Israel Celebrates Earth Day: North, South, East and West

On Sunday, April 22, 2012, Israel celebrated Earth Day with events from southern most Eilat to northernmost Acco, from coastal Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the edge of the West Bank, from the Negev to the Galilee.

The days events cumulated with an hour long rolling “lights out” in 23 cities across Irael, including the capital Jerusalem. The cities were divided into four groups turning off their lights in ten minute intervals at 8:00, 8:10, 8:20, and finally 8:30. The IDF also turned out the lights on all bases for one hour starting at 8:00pm. The Israel Electric Company (IEC) reported that during the half hour where all 23 cities had their lights partially or fully out, nationwide electricity usage dropped by 35%.

The hour long black out was inspired by “Earth Hour”. Earth Hour aims to build global awareness about energy conservation and green energy sources through a global “lights out” starting around 8:30PM local time around the world. The event normally happens the last Saturday of March. Shabbat observant members would find it difficult to participate because Shabbat ends just before 8PM around that time of year. In order to include both religious and non-religious environmental advocates, Israel usually reschedules its participation. Last year it marked Earth Hour on Thursday, March 24 two days before the global Earth Hour on March 26. This year it postponed Earth Hour until Earth Day.

The Israel Electric Company (IEC) gave prominent billing to the event on its home page and also dedicated several pages on its website to encourage participation.

Colonel Ronen Marley, commander of an IDF training school in the Negev, said that love of Israel’s land and its defense cannot be separated:

Those who don’t love the land, the earth, cannot protect it. When we educate our squad commanders to care for nature, the result is that they will pay attention to the environment during military operations and minimize the damage caused by these activities, and we will increase their sense of responsibility,

North and South

In Eilat, the main festivities began at 5:00pm with an environmental fair in the park. There were seminars on recycling, art projects using recycled materials, and pizza and chocolate fondue all cooked on ovens powered by the sun. The lights in Eilat turned out at 8:20pm.

At the “Foxes of the Negev” army base soldiers built fences around the Yerucham Iris Reserve and observation posts inside. The nature reserve was recently annexed to the School for Infantry Corps’ Professions and Squad Commanders. The nature reserve has one of the largest and most densely populated collections of native Israeli wild flowers, including many native irises. Water comes from a nearby lake. The lights went out in Yerucham at 8:00pm.

Also in the Negev, during the day, school children in Dimona had special lessons on the environment and saving energy. Later that night at 8:20pm the lights went out and students walkd through town with the help of glo-in-the dark bracelets.

Meanwhile, at the far northern end of the country in Acco school children played on musical instruments made out of recycled materials. Later that evening the lights went out at 8:10pm.

In Haifa just south of Acco on the coast, school children walked to school. At 3:30 there was a community beach walk. Local landmarks including the Bahai Temple, the electric company, and refineries went dark at 8:10 for an hour.

Israeli Arab schools in the Galilee also held special earth day classes and workshops using educational materials provided by The Galilee Society.

Last week in the Galilee, soldiers volunteered at a local farm and created bird houses from discarded munitions boxes. The bird houses are part of an ongoing project known as the “Use of Barn Owls and Kestrels as Biological Pest Control Agents in Agriculture”. The goal of the project is to reduce the use of chemical rodent control by increasing the population of predatory birds. The project creates homes for the birds and then gives them to farmers for free to both Jewish and Arab farmers in the area. In its nearly 20 year history it has distributed 2,500 nesting boxes and is expecting to distribute 300 more in the coming year.

The project began in 1983 as a joint project of Tel Aviv University, Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Over the years a mix of government and private foundations have joined in, including the University of Haifa, the Irish Hoopoe Bird Foundation, and three different government ministries: Environmental Proection, Regional Development, and Agriculture and Rural Development.

East and West

On the coast, Tel Avivians cleaned up the beach front and went on urban nature tours lead by the Society for the Protection of Nature In Israel. At 6PM, Green and Black Globe Awards were handed out to environmental stars and flops. Green Globes recognize stellar efforts to protect the environment. Black Globes recognize leaders who have advocated policies that risk damage the environment. The annual Green globe awards are known as the “The Green Israeli Oscars”.

Bibi received the “Black Globe” award for promoting a fast track for building development that bypasses many environmental checks. Green Globe winners included Avichai Shelley and the Alzahraa School in Kafr Kasim Shelley successfully advocated for better express bus service between Netivot and Tel Aviv. Shelley is blind and hard of hearing. The Alzahraa School has launched a series of impressive environmental initiatives including an ecological garden, a petting zoo, and a solar station. Many of the students comes from Bedouin families.

Later, at 8PM Tel Aviv turned out the lights at the municipal building and in Rabin Square. During the hour of black out, musicians and dance groups in Rabin Square played on a stage powered by vegetable-oil generators and the pedal power of 48 cyclists. The concert included performances by Riff Cohen, dancers of the Vertigo Dance Company junior ensemble, Ivri Lider and TYP , Rami Fortis, Shlomi Shaban and Geva Alon.

In the capital city Jerusalem, on the Western edge of Israel. Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau visited the Israel Goldstein Youth Village to talk about energy conservation. At 8:05PM the Old City wall turned out its lights for an hour.

History of Earth Day

Gaylord Nelson first concieved of Earth Day in the early 1960’s around the time that Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” was waking America up to the dangers of pesticides. He organized and accompanied President John F. Kennedy on an environmental conservation tour in 1963 in hopes of building support for the idea, but the timing was not right. Then in 1969 two events put the environment on the news. In Santa Barbara, California, known as the “American Riviera”, a massive oil spill killed wildlife and destroyed beaches in February. Even today the oil spill counts as the third largest in US history. The California beaches were central to the surfing culture, captured in songs like the beach boys 1963 hit “Surfing USA” .

The second disaster was a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio four months later in June. Sparks from a passing train fell into the polluted river and caused it to burst into flames. The fire was not particularly large: it lasted 30 minutes and caused $50,000 in damage ($318,000 in 2012 dollars). Nor was it the first time the river had caught fire. However, the Santa Barbara oil spill had sensitized Americans to the dangers of water pollution. The story made national news, causing Cleveland to be synonymous with industrial pollution. Time, the national weekly news magazine quoted the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration saying: “The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes.” Times added “It is also — literally — a fire hazard.”

During a speech at an environmental conference in Seattle in September 1969, he proposed the idea of an environmental teach-in on college campuses around the USA. The following spring 20 million Americans (10% of the US population at the time) attended seminars, demonstrations, and community events in honor of the environment. Thus Earth Day was born.

The first earth day shifted the US environmental conversation from species and land conservation to the relationship of people and the environment. In the spirit of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring environmentalism became merged with public health.

Since that first event on April 22, 1970, Earth Day commemorations have spread to 192 countries around the globe. The UN declared earth day “International Mother Earth Day” in 2009 and it will maintain that status until at least 2015.

Globally, Earth Day 2012 was celebrated by over 1 billion pledges of “green acts”. They ranged from small acts like remembering to turn off electrical equipment when not in use to extended projects like starting a school garden project.

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