Thursday, October 23, 2008

Israel Builds It's First Eco-Friendly Town

Israel builds its first 'eco-friendly' town

It's one thing to adopt environmentally conscious behavior, such as recycling, taking public transportation, and saving water or electricity. But that's not enough for the future residents of the now developing community of Nurit. They plan to live green.

That's because the Mt. Gilboa town of Nurit is set to be the first planned, eco-friendly community in Israel, with infrastructure and services designed not just to encourage, but to actually enforce environmentally responsible behavior. If you're planning on living in Nurit, says Danny Atar, chairman of the Gilboa Regional Council, you're by definition willing to go out of your way to save water, avoid excess waste, and in general reduce your carbon footprint. "Otherwise, Nurit is not for you," he says.

The idea for Nurit stemmed from discussions conducted by Gilboa Regional Council officials nearly a decade ago, as they were seeking to build tourism in the area, as well as comply with new government requirements to introduce environmentally responsible educational programs and activities.

"We are also considering putting up a new town to attract more residents here from the center of the country, and the whole project just sort of made sense," Atar tells ISRAEL21c. "Thus was Nurit born."

First homes ready in a year

And, after intense study and consultations with environmental experts around the world, the town is ready for prime time; work has begun on infrastructure, and the first 100 homes will be ready next year. By 2012, there will be 400 families living in Nurit, Atar says.

Located on Mt. Gilboa itself, Nurit will take advantage of the mountain's wind and sun to generate power, and will install dozens of wind turbines and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, enough to provide electricity for all the public buildings in Nurit - and then some.

"We recently got approved for a program by the Israel Electric Company, where residents and public buildings will be able to mount solar PV units on their roofs and sell the electricity to the IEC," says Atar.

"Together with turbines to generate electricity from wind, we expect that the electricity we generate will be enough to light most of the schools, offices, streetlights, and park lights in Nurit - as well as save homeowners money on their energy bill, since they can get credits for the power their roof PV systems generate that they don't use, selling it back to the IEC." Atar says.

The regional council has a program that provides loans for residents to buy and install the PV panel setup, or residents can design the systems into their construction plans, he adds.

Trees as cooling canopy
Residents will also be asked to grow tall, leafy trees around their homes, creating a natural "cooling canopy" that will help cut down on the need for artificial cooling and heating systems, "saving electricity and reducing pollutants in the atmosphere," Atar says. And, residents will be asked to build their homes using effective insulation systems, to further reduce the need for air conditioners or heaters. "We hope to be able to limit the use of artificial heating and cooling solutions to the hottest or coldest days of the year," Atar says.

Nurit residents will be required to save water - naturally. "In theory, Israel gets more than enough rainfall, but much of the rain is lost to evaporation or runs off to the sea," Atar says. "We are requiring all residents to build rain collection systems and mini-reservoirs to store rainwater. The water will then be funneled into the town reservoir, allowing us to cut down significantly on our use of water from Mekorot, which is drawn from either the Kinneret or Israel's underground aquifers."

With the Kinneret [the Sea of Galilee] at an all time low, and Israel scrambling to build desalination plants to make up for projected water shortages, Nurit's efforts could serve as a model for other, non eco-friendly communities as well.

Saving rainwater is important, but saving "gray water" is even more important, say many environmentalists - and Nurit is requiring all homeowners to install a gray water collection system, which will store waster water from dishwashing, bathing, and other non-sewage ("black water") sources.

The storage of gray water entails building a separate drainage system, which funnels the water into a tank - and is then used for a variety of purposes, such as watering gardens, decorative fountains, etc. "No one in Nurit will be permitted to use fresh water to water his or her lawn," Atar says. "Residents will use gray water to water their lawns and run watering systems for plants or orchards."

Unfortunately, Nurit won't be able to encourage its residents to trade in their cars for commuting by train, because there is no Israel Railways line in the area, at least for now. But the town will have a complete complement of local and inter-city bus service for those who need to travel. Actually, it is expected that most of Nurit's residents will work in the area, either at home businesses, in tourist-oriented services such as bed and breakfasts or restaurants, or at one of the industrial zones in the area.

"Many of the homes have been zoned for use as businesses as well, so a resident can operate a small business in their backyard," Atar says. "There is an industrial zone three minutes out of town, mostly with light manufacturing or agriculture industry allied services. And tourism in this region is expected to skyrocket when regular horse racing begins at the Afula Hippodrome, only a few minutes from here," he adds.

Nurit is open to anyone willing to live by the town's eco-friendly ethos - and many Israelis are willing, apparently, because there is already a long waiting list for lots.

"We've already got about 700 families who have made a deposit to get into the lottery for a chance to buy a plot, with more signing up all the time," Atar says. "The lots, which will have extensive infrastructure to support the gray water drainage and reservoirs system, cost $120,000 to $150,000 - not particularly high for people coming from the center of the country, where many of the Nurit hopefuls come from, and certainly not expensive, when you consider the cost of the infrastructure."

Most applicants are from big cities - Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and its suburbs. A few people from the kibbutzim in the area have signed up as well, but the majority are new to the lower Galilee. Which already makes Nurit a success, as far as Atar is concerned. "This is a beautiful part of the country to live in, and thanks to Nurit, hundreds of families are going to get the opportunity to find out just how beautiful it really is," Atar says.

Down on the eco-farm: Organic produce is the star of young adult dinner in Petaluma

Down on the eco-farm: Organic produce is the star of young adult dinner in Petaluma

As David Retsky guided more than 100 people along the perimeter of County Line Harvest, his 28-acre farm in Petaluma, he offered up some simple instructions: Touch and taste anything.

And, of course, they did.

Participants at the Eco-Farm Dinner on Sept. 21 munched on sprigs of cilantro and devoured all kinds of lettuce for some light appetizers before sitting down to a family-style, seven-course vegetarian dinner made from the organic produce they sampled.

"I really wanted everyone to come out and walk the land," Retsky said. "I wanted them to touch and taste, and breathe the air. There is so much more to learn out here than I could ever teach."

The Jewish National Fund, Bay Area Tribe and Birthright Israel sponsored the event to help young adults make the connection between how crops are harvested and how they make their way to the farmers market, the local supermarket and the dinner table.

Sherri Morr, regional director of JNF, thought of the idea for the Eco-Farm Dinner nearly three years ago, about the same time Retsky, her nephew, started farming in Petaluma. She deemed the event a success.

"It was great to spend time on a farm and get out of the city," she said. "This was an opportunity to educate about Israel and create social connections."

While walking around the farm, people shouted out questions, dug their hands into the soil and sloshed in hidden, muddy puddles.

The tour ended with an uphill trek back to dry land where round tables decorated with votive candles and seasonal squash welcomed the group for dinner.

Heaping portions of polenta with Red Russian kale and smoked tomato sauce, roasted Chioggia beets with baby Walla Walla onions and goat cheese, and Panzanella grilled bread salad with baby fennel were served alongside other unique salads. Fresh coffee and grilled pound cake topped with balsamic strawberries and crème fraiche rounded out the menu.

"It's exciting to be a part of the emerging Jewish food movement," said Roni Ben-David, 28, of San Francisco. "It starts with realizing that food tastes better when it's local and seasonal. As Jews, we take pleasure in our food and eat mindfully."

In addition to the farm tour and dinner, two students -- an Israeli woman and a Jordanian man -- from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel discussed with the crowd how the school also promotes dialogue and coexistence.

"When I came to the institute to study the environment, I really wasn't ready to deal with coexistence," said Hadas Kammon, who studied at the Arava Institute as an undergraduate in Israel.

"But we can't ignore this issue. It was a challenging experience, but I learned that I have to recognize another person's story."

After the speakers, guests had the rest of the evening to mingle, taste wine from Israel and drink He'Brew beer before buses brought them back to San Francisco.

"I'd like to see other people come out and support the farm family," Retsky said.

"Come cook meals here and enjoy the land. It's another way of getting involved."

Monday, October 20, 2008

JNF, El Salvador Style

JNF, El Salvador style
Central American country decides to adopt Israeli model for redemption of land, environment protection
Itamar Eichner YNET

The El Salvador authorities have decided to adopt the Israeli model of the Jewish National Fund for the redemption of land and protecting the environment.

In meeting held several months ago between Israeli Ambassador to San Salvador Mati Cohen and El Salvador's foreign and environment ministers, Cohen learned of their desire to invest resources in the promotion environmental education in cooperation with the El Salvadorian immigrants' community living in the United States.

The Israeli envoy told the officials about the JNF organization and the affinity it creates between the Diaspora Jews and the State of Israel, as well as its relation to the redemption of land and environment protection for more than 100 years.

Cohen suggested that the two ministers try and duplicate the JNF model and implement it in El Salvador, and recruited JNF representative in Argentina, Michael Adari, to help with the mission.

A first-of-its-kind seminar was held by El Salvador's Foreign Ministry several days ago, attended by senior officials from the Foreign, Agriculture, Education and Environment Protection ministries, who learned about the JNF principles and ways to implement them in the central American country.

Rabbi Yerahmiel Barylka, director of the KKL-JNF's Latin-American Desk, traveled to El Salvador to take part in the seminar.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pint-Size Eco-Police, Making Parents Proud and Sometimes Crazy ...

Pint-Size Eco-Police, Making Parents Proud and Sometimes Crazy
New York Times

Sometimes, Jennifer Ross feels she cannot make a move at home without inviting the scorn of her daughters, 10-year-old Grace and 7-year-old Eliza. The Acura MDX she drives? A flagrant polluter. The bath at night to help her relax? A wasteful indulgence. The reusable shopping bags she forgot, again? Tsk, tsk.

"I have very, very environmentally conscious children -- more so than me, I'm embarrassed to say," said Ms. Ross, a social worker in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. "They're on my case about getting a hybrid car. They want me to replace all the light bulbs in the house with energy-saving bulbs."

Ms. Ross's children are part of what experts say is a growing army of "eco-kids" -- steeped in environmentalism at school, in houses of worship, through scouting and even via popular culture -- who try to hold their parents accountable at home. Amid their pride in their children's zeal for all things green, the grown-ups sometimes end up feeling like scofflaws under the watchful eye of the pint-size eco-police, whose demands grow ever greater, and more expensive.

They pore over garbage bins in search of errant recyclables. They lobby for solar panels. And, in a generational about-face, they turn off the lights after their parents leave empty rooms.

"Kids have really turned into the little conscience sitting in the back seat," said Julia Bovey, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group that recently worked with Nickelodeon on a series of public service announcements and other programming called "Big Green Help."

"One of the fascinating things about children is that they don't separate what you are doing from what you should be doing," Ms. Bovey said. "Here's this information about how we can help the environment, and kids are not able to rationalize it away the way that adults do."

In Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, Jan Schmidt, a stay-at-home mother, and Mark Goetz, a professor of furniture design, have watched, amazed, as their 4-year-old son chastises them for letting the water run while they brush their teeth. "He'll come over and turn it off and say, 'Every day is Earth Day,' " Ms. Schmidt said. "He learned it at school."

Their older child, 12-year-old Elly, extols the clothesline in her bedroom the way other girls her age might show off a new beanbag chair. An aspiring marine biologist, Elly raised $250 last year to protect coral reefs by selling handmade earrings at school. And she was a big factor in the family's decision to hang on to their current car instead of buying a bigger one.

"With Elly, there's sort of an unspoken thing about not buying an S.U.V.," Ms. Schmidt said.

Elly elaborated: "I wouldn't be happy if they bought an S.U.V. because they're not fuel efficient, and they pollute more than other cars."

They learn this stuff everywhere. In the summer, the Pixar film "Wall-E" served up an ecological parable of a planet so punished that it had to be abandoned. The Girl Scouts recently added patches including "Environmental Health," "Get With the Land," "Earth Pact" and "Water Drop." Scholastic, the global children's publishing, education and media company, has teamed up with the American Museum of Natural History to create Web sites and magazines about climate change and other environmental issues.

A Scholastic message board where children share eco-friendly tips, called Save the Planet, has had three million page views in the past year.

And school districts across the country are adding lessons on the environment to their curriculums in many subject areas, as well as enforcing idle-free zones in school driveways, switching to plant-based cleaners, doing away with pesticides and, in some places, installing solar panels.

In the Byram Hills School District in Armonk, N.Y., middle-school teachers plan to roll out new material related to the environment starting in January.

"We're trying to integrate it into anything where it naturally fits," said Jackie Taylor, the district's superintendent. "It might be in a math lesson. How much water are you really using? How can you tell? Teachers look for avenues in almost everything they teach."

Katie Ginsberg, co-founder and executive director of the Children's Environmental Literacy Foundation, a nonprofit group in Chappaqua, N.Y., has trained hundreds of teachers from Massachusetts to New Jersey in issues of sustainability and environmental science. More than 1,500 students attended the group's annual expo, Students for a Sustainable Future, at Pace University this spring.

"In 2002, the environmental education children were getting was very isolated," Ms. Ginsberg said. "It was emphasized mainly on Earth Day and an occasional field trip to a nature center. We started looking for different paradigms of environmental education around the world."

But the green initiatives in schools have not been universally embraced. Some critics say such lessons are a distraction as districts struggle to meet minimum standards on math and reading tests. Others say turning children into stewards of the environment is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money.

And even parents who are impressed by their children's commitment to remake the world can also sometimes feel, well, badgered. Paul Wyckoff, a writer in Hunterdon County, N.J., said his 15-year-old son, Will, yells at him for "leaving the car idling for a few seconds in the driveway." He has even taken to turning off nightlights to save energy.

"My philosophy is get the big stuff," Mr. Wyckoff said. "I think he takes it too far. But I'm proud of him. I think he'll moderate with age."

Given that children often lack a sense of social boundaries, things can get sticky when their haranguing extends beyond the home. Liz DiVittorio, of Raleigh, N.C., a mother of three, recalled walking with her 10-year-old son, Michael, this summer after a rainstorm and seeing a neighbor running his sprinkler.

"My son looked at him and said, 'Why are you watering your lawn? It just rained,' " said Ms. DiVittorio, who works for a software company. "I sat there and cringed."

For middle schoolers, money is fairly abstract -- and therefore no object. Sarah Hodder and Dr. Peter Allen of Chappaqua have three boys, the oldest of whom, Charles, 10, is itching to go solar.

"Any time we pass a house with solar panels, he says, 'Why can't we do that?' " said Ms. Hodder, co-chairwoman of the Roaring Brook Elementary School Environmental Committee. "I always say, 'Talk to Daddy.' A lot of these steps are cost-prohibitive, although ultimately in the long run they're good for the environment and the wallet."

Ms. Hodder said that in the short term, she and her husband are making more modest changes, with the children's support, like turning down the heat, composting, walking to school and "not buying so much stuff." But as enthusiastic as Ms. Hodder is about protecting the environment, the children seize on her lapses, as when Peapod delivers the groceries in plastic bags.

"They'll say, 'Mom, I thought we weren't supposed to use plastic bags,' " she said.

Douglas and Alison Distefano, of Rumson, N.J., who have two children, dubbed their fifth grader, Olivia, "the recycling militant general."

"For us, Earth Day is a reason to go outside," said Mr. Distefano, an executive with Soltage, a solar energy company. "But for them it's a religious holiday."

Ann Tedesco, a psychologist in Armonk, said her daughter Celeste, 9, "is always policing the regular garbage bins to make sure we're not throwing paper away in there," adding: "She particularly enjoys catching her older sister."

Dr. Tedesco's husband, Rick Alimonti, a lawyer, recalled how their son, Lucas, 7, kept reminding him to turn off the engine while waiting outside school.

"I was only idling for a minute, and I explained that it uses more gas and pollutes the atmosphere more to turn the engine off and back on again," he said. "I looked it up afterward to make sure I wasn't exaggerating."

He was in the clear: Several blogs asserted that idling for a minute or less is preferable to shutting off and restarting the engine.