Recognition 12: Israel is a cautionary tale
Last updated October 31, 2013
“There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
and desecrated places .”
Wendell Berry, from his poem, ‘How to be a poet (to remind myself).’
Israel is a fine example of what trouble humans can get themselves into given enough technology and denial. Mother Earth is marshaling her historical response to over-reaching desert civilizations. She’s never personal but she’s harsh.
Many, if not most, Jews in the Diaspora support Israel reasoning, “If things go badly wrong in my country, I know Israel will take me and my family in.” It’s fair to ask them, “How? With what? Why do you believe Israelis, who already rely on other countries to feed and water them, will roll out the welcome mat for you, your family, and millions of others like you showing up in the middle of a crisis?”
A century ago life in Palestine was hard, but the place’s ability to sustain life was never in doubt, as it is today. Species common or abundant back then are extinct now. Water, especially ground water, was clean and drinkable. Springs still bubbled up to the surface as they had for millennia. The Jordan was a healthy river where the water was sweet. Salt build-up due to irrigation piped from far away Lake Kinneret wasn’t even on the horizon. There were no toxic waste dumps from the military industrial complex.
Will other countries still be feeding Israel a hundred years from now? Probably not. Israel as we know it won’t be there. Collapse won’t come from any of the entities the Likud party scares the country to into submission with. It’s what always happens when millions of people elect to commit Gaiacide.* All the money Congress can squeeze out of the long-suffering American tax payer won’t stop it.
Have an objective look behind the curtain of Israel’s ecological self-promotions and you’ll find charlatans pulling levers to convince the gullible, including themselves, that neither common sense nor what’s right there in front of everybody applies. They’re a nationalized equivalent of relapsing drug addicts who get rich preaching sobriety, or serially bankrupt investors running wealth seminars, or obese authors selling diet books and workout videos.
A good future for America depends on rejecting that nonsense because we, like Israel, are an unsustainable, polluting, water wasting, blast furnace burning through the last resources at full throttle. Also like Israel, our country is increasingly run by a revolving door triumvirate of corporate/government/military desperados who’ve long since detached from Mother Earth.
Unlike Israel, we’ve got a big country that so far has provided an environmental buffer. It’s limited but we may still may have room to turn this bus around. Among promising models for the future, and they’re out there, not much is coming out of Start-Up Nation.
Last Feast of the Crocodiles: Israel’s shrinking pool in the Middle East
The best metaphor for today’s Middle East is a 1996 documentary shot in Africa called Last Feast of the Crocodiles. At the beginning we see a river full of fish, hippos, and crocodiles, its banks rich with water buffalo, antelope, baboon tribes and flocks of birds and insects. Species live there in remarkable harmony until drought dries up the river. Water concentrates into a pool. As the water drops crocodiles feast on other animals forced to drink or die. Harmony collapses. Impalas that used to run from baboons risk a fight to the death for a drink. Water stressed baboons grow hyper-aggressive: even for baboons. They begin to attack and injure each other as social order breaks down. Young animals of all types become apathetic or insanely bold as their mothers watch, unable to save them.
Everything leaves that is able, until one crocodile remains to dominate a rancid foot of thick mud in the center of the pool. It’s 120 degrees F. The final scene before the rains return sweeps across dust devils whipping over desiccated carcasses of baboons and antelope around the perimeter of what used to be a pool. In a depression of cracked mud baked hard by the sun, lies the skeleton of a lone great crocodile.
Strategies we can use today to avoid becoming the Israel of North America.
If we’re going to act like other countries, let’s act like those that grow a lot of food, protect their fresh water and revere their trees.
The Netherlands: a physically small and quiet country, made headlines by becoming the world’s second largest agricultural exporter after America. That means second in terms of sales, not bulk, which isn’t always clear from the articles, and there are bound to be environmental costs not counted, but still it’s worth a look. Especially since, according to ABN AMRO, (a Netherlands bank dedicated to sustainability) Dutch agriculture has the lowest relative environmental impact in the world for a combination of low pesticides, low antibiotics, low CO2, and low energy consumption.
France: passed a law requiring grocery stores to donate usable food instead of throwing it away. Why? Globally, humans waste about one third of the food they grow. Americans throw away almost half their food. To stop wasting that food would be the same as almost doubling America’s food supply or increasing the world food supply by a third–without using more land or water.
America: a hundred years ago during World War I, Herbert Hoover–a great man, later a great President—saved tens of millions of lives by organizing a voluntary effort to change our diets (less wheat, meat, sugar, fats; more fish, poultry, fruit, vegetables, corn, and oats). He inspired people to decrease food waste and grow food at home. He started ‘Meatless Mondays’ and ‘Wheatless Wednesdays.’ People ripped up their lawns and planted victory gardens. Hotels and restaurants took part. Hoover’s slogan was, “Food will win the war.” And it did. America not only fed itself, its military and our allied troops during the war, Hoover’s American Relief Administration (ARA) “…became the main source of food for 300 million people in twenty-one countries in Europe and the Middle East.” That included people from all sides and continued for years after the war.
So, when I hear celebrity scientists claim we need more math and science classes for our young people to solve food shortage problems. I say, “No, we don’t. We need to bring back home economics and shop class. Teach those kids how to plan and cook meals, how to build a pantry and greenhouses, how to preserve food at home by the canning, drying, freezing, smoking, and fermenting.”
What’s needed is already in place. We’ve got the American Community Gardening Association, Cooperative Extension, 4-H, Future Farmers of America, Garden Club of America, the National Gardening Association, tens of thousands of preppers putting up food stores, and about six million Mormons who have an imperative to store a year’s food supply, to name a few. And if you think about it, Americans are so creative at growing things that they made marijuana the number one cash crop in the country while it was still illegal in every state and growers risked life imprisonment.
As for water, any decent-size river in America carries more water than all Israel’s desalination plants combined and we’ve got lakes you could drop Israel into and lose it. Those are real water miracles, not desalination, not genetically engineered crops able to grow in treated sewage. Clean water is our legacy. It belongs to all of us and we have to be more aggressive about protecting it from greedy so and so’s who would ruin it for their own profit. Part of protecting it will be an overdue discussion about how much water we’re sending to countries in the form of embedded water in food.
Bhutan: is over 70 percent forested–Japan: recognizes the value of ‘forest bathing’ for personal health and well being–America: a few years ago, when it came out that the Forest Service was selling old-growth trees for the price of a double cheeseburger, and building logging roads into the Tongass National Forest at tax payers expense, public pressure forced law makers to pass roadless rule legislation to put a stop to that. The forest was protected for a while but even now corporations are trying to get their hooks into the Tongass again. Wendell Phillips said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty.” It’s the price of healthy forests as well.
Costa Rica, New Zealand, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Maldives, Tuvalu, Vatican City, and the Canadian Province of British Columbia: all have pledged to become carbon neutral. Bhutan is the world’s only carbon negative country, and uses for its measure of national well-being ‘The Gross National Happiness Index.’ The GNH holds that economic development takes a back seat to the happiness of the people.
The World: outside of the Middle East, is trying to get off petroleum.
The World: outside of the Middle East, is on the verge of replacing sewage infrastructure with toilets that will do for sewage what cell phones did for communications. That is to say, small, compact, affordable units that work better than what was there before and don’t require massive infrastructure. Jack Sim’s World Toilet Organization leads the movement. The UN recognizes ‘World Toilet Day’ on November 19th every year. India and several African countries made major sanitation improvements in the past decade. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put up substantial backing to engage some of the best and brightest minds in this effort that will save billions of tons of fresh water per year.
We humans can set great goals and meet them. On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy announced before Congress and the world that America intended to land a man on the moon within the decade. Humanity had dreamed of going to the moon since the beginning of time. Kennedy gave his country a deadline of less than ten years. Eight years and change later my family crowded around a small black and white television on July 21, 1969 to watch Neil Armstrong become the first human to walk on the moon. Men and women accomplished that in the days of slide rules.
Our environmental challenges need that moon-landing kind of national energy. We need a green JFK. We need a green Herbert Hoover. A majority of Americans, especially the younger ones, support tougher environmental laws. All rational people recognize that they need clean air, water and land. They want trees, green spaces and healthy food. Deep down, we all know what needs to happen. It’s up to us to figure out where our local environments are today with community baseline surveys. The work of improving our children’s futures rests with us moving away from unwholesome foreign models that promote apathy, inertia, racism, war, waste, and denial; and putting our money and energy into healing land, water, ourselves and each other. If we can cultivate an emotional return to the earth we can live the dreams of our ancestors and pass along to future generations a culture where there are no unsacred places.
(*Graphic at top by artist Kari Dunn http://kdunnart.weebly.com)
Recognition 12: Cautionary Tale: Selected Sources
*the term Gaia-cide was coined by Tim Flannery in his 2005 book The Weathermakers. It’s a portmanteau of Gaia from James Lovelock’s hypothesis of the earth–Gaia–as a single living organism, and genocide.
1996 Last Feast of the Crocodiles National Geographic Written and produced by Carol and David Hughes in Kruger National Park South Africa on the Lovuvu River.
2003 Profiles of the Presidents: Herbert Hoover by Michael Teitelbaum Compass Books
08.01.2017 Dutch farmers have lowest environmental impact in the world: AMN AMRO NL Times by Janene Pieters.
01.03.18 How France becacme a global leader in curbing food waste The Christian Science Monitor by Story Hinkley.
02.07.2017 Bhutan’s 71 percent forest cover confirmed BBS The Bhutanese Expression by Sonam Pem, Thimpou
02.2016 This country isn’t just carbon neutral–It’s carbon negative TED Talk-Ideas worth spreading. Video of TED Talk presented by Tshering Tobgay, Prime Minister of Bhutan.
09.24.2018 Getting behind world toilet day by Dick Callahan