Green Energy or Greenwash in Tel Aviv?

biofuels power plant flowers imageFor better or for worse, Israel has become a leader in the technology industry. Innovations like solar power and drip-irrigation help to conserve scarce natural resources.

But on the other hand, chemical-dependent intensive farming has polluted Israel’s soil and groundwater, not to mention putting the safety of farmers at risk of exposure to pesticides.

So it’s timely that Tel Aviv University’s Porter School for Environmental Studies is hosting a symposium this week (Wednesday 8 April) on environmental technology research, including the issues of renewable energy and environmental rehabilitation.

However, a cursory glance at the programme includes topics on the wonders of biofuels and genetically-modified crops. Could this be a case of greenwash?

Less than a week ago reports came through that turning over millions of hectares of food crops to produce biofuels has contributed to soaring food prices and worsening global food security. According to the Earth Policy Institute, land used to grown biofuels in the US alone in the last two years would have fed nearly 250 million people with average grain needs. Other drawbacks of biofuels are that they are far from ‘sustainable’, typically being grown with large inputs of artificial fertiliser and pesticides (therefore consuming energy and oil).

Sustaining the earth’s natural resources for future generations doesn’t mean being a technophobe. But we should be wary of ‘magic bullets’ to environmental problems which may serve to mask the symptoms rather than tackling the causes.

More on green issues:
Go Green Quickly to Avoid Energy Crisis
Make Bugs, Not Pesticides
Producing Castor Oil for Biofuel in Africa

:: Symposium on environmental technology research
:: Crop switch worsens global food price crisis

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6 thoughts on “Green Energy or Greenwash in Tel Aviv?”

  1. klara says:

    interesting stream of comments here. I just wanted you to know that I uploaded your post onto http://sustain.newsladder.net/ (kind of
    like Digg but centered around sustainability). It’s a cool new resource and I’m trying to spread the word about it.

  2. Jonathan and Rachel – My post wasn’t a swipe at the Porter School, who do excellent work (exemplified in some of the topics covered in this week’s symposium), rather the notion that biofuels or GM crops (also being discussed at the conference) have ‘green’ credentials.

    One example I gave in my post of environmentally-unfriendly technologies is intensive farming e.g. pesticides – another is the Israeli biotech/GM industry. You could add the chemical industry or high-yield dairy farming to the list.

    Not all biofuels are ecologically-damaging, e.g. recycling waste vegetable oil, but evidence suggests that those typically promoted by the agricultural industry – as I described – should be treated with caution. If the biofuels TAU are researching won’t displace food production then they could be welcomed. We’ll just have to wait and see at the conference.

  3. I plan to be there! Let’s meet.

  4. Michael,

    I want to follow up on my original comment. Sometimes it is difficult to convey “tone” in a comment, so I just want to make clear that I was merely trying to defend the folks at the Porter School (rather than attack you). While disagreements are perhaps inevitable, I think it’s important to remember that all of us (environmentalists, cleantechies, etc.) are basically on the same side.

    Personally, I think the April 8 symposium looks interesting and I plan to attend. Perhaps you (or someone else from Green Prophet) could attend and write a follow up post?

  5. Rachel says:

    I agree with Jonathon. If anything in Israel is greenwashed it was last week’s 2020 environment conference, where one of the panelists apparently gave “greenwashing” tips to the entire audience — see
    http://tinyurl.com/5q2j93.

    I know the Porter School personally and they are one of the most advanced enviro schools, dare I say, in the world — certainly the Middle East by a gigantic longshot. They are looking into products such as kenaf for biofuels and ways of making traditional biofuel more efficient, ie with fungus. I don’t think that this poster’s comments are founded on any truth. It’s fashionable and important to talk about greenwashing, but in the context of the above meet, it is not the case.

  6. Yes, current biofuels (e.g. corn ethanol) have contributed to soaring food prices. But I think your post is misleading, and perhaps a bit unfair. It seems like the research at TAU is devoted to developing alternative biofuels — i.e., from non-food crops.

    Also, the rest of the program is devoted to solar research, wastewater treatment, saving coral reefs, etc. Is this a case of “greenwash”? Or is your blog post a case of knee-jerk, anti-technology environmentalism? (Please explain how Israel being a leader in the technology industry could be “for worse”?)

    I think Green Prophet is a great blog. I am just a bit disappointed in this particular post.

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