Tag: climate change

Climate Action: From Campus to Glasgow

TAU researchers report on global summit.

As more than 130 heads of state and thousands of delegates converged in Glasgow for the two week-long United Nations global climate summit known as COP26 and Tel Aviv University researchers were there as well, taking part in the international conversation.

This year’s summit aimed to set new targets for cutting emissions from burning coal, oil and gas that are heating our planet, as scientists urge nations to make an immediate switch away from fossil fuels to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. TAU has placed climate change research and action among its top priorities and has launched the Center for Climate Change Action to drive innovative solutions to the climate crisis.

Inside the Climate Summit

TAU researchers attended the summit, exchanging knowledge and gathering observations to apply on campus and throughout Israel. They shared with us their perspectives on what comes next to ensure a cleaner, healthier and safer world for the future:

Prof. Colin Price, Head of the Center for Climate Change Action and the Department of Environmental Studies at TAU, attended COP26 as a member of Israel’s 120-person delegation. “Academia has a role in advising the government and addressing uncertainty,” said Price, who debriefed Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on local and global climate matters in the weeks preceding COP26. “It is the role of scholars to provide neutral views based on science that policy-makers can use to swiftly guide decisions. Otherwise, they could be misinformed by people with less expertise.”

 

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the plenary at COP26. (Photo: Colin Price)

Price added that the national security risks posed by climate change, as discussed at COP26, are an imminent concern for Israel and that academia can help address this challenge by providing objective data and analysis. “Climate-spurred humanitarian issues in neighboring countries are perhaps one of the biggest external threats to Israel,” he stressed. He mentioned droughts in Syria that led to mass migration, civil unrest and resource drainage during the country’s ongoing civil war, noting similar cases could cause further instability in the Middle East. For example, rising sea levels could expel millions along Egypt’s Nile River, leading to an overwhelming refugee crisis at Israel’s door.

He said the topics of discussion covered at COP26 were in line with the Center for Climate Change Action’s four main foci this year: regional cooperation on finding solutions, the financial sector’s role in addressing climate change, public behaviors that influence our environment, and the public health risks of the growing crisis. Price pointed toward a reported UAE-backed deal between Israel and Jordan for a solar energy and water exchange as a current example of how these forces are taking shape on the ground.

“COP26 was the beginning of the hard work ahead of us all,” he concluded.

 

Prof. Colin Price (right) and PhD student Tsur Mishal at the climate conference in Glasgow.  

Meital Peleg Mizrachi, a PhD student at TAU’s Department of Public Policy and social entrepreneur turned government advisor, attended COP26 on behalf of Israeli grassroots climate organizations “Change Direction” and “Life and Environment.” Locally recognized as a promising young leader in the field, her activism and research focus on sustainable fashion and environmental justice. She aims to raise awareness of the environmental and social ramifications of the fashion industry—the second-most polluting industry on the planet after oil—and to drive policies for greater ecological integrity in textile production and consumption.

“The unique encounter at COP26 of politicians, environmental activists, green entrepreneurs, researchers and so many different parties involved in global climate efforts allowed for new connections that otherwise would not have happened,” she reflected after the summit. “For the first time, I met with other sustainable fashion researchers from around the world. This was particularly beneficial as the field is rarely studied in Israel, and it is difficult to develop a professional network without such opportunities.”

 

TAU PhD student Metial Peleg Mizrahi at the climate conference. (Photo: Courtesy)

Tsur Mishal, a PhD candidate at the Department of Environmental Studies, was also at the convening in Glasgow. As part of a team from TAU’s Sagol Center for Neuroscience and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Mishal’s research contributes to virtual reality (VR) technology for climate change awareness.

“Meeting with climate media experts and leading scientists at the conference, I was happy to see interest in our VR model, which simulates the future climate in Tel Aviv,” he mused. “VR experiences can bring us closer to the lives of the people affected by the climate crisis today to create solidarity and empathy.” He explained that the technology further aims to bridge the psychological gaps people face in understanding the gap between the climate scenario today and its implications on the future, before it’s too late to reverse damages.

 

TAU PhD candidate Tsur Mishal tests virtual reality technology at COP26

During a special live broadcast on COP26 hosted from campus, Dr. Ram Fishman, a leading researcher on sustainable development in the Department of Public Policy underlined that, “Israeli climate innovation is key to these climate efforts, many of which are borne from ideas stemming from academia.” 

Hitting Rock Bottom?

First meta-analysis of its kind shows warming of Mediterranean Sea causes marine species to migrate.

As has been heavily discussed at the recent the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, our entire planet has been warming in recent decades. This process has been particularly marked in the Mediterranean Sea, where the average water temperature rises by one degree every thirty years, and the rate is only accelerating. One of the urgent questions that must be asked is how, if at all, the various species living in the Mediterranean will adapt to this sudden warming.

In recent years, evidence has accumulated that some species have deepened their habitats in order to adapt to global warming, while other studies have found that species are limited in their ability to deepen into cooler water. A new TAU study shows that there are species of marine animals such as fish, crustaceans and mollusks (for example squid) that change their habitats and deepen an average of 55 meters across the climatic gradient of the Mediterranean (spanning a range of 60 C) to live in cooler waters.

The Mediterranean – An Ideal Test Case

“It should be remembered that the Mediterranean was hot in the first place, and now we are reaching the limit of many species’ capacity,” explains Prof. Jonathan Belmaker from the School of Zoology in The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. “Moreover, the temperature range in the Mediterranean is extreme – cold in the northwest and very hot in the southeast. Both of these factors make the Mediterranean an ideal test case for species’ adaptation to global warming.”

The groundbreaking study was led by PhD student Shahar Chaikin under the supervision of Prof. Jonathan Belmaker, and along with researchers Shahar Dubiner, all from the School of Zoology in The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University. The results of the study were published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, and have far-reaching implications for both fishing and future marine nature reserves.

Life at the Bottom

Cause for Preparation

The results of the study have many implications for the future, in the Mediterranean and in general, given that the response of each species to rising temperatures can be predicted according to its traits, such as temperature preference. This, for the first time, offers researchers the opportunity to forecast changes in the composition of the marine community, as well as for the public the opportunity to prepare for these changes accordingly.

“Our research clearly shows that species do respond to climate change by changing their depth distribution,” Chaikin concludes, “and when we think about the future, decision-makers will have to prepare in advance for the deepening of species. For example, future marine nature reserves will need to be defined so that they can also provide shelter to species that have migrated to greater depths. And on the other hand, fishing in the future will involve fishing the same fish at greater depths, which means sailing further into the sea and burning more fuel.”

So, How Deep is Our Love?

In the framework of the study, the Tel Aviv University researchers conducted a meta-analysis of data on the depth distribution of 236 marine species collected in previous bottom-trawl surveys. The data collected revealed for the first time that species deepen their minimum depth limits in parallel with warming seawater temperatures, from the west to the east Mediterranean, and on average deepen 55 meters across the Mediterranean (a range of 60 C).

However, the pattern of deepening is not uniform between species: cold-water species were found to deepen significantly more than warm-water species, species that live along a narrow depth range deepen less than species that live along a wide depth gradient, and species that can function within in a wider temperature range deepen more than those who can function only within a narrow temperature range.

“Various studies collect fishing data from trawling – that is, a boat that drags a net along the seabed and collects various species – and these studies often also measure the depth at which the species were caught in the net,” says Shahar Chaikin. “We cross-referenced these data with water temperature data, and by analyzing 236 different species we came to a broad and compelling conclusion: there has been a deepening of the depth limits of species’ habitats. The minimum depths for species in the Mediterranean are getting deeper, while the maximum depths remain stable. The deepening effect was found to be more significant among cold-water species. In contrast, there are species that function within a narrow temperature range and at a certain depth that deepen much less, probably because they cannot survive in deeper water.”

 

“Even if species deepen to escape the warm waters and this rapid adaptation helps them, there is still a limit – and that limit is the seabed,” adds Prof. Belmaker. “We are already seeing deep-sea fish like cod whose numbers are declining, probably because they had nowhere deeper to go.”

This Exhibition Will Make You Sweat

New exhibition on climate crisis gives us tools to save the planet.

Recent news has covered extreme events all over the world: floods in Germany, Belgium and central China, huge wildfires raging in California, consuming thousands of acres of land and extreme temperatures in Canada, Iraq and the United States. Scientists no longer doubt that all this and more is taking place due to global warming, and what is commonly referred to as the “climate crisis”

Seeking to educate the Israeli public on the science behind the concepts that we keep hearing, such as the greenhouse effect, global warming and carbon footprint, the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History has set up the exhibition “Global Warning: The Climate, the Crisis and Us”, which encourages the public to learn more about the subject and become ambassadors who will lead the long-awaited change. We checked, and can share with you that it is impossible to remain indifferent after visiting the exhibition.

How Many Trees Are Working Just for You?

The exhibition, which the museum has been working on for over a year, guides the visitors to the sea, land, glaciers and forests, in the past, present and future. It presents current scientific findings and basic concepts in the field in simple terms and through interactive means, such as videos, thermal cameras that expose thermal gases that surround us, and more.

It uncovers the dire consequences of the climate crisis here in Israel and worldwide, and illustrates the impact of our daily choices as individuals. Everything is not lost; the exhibition illuminates how we can counteract the changes that are causing the crisis and reduce the harm caused to us and the environment.

The various stations of the exhibition show how popular tourist spots may look like in 20 years from now, what the atmospheric composition was thousands of years ago, and what it may be in a few decades from now. The connection between allergies and global warming is explained, as well as what it will be like when sea level reaches our shoulders. You can even check what your personal carbon footprint is, by the help of an online calculator which was developed especially for the exhibition and is the first of its kind in Israel.

 

What do greenhouse gases look like? Judi Lax explains big concepts in simple language.

Fostering Change Agents

The new exhibition does not, however, intend to scare us into passivity: “We wish to increase the awareness surrounding our daily choices, such as what to eat, how to travel, what to buy and what not to buy. These things have implications and a price beyond the cost of the purchase itself. Oftentimes, people hear about the climate crisis and say, “Ok, but how does this relate to me?” We wish to impart that, although a lot [of damage] has accumulated, it is not all lost. We also have a hand in the matter, and can undo some of the damage,” explains Hadas Zemer Ben-Ari, the exhibition’s curator and designer. “Along with the experience of visiting the exhibition, we strive to make our visitors agents of change, who will spread the message outside the walls of the museum and inspire many others to work for the change that we so desperately need,” says Prof. Tamar Dayan, Museum Chair at the Steinhardt Museum of Nature.

The Museum joins some of the worlds’ largest museums in the common mission to carry out their social role in educating the wider audience on the topic of the climate crisis and the discussion of the biodiversity crisis and its impacts. Museum Director Alon Sapan explains that museums are capable of illustrating and simulating a complex reality and the processes that led to it, along with predictions for the future, while ensuring the visitors’ experience and encouraging their curiosity. “I hope that the exhibition will inspire questions, and also enlighten individuals on how they contribute to positive change by adjusting their personal habits,” concludes Sapan.

 

An invitation to change a habit (or three!) at the “Global Warning” exhibition.

Featured image: The exhibition “Global Warning: The Climate, the Crisis and Us” (Photo: Dor Kimchi)

Read more and purchase tickets here >> 

We Are Part of the Problem and the Solution

Tel Aviv University launches first-of-its-kind multidisciplinary research hub on climate change.

Tel Aviv University last week launched the multidisciplinary Center for Climate Change Action, with the aim of finding solutions to the global crisis. The new Center, the first of its kind in Israel, will operate under the auspices of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and will investigate the subject from all angles, drawing on the knowledge and resources of all faculties on campus. The Center will collaborate with partners from industry, academia and government, in Israel and abroad, in an effort to develop technological solutions, raise public awareness, promote environmental legislation and policy, and more. The initiative was launched by researchers from various disciplines, among them Prof. Colin Price and Dr. Orli Ronen from the University’s Department of Environmental Studies, Prof. Marcelo Sternberg from the School of Plant Sciences and Food Security, Prof. Dan Rabinowitz from the Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences and others. Scores of students, faculty, researchers, dignitaries and guests attended the festive event marking the Center’s launch, which took place in the award-winning Porter School building overlooking the Tel Aviv skyline. Israel’s outgoing President, Reuven Rivlin, lauded the University’s new initiative as a significant demonstration of institutional action on the global climate crisis. “The need to address the climate crisis isn’t a luxury, it’s an inevitability,” he said in recorded remarks, noting the dire need for immediate change for benefit in this lifetime and for generations to come.

Mobilizing for Change

Ahead of the Center’s launch, TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat stated: “Tel Aviv University is a committed partner in dealing with the dangers of global warming and climate change. Confronting this challenge requires examination from many perspectives: technological, social, moral, economic, sociological, legal, and more.” Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality also endorses the project. Tel Aviv, listed among the world’s greenest cities, launched its climate change preparedness plan about a year ago as it realized long ago that being able to live here in the future requires action today. Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv, Reuven Lediansky, hailed the launch of the Center and spoke about the University’s role in writing the municipal plan for dealing with the crisis. “The [municipal] program positioned us among big cities in the world, such as Berlin, Amsterdam, New York and Paris, that have all been working resolutely for some time in order to influence and prepare to handle the climate crisis. I am proud of the long and thorough professional process led by the Environmental Protection Authority, with the professional assistance of Dr. Orli Ronen to formulate such a comprehensive and professional plan. Parts of the program have already been incorporated in the municipality’s work plan for 2021.” Prof. Noga Kronfeld-Schor, Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and researcher from the School of Zoology at The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, called for action: “The third decade of this century is characterized by the understanding that in order for us and our children to lead healthy and equal lives, we need to take nature into consideration, and we need to protect it. Global warming is threatening the life on our planet. The consequences are complex and we are only starting to grasp them. Extensive research is required. We need to develop the ability to predict the broad effects of rising temperatures, ecologically, economically and socially, in order to develop ways and means to deal with them if possible.”   Prof. Noga Kronfeld-Shor used the platform to call for action (photo: Yael Tzur)

Too Little Water for Too Many People

Prof. Hadas Mamane, Head of the Environmental Engineering Program at The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, discussed the predicted imbalance between the amount of rain fall and clean drinking water due to the climate crisis and offered creative ways to address the problem. She emphasized the expected increase in the world’s population, which corresponded well with insights from Prof. Tal Alon from The Department of Public Policy at the Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences, who pointed to the close link between demographic stability and the successful handling of the climate crisis where greenhouse gas emissions are concerned. Dr. Dov Khenin, Head of the Parliamentary Clinic of The Buchmann Faculty of Law, discussed the  ‘Change of Direction’ program, aimed at decision-makers and intended to promote rapid change of direction in the State of Israel’s approach to the climate crisis. Prof. Shoshi Shiloh from The School of Psychological Sciences, discussed how to leverage the worrying environmental situation so that it stimulates us to act. Is instilling fear the way to go when confronting a problem of this magnitude, or are there more efficient approaches? Prof. Avi Kribus from the School of Mechanical Engineering presented renewable energy solutions that are particularly suitable for Israel, allowing us to make use of the resources that we have plenty of, such as solar energy.

The Green Revolution in the Naftali Building

Prof. Itai Sened, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, presented a practical plan for transforming the Naftali Building to become the greenest building on campus. Lior Hazan, Chair of the Student Union of Tel Aviv University also spoke at the event, calling on her fellow students to take an active part in mobilizing as ambassadors for environmental change. Head of the Climate Center and the University’s Department of Environmental Studies Prof. Price concluded the meeting alluding to the Center’s unique position for driving change: “We have expertise and brainpower from nine faculties, and in each of those faculties there are people dealing with the climate issue. We also have non-university organizations, partners who wish to work with us. We need to start by influencing the behavior of the general public. We can demonstrate to the government that it is financially worthwhile to switch to renewable energy. However, we need to do both to succeed.”   Head of the Climate Center Prof. Colin Price gave the closing remarks at the event (photo: Noam Wind)

New Study Presents A Gloomy Climate Future for the Middle East

But Raises Hope the Region Could Become Part of the Solution to the Climate Crisis.

A fresh study conducted by Professor Dan Rabinowitz, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences at the Tel Aviv University, surveys regional climate models for the Middle East, analyzes climate inequalities and examines threats posed by global warming to security and political stability in the region.

In a new book published by Stanford University Press entitled ‘The Power of Deserts: Climate Change, the Middle East and the Promise of a Post-Oil Era’, Professor Rabinowitz argues that the region, already hotter and dryer than most parts, could soon see exacerbated water shortages, decreased agricultural productivity, large scale displacement and conflict as a result of a deteriorating climate.

  “The tragic cases of Sudan and Syria”, says Rabinowitz, “demonstrated what could happen when shrinking agricultural outputs force millions to leave rural hinterlands and seek refuge in cities which are ill-equipped and often unwilling to absorb them”. “Global warming”, he warns, “could turn such scenarios to a new normal in the Middle East, fanning further friction between ethnic groups, damaging instability and creating conflict”.

In a chapter dedicated to climate inequality, the book demonstrates that wealthier and more technologically advanced countries in the region, which are responsible for higher per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases, have the means to adapt to the Post Normal Climate Condition and protect themselves from its perils. This while poorer neighbors, whose contributions to the climate crisis has been significantly smaller, stand to suffer most.

‘The Power of Deserts’ however offers more than somber warnings. Its latter part in fact raises the surprising, counterintuitive notion that the Middle East could eventually become part of the solution to the climate crisis. Using his deep knowledge of the region and an ability to present scientific data with clarity and poise that has made him a leading Israeli voice on climate change, Rabinowitz makes a sober yet surprisingly optimistic exploration of an opportunity arising from a looming crisis.

The past 70 years, he says, in which oil reigned supreme, helped the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf accumulate legendary wealth. But with renewable sources of energy now eclipsing fossil fuels in transport and in electricity production everywhere, the age of oil is coming to an end.  Add a disconcerting climate prognosis, and the oil rich countries in the Middle East now look at a precarious future. The need to calculate a different pathway going forward has become imperative.

Their best bet, Rabinowitz argues, could be exploiting solar energy.  With  more than 300 sunny days a year, abundant unproductive land, good capital reserves available for investment and a good track record of integrating new technologies in civil infrastructure,  the Gulf states could drastically expand their use of solar energy for their domestic electricity production; invest heavily in renewable technologies and capacities around the world; then, at the right moment, turn their backs on oil and natural gas completely and, using their market power in the energy market ante, carve themselves a leading role in the energy universe of the future.

“Rather than resisting the energy transition, which was underway even before Covid-19 and was accelerated since,” says Rabinowitz, “the Gulf States could switch to the ‘right’ side of history, join the struggle to curb climate change and gain respect in the eyes of many who once looked at them with suspicion and contempt. Significantly, this transformation on their part does not hinge on an ideological rebirth and the adoption of a ‘green’ outlook. It could transpire as a rare historical junction where self-preservation on the part of some works to the benefit of many others”. 

Dan Rabinowitz, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel-Aviv University, is Chairman of the Association for Environmental Justice in Israel. He was Head of TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Studies and Chairman of Greenpeace Mediterranean. He received the Pratt Prize for Environmental Journalism (2012) and the Green Globe award for environmental leadership (2016). 

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