Israel: Going Green with Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore added his name to the list of political luminaries visiting Israel in recent months. Gore joined the Board of Governors celebrations at Tel Aviv University this week to accept the $1 million Dan David Prize for environmental activism.

Al Gore

Photo sourced from the Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons License)

Gore was chosen for the prize for his efforts as a “a tireless advocate for the environment throughout his career,” including:

Eloquently sound[ing] the alarm on the importance of the threat to the global ecosystem posed by the world's current and increasing reliance on carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuels as its primary energy source…

The 2008 Dan David Prize honors Al Gore in the field of Social Responsibility with Particular Emphasis on the Environment for his multiple contributions in raising the conscience of the world to the challenge posed to the continuing sustainable function of the global environment and life support system.

Among the David Prize's other 2008 recipients were:

Stephanie of Israelity, who attended the award celebration, reports on the attendees and other prize recipients:

[Israeli President] Shimon [Peres] spoke eloquently, as is his habit.

Al [Gore] looked good. He’s lost some weight. He announced that the ceremony coincided with his & Tipper’s 38th wedding anniversary. He’s donating his $1 mill to climate research.

Amos Oz didn’t wear a tie – he’s a kibbutznik, after all.

Tom Stoppard described the arts as a spiritual form come to life. He said the arts are a raison d’etre. (YEAH!)

[Israeli Ambassador to the US] Itamar Rabinovitch thanked Al Gore for progress in peace negotations made during the Clinton administration.

During the ceremony the AP [Associated Press] reporter seated beside me remarked “This is like the Oscars!”

Well sorta. Yeah. Okay.

While in Israel to accept the David Prize, Gore also headlined Tel Aviv University's Renewable Energy and Beyond Conference as a keynote speaker, where he called on Israel to be a leader in promoting renewable energy:

“The people of Israel stand in my moral imagination as guardians of the proposition that we as human beings are answerable to moral duties, that there are ethical laws that should guide our decisions and choices. At this moment in history, when, for the first time, all the people of this earth have to make a clear, seemingly difficult but simple moral judgment about our future, the people of Israel can lead the way to renewable energy.”

Jonathan Shapira of Cleantech Investing in Israel remarks on the changes that will come from the conference:

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Israel's Minister of National Infrastructures, announced his intention to commit Israel to construct an additional solar power station in the Negev every year for the next 20 years, and to construct a 300MW wind power station by 2011. Ben-Eliezer also revealed that in the coming weeks he will introduce a government resolution designating all of the Negev Desert and southern Israel as a national preference zone for renewable energy.

Tali Aben of Israel VC on Sand Hill Road was also in attendance when Gore gave his now famous Oscar-winning presentation. She reflects on how our energy consumption habits could effect the environment:

Al Gore’s presentation has so much data, delivering a truly powerful message. As in the TED presentation [see videos], he emphasized the importance of behavior change (get rid of the SUV, install energy efficient lighting, etc.), but more significantly, changing regulation.

What would happen if SUV’s were taxed 3X of what they are today, while hybrids tax reduced to 10% (like the proposed tax for Project Better Place’s battery-powered cars)? What would happen if individuals and corporations had a carbon tax? What would happen if installation of PV on my rooftop would be subsidized, with an attractive feed-in tariff already in place? You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out.

Several Knesset [parliament] members were in attendance. I wonder if they got the message…

Ms. Aben's question about the influence of celebrity speakers, like Mr. Gore, on big time politicos and issues of national consciousness, as the environment has become, is one that Jesse Fox contemplates as well.

Fox of Green Prophet challenges his own notions on the environmental movement and how Israeli perceptions of environmental issues have taken a more prominent role in recent years:

Does Al Gore really need more money or recognition, especially when there are so many committed, homegrown environmentalists in Israel, many of whom are so under-appreciated? Wasn’t his movie just a glorified Power Point, containing no significant new insights? And even if Gore is a relentless activist today, where was his sense of commitment when he was working from the White House?

However, after pondering it over a little, it became clear to me just what an enormous impact Al Gore has had on environmental awareness in Israel…

What brought about this radical change in perception? Was it the dedicated work of the green movement in Israel, which (though often underfunded and overstressed) has invested so much in raising awareness over the past decade? Was it the familiar effect of American cultural trends seeping into Israeli culture, with the usual delayed timing? Or perhaps Israelis had noticed the strange weather patterns over the past few years, with the winter cold setting in well after Hanukkah and the rains seeming to fall less than they used to?

The answer is probably all of the above. However, for many people, the tipping point apparently came after watching “An Inconvenient Truth.” The film was screened extensively in Israel, exposing audiences in various sectors of the population to the message that climate change is real and happening now. For this alone, Al Gore deserves the award.

The lesson for the Israeli green movement is clear – inviting big-name celebrities like Al Gore to Israel to speak about the environment is an incredibly effective strategy for raising environmental awareness in Israel.

With recent Israel visits by former US President Jimmy Carter, President George Bush, and presidential candidate Senator John McCain, Mr. Fox's question about the impact of international figureheads on national thought is an important one. Would they be here in the Middle East taking a stand if they didn't think their presence would have an impact?

If key global figures can significantly influence our thinking, who would you like to hear speak? Whose ideas are most important to your nation and its consciousness? What are the most important issues affecting your culture, country, and region today?

About Al Gore–

Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2007 in partnership with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His book-made-movie “An Inconvenient Truth” was the 2007 Academy Award winner for best documentary. As well as serving as a US Representative, Senator, and Vice President from 1977– 2001 (including an unfulfilled bid for President), Gore is also the author of Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. You can learn more about Al Gore and how to promote climate change on his website.

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