Many Israelis have been walking around in T-shirts in the past few days, soaking the winter sun, blue skies, and mild temperatures. They do not imagine, and it is hard to blame them, that the fact that they can wear summer clothing in January, normally the middle of winter, means that something has gone wrong above their heads. The climate, as experts are saying, is out of whack.
The huge snowstorm in mid-December created an illusion of a real winter. But the winter lasted just three days, followed by a few more days of cold weather. Since then, we've gone to the other extreme: for six weeks, which are supposed to be the middle of the Israeli winter, barely a drop of rain has fallen. Although forecasters are predicting some rain at the end of the month, it is already clear that January 2014 was one of the driest January in Israeli history, if not the driest.
There was a similar drought in November 2013, the month before the storm, and in February and March 2013. The water flow in the Banias River was a tenth (!) of the flow a year ago. The Kinneret is receiving the lowest water flow since 1920. The meteorological stations in the Galilee and Golan are reporting that precipitation this winter to date is 40-65% below average.
The concern about these data is not the same concern that hung over the water economy at the end of the 2000s, when Israel experienced several years of drought. That fear is not present now, mainly because of the seawater desalination plants. But desalination can never replace rain, especially for nature and agriculture; it is an insurance policy against catastrophe. The problem is that the threat from extreme weather is much wider than water.
The most important story about this extreme weather is that almost all of the climatologists' alarming forecasts are materializing. Israeli experts who reread the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN panel which publishes weighty tomes on the climate crisis and global warming, are seeing the predictions materializing above their heads with frightening precision: reduced precipitation; higher temperatures; every more frequent extreme weather events (blizzards, floods, fires); a rapid switch between extreme climate conditions; severe damage to agriculture and infrastructures; and, most of all, new rules of the game from what we knew before. The climate crisis is here.
"Past statistics are losing their predictive relevance," says Dr. Amir Givati of the Water Authority. "Time after time, we are saying, 'We never had such a thing,' because we're fighting the last war. Many of the things that climatologists predicted would happen in the coming years are happening now. The future is now."
These events are not exclusive to Israel. Other places are experiencing far more extreme events. Large parts of the US coped this month with huge blizzards, while California on the West Coast is suffering its worst drought in 80 years. In response, massive reductions in water quotas have been declared, and thousands of farmworkers face losing their jobs, while firefighting units are hiring. It should be noted that southern California is at the same latitude as Israel.
The time has come to realize that the climate crisis is here, the besmirched climatologists knew what they were talking about, and Israel, like other countries, will have to prepare for the fact that tomorrow's weather will not be the moderate friendly climate we knew.
Over the past few years, the Samuel Neaman Institute at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and the Ministry of Environmental Protection have been drawing up detailed national preparedness plans for the era of a different climate. An inter-ministerial committee is hard at work, but it seems that the sense of urgency that is accompanied by budgets and practical action, is still absent.
We should therefore cast an eye toward the blue skies and realize that we had better get cracking.
The writer is the host of the "It will be all right" program on “IDF Radio" (Galei Zahal).
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 23, 2014
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