe happened, with accusatory fingers pointed at careless youths and negligent government officials. Playing the blame game, however, does not explain the whole story and also conveniently allows us to absolve our own role in this disaster.

….If there were a direct connection between a country's own greenhouse gas emissions and the immediate effects felt on its climate, we would have seen action by the major polluting countries a long time ago. But just because we are not directly experiencing the effects of our own emissions doesn't make us less responsible for the outcome.

While the fires raging on the Carmel were apparently triggered by human hands, it is also clear that the potent interaction between human action, natural hazards such as droughts and floods, and anthropogenic global warming confronts us with terrifying new threats that we are woefully unprepared to deal with. Perhaps without the amplifying effects of global warming contributing to a prolonged drought, the Israeli government could have gotten away with systematic neglect of the fire service. As it was, these conditions came together to create the perfect conditions for a small spark to cause a conflagration that quickly spun out of control.

…Israel now has a potent local and relevant image to associate with global warming. These join the plummeting water levels of the Kinneret, at their lowest for November since records began in 1929; rabbis praying for rain at the Western Wall last week; apples baking on the trees at the height of the August heat-wave, and now peach trees blossoming in December in the Golan; the astronomical price of fruit and vegetables; and the national butter shortage. As everything we previously took for granted begins to go topsy-turvy, perhaps now we can begin to have a serious conversation about climate change.

The big Carmel mountain fire, as seen from the southern areas of Haifa, Israel, few hours after it begun, shot by Boryak, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 Generic license

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