Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It ain't easy being glib

Actually, it is pretty easy being glib. Find a current event that could be important, but no one really pays attention to. Quote some staggering numbers without putting them in context or citing the source of your data. Give people vague encouragement on how they can solve the problem you just painted to be almost impossible. Attach a pithy headline. Op-ed gold!

After finishing the typical piece, the reader should feel nothing but contempt for themselves, their country, and their way of life, while simultaenously feeling that the problem is too big to do anything about.

As someone who cares about the environment and believes with proper education, people can feel empowered enough to make small changes, which ultimately lead to large, measurable changes to our quality of life, these pieces bother me.  This type of journalism isn't unique to environmental issues, and I think the dissections you will find below can be applied to any field.

Tuesday's Israel Hayom had a piece by Ariel Ellsner about the recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Doha, Qatar. Without going through every sentence, below is a smattering of ideas Mr. Ellsner touched upon, and which I would like to expand for the benefit of the reader. I hope the analysis will lead the reader to...
The conference is significant for each and every one of us and our children, and for the entire planet.
I could argue that there are other UN conferences that have a more significant impact on us in Israel, but that is beyond the scope of this blog. At the very least, we can say this is a grandiose statement, and sets the tone for what we can expect.
In 2009, one of the more important climate conferences was held in Copenhagen, where participating countries were supposed to decide on concrete guidelines for reducing harmful emissions and set clear goals to end global warming. Instead, the Conference of Parties "took note" of the Copenhagen Accord but did not formally adopt it.
How 'important' really was this conference if none of the participating countries would actually agree to any action (not even a non-binding agreement or symbolic statement) at its conclusion?
Let's put aside the rest of the world for a moment and focus on ourselves. Any way we look at it, we are still, in the words of Israeli songstress Corinne Elal, "half a pinhead on the map of the world." This is also true regarding the amount of harmful emissions we produce. On the other hand, over the years we have become a Westernized, gluttonous, polluting monster.
Those two hands are pretty diametrical - how seriously can we take Israel as a 'gluttonous, polluting monster' when we and our emissions are but a spec on the map?

Using OECD statistics, we see that Israel's population grew over 16% from 2000-2008. At the same time, electricity consumption grew by 32% - double population growth. This is a quantifiable number that with context, now means something. 
There has been a sharp rise in the number of private vehicles, which produce airborne pollutants.
As for the 'sharp rise' in cars, a amount anyone who has sat in Jerusalem traffic would probably attest to - the World Bank shows there has been an increase of 12 cars per capita in Israel from 1998 through 2012 - or using the demographic data above, about 12,000 more cars on the road. For context, let's look at cars per capita in a few Western countries, which with Israel is being compared:
  • Israel 272
  • USA 627
  • UK 457
  • Japan 453
  • China 44 (the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emission in the world)
The article goes on, but we can stop here.

I hope you have enjoyed our journey reading the opinion piece with a critical eye. I look forward to any comments or questions you have!

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