Uniting for Equitable Climate Action

20 January 2022

What happens when Shatil and NIF grantee Heschel Center for Sustainability team up to promote climate change activism through a social change lens? A lot. At the “Climate Emergency and Us” seminar in December, some 30 social change and environmental activists talked, listened and learned, explored, role-played, and talked some more. Their aim was to create innovative strategies for promoting a just transition to a low carbon economy that considers the needs and rights of all Israeli citizens and residents of Israel and the occupied territories.

The climate crisis bears far-reaching economic, social, and health-related ramifications for Israel and the region. This is due to Israel’s geography: the effects of desertification, the dearth of potable water, and rising sea levels all uniquely affect this small country. Until recently, climate change mitigation in Israel had been largely relegated to environmental advocacy organizations. Yet accelerating climate change is leaving vulnerable groups and populations increasingly challenged in their struggle to survive extreme weather swings, deleterious health effects, food and water insecurity, and livelihood instability.

Shatil’s growing sense of responsibility and commitment to helping these vulnerable groups influence environmental policies led to the “Climate Emergency and Us” seminar, a first-ever collaboration between Shatil and the Heschel Center for Sustainability. Guided by a Heschel-brand methodology called Maof (“vision”) that assumes an uncharted path between a problem and its possible solutions, seminar facilitators stewarded participants through thought-provoking, lively, and out-of-the-box activities. The aim was to enable fresh discussions among participants and conceptual shifts around long-standing problems related to society and the environment. For example, following presentations on the socio-economic aspects of climate change and its political ramifications, participants engaged in simulations on what the future might look if the struggle for climate justice proves successful. They created “strategy-development boards” for NIF issue areas like shared society and the occupation. “Open space” discussion groups allowed participants to flow fluidly from one group to another. And an afternoon silent nature-walk gave participants time to reflect on the intense interchanges that had taken place.

As the seminar drew to a close, participants solidified ways to translate new ideas into strategies for activism. Across fields, activists spoke of learning from other successful movements, means for accessing communities both impacted and left out of climate change discourse, and ways to make climate justice relevant across social change struggles. According to Orly Peled, Director of Shatil Campus and seminar coordinator: “The intense energy in the room was palpable.”

Said one participant: “The conference gave me hope that what requires change can be changed even in the face of such a huge challenge. This is an opportunity.”

“I leave thrilled by the exponential power that has been created in this room. It’s really exciting,” said another.

Others comments were more sobering: “I have a clearer picture of what is happening, and deeper frustration with our ability to make an impact,” and “there has been a tendency with COVID-19 to say that we are all in the same boat. Likewise, with climate change. This is false. We are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.”

Meanwhile, NIF grantees have jumped into action: Bimkom — Planners for Planning Rights is beginning to incorporate more environment focus, which will be part of its 2022 strategic planning process; NGO Hehalutz reached out to Shatil for consulting on the development of a just transition curriculum for gap-year programs; and a first meeting took place for a new platform initiated by the Association for Distributive Justice, guided by Shatil, for advancing access for Palestinian citizens to government opportunities for renewable energy projects.

What the future holds for Israel and climate change has yet to be seen. As a seminar participant put it: “In these two days we’ve set up a diverse camp of many people and opinions — the beauty is that each tent is different, and together we can build a better future for all.”