Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The land over which Israelis and Palestinians are locked in conflict is itself unstable, subject to the vagaries of human-caused climate change. On Friday, Abdel Rahman Salah at Egypt’s Veto newspaper reports, sweltering temperatures and high winds lashed the land, causing wildfires to burst out throughout the country.
Climate change, caused by burning fossil fuels, is heating up Israel and Lebanon at twice the average global rate. The number of days characterized by extreme heat is expected to increase substantially over the next three decades, according to Lee Yaron at Haaretz.
Yaron says that Meteorological Services investigator Yiftach Ziv conducted a study showing that already since 1980 the average number of high fire-risk days per annum in the country has increase 2.5 times, to 70 per year. By 2050 it will be 90 per year.
The Times of Israel reported temperatures as high as 111 degrees Fahrenheit and winds of 30 mph. Even along the coast, in Haifa, temperatures went to 100 degrees F.
Ominously, the Jerusalem Post added the detail that a huge blaze was ravaging a pharmaceutical factory in Kiryat Malachi, and had spread to an area of the factory where gas cylinders were stored. Israel Fire and Rescue Services announced that the area is very dangerous. The flames were spreading toward a local gasoline station and authorities were trying to keep people away.
Salah reports that the high temperatures also led to electricity outages in many cities. The Israel Fire and Rescue authorities said that by 6:30 pm on Friday, on the order of 220 wildfires had broken out in fields in every part of the country. There were no reported casualties.
Temperatures much exceeded the average for this time of year. Dozens of firefighting units swung into action, with the assistance of 14 firefighting aircraft dropping water bombs. The north, the coast, the center and the south of the country were all affects.
The extra demand in many instances overloaded the electricity grid, causing outages throughout the count, including in Tel Aviv, Hertzelia, Akka, Haifa, and Beersheva, among other towns and cities, where some 300,000 citizens over-all lost electricity for more than an hour. This failure of the grid provoked a vigorous outcry.
Xinhua reports that March this year in the Levant was the second-hottest on record, priming forests for wildfires. Lebanon’s government is also gearing up for a bigger wildfire challenge this summer than normal.
Yaron at Haaretz wrote in February of scientific studies showing how climate change will hit Israel over the next 30 years: “Extremely hot days and heat waves will increase, floods and wildfires will intensify, agriculture and public health will be threatened and rising sea levels will encroach on Israel’s coastline.” [Emphasis mine.]
Yaron notes that the far right-wing, extremist government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is doing nothing at all to prepare the country for these challenges, and indeed is adopting policies that will make things worse. The government is behind on building electricity power plants, and shortages could become routine by 2026. Only something like 4% of Israel’s electricity comes from renewables at the moment and 70% comes from fossil gas, so its grid is unusually dirty for a middle income country. Israel has a shockingly modest goal of getting 30% of its electricity from renewables, mostly solar, by 2030, but the big investments are being made in fossil gas and it is not clear that it will reach that goal.