So the Green Prophets in Focus series continues! Next up is Jesse Fox, a seasoned veteran of the green blogosphere.
He is also studying urban and regional planning in the Technion Institute in Haifa–and we know he’ll use his powers for green. Jesse speaks about the water crisis, city planning in Israel, and much more.
How would you define yourself environmentally? (ie activist, entrepreneur, artist, educator etc…):
I’ve really been privileged thus far to have been part of the environmental movement in several different capacities – as a student, activist, blogger/journalist and urban planner.
How you get around? (i.e. bike, car, scooter, heel-toe express):
I live in a small apartment in the center of Tel Aviv, so I can pretty much get everywhere in the city by bike. The only exception to this is when it is just too hot or too rainy to bike around, in which case I take the bus. For the past two years, I have been making the long journey up to the Technion in Haifa twice a week, which involves trains and buses.
Can you tell us about your biggest green passion? What fires you up?
What prompted you to start caring about the environment?
I can’t say that I ever had a real “eureka” moment that suddenly made me into an environmentalist.
What do you think is the most important issue the world faces today?
I think the major problem today is that we are facing a convergence of trends. Global climate change, of course, is the major one, and is finally being covered by the mainstream media and even policy-makers as a serious issue that requires serious efforts. But there are others: “peak oil,” or the end of cheap oil, the biofuels issue, corporate takeover of important lands, the water crisis, etc. etc. We have to first of all realize that these trends are parallel and often reinforce each other.
What is the most important issue in the Middle East?
Here in the Middle East, our main environmental problems over the next few years will be related to water, energy and land. If we want to deal with them, I think we will first have to reassess the relationships that we have built with our neighbors in the region. Israel will have to learn to better integrate itself in the region if we want to continue to thrive here. We can’t tackle these problems alone.
What’s the saddest thing you’ve ever seen (enviro related)?
There are a lot of missed opportunities out there. Pretty much every environmental problem, if you look at it the right way, can turn into an opportunity to do something amazing. There are millions of examples out there of situations where serious nuisances were made into something human and intelligent. In my experience, problems and challenges are too often approached in a very square way – let’s just throw money at the problem and hope it goes away – instead of thinking about them creatively.
I think that Israel’s cities are also a terrible missed opportunity at the moment. The potential is there to create cities that are beautiful, pleasant and work well, it wouldn’t be that hard to do, and other cities have already pioneered a lot of great ideas that we could learn from. Things are starting to move in that direction, slowly.
In the meantime, entire neighborhoods sit neglected (southern Tel Aviv and Jaffa, the lower city in Haifa), while the only development that is encouraged are projects that totally alienate themselves from their surroundings.
What’s the most hopeful project/company/event you’ve seen?I think the most hopeful thing in Israel is the quality and commitment of the people on the front lines of the movement. The NGO crowd has always impressed me, with their commitment and drive in the face of sometimes total lack of understanding on the part of the official bodies while working for less than stellar salaries. The green business people are also particularly energetic, always coming up with new ideas and working hard to get them out there. I think that in this sense, Israel is in much better shape than most other countries.
What do you do to play your part in greening the earth?
I try to reduce my ecological footprint as much as possible – I separate my trash, compost, recycle, and reduce my consumption, I don’t own a car, probably the most significant thing in my opinion, and I try to spread the green influence however possible, whether it be through writing about it, talking with people, setting a personal example or through activism.
What are you reading now (green related)?
Right now I’m in the final stretch of a Masters degree, so I don’t have as much time as I would like to keep up with what’s going and read new books. I am working on a review of a book called “Renewable City” by Peter Droege and reading Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine.”
I read Alon Tal’s book “Pollution in a Promised Land” not too long ago, an excellent history of the environmental movement in Israel by someone who has been deeply involved for years.
A few books that shaped the way I think about things: “Small is Beautiful” by E.F. Schumacher, “Ecocities” by Richard Register, “Architecture for the Poor” by Hassan Fathy, “Cradle to Cradle” by McDonough and Braungart, and “Food First” by Lappe.
What’s your favorite post/topic on Green Prophet, and why?
I usually write about urban planning and design. This is one of the subjects which most interests me, and also a very dynamic field where things are always happening and changing. I am also interested in resource use in Israel – how we are going to change our development and consumption patterns as water, land and energy become scarcer.
Who are your environmental heroes?
I really admire guys like William McDonough and firms like Arup and EDAW that are already out there planning the cities of the future in a sustainable way. In Israel, organizations like Friends of the Earth Middle East, Adam and Eve Ecological Farm near Modi’in and Bustan in the Negev that combine environmental activism with hands-on work that brings us closer to real peace and coexistence in the region.
In the Israeli Parliament, The Knesset, there are also several people I admire (believe it or not). First and foremost Dov Hanin, but also Hana Sweid, Ophir Pines-Paz, Michael Melchior and others who are really on the forefront of anchoring environmental action in law and proper governance.
If you could make one green wish (or have one of your prophecies come true) what would it be?
I wish that everyone involved with planning, construction and development of all kinds here would learn to approach their work with more humility. The years of conquering nature are over. I wish that the understanding that we have to work with nature for our survival and prosperity in this country would permeate the consciousness at all levels and filter into the decision-making process.
Want to meet another Green Prophet sustainability writer?
See Karen Chernick