Transcript: Podship Earth Episode 034: L'Chaim
JARED BLUMENFELD: Welcome to Podship Earth. This is your host, Jared Blumenfeld. This week, Cousin David and I go to Tel Aviv, but before we can get there, David gets into a big discussion with the woman at the El Al ticket counter.
DAVID KAHN: I just thought I was always doing a regular security check and she started asking me like basic questions, why are you going Israel? Who you going with? What are you going to do? And I'm giving her all the answers and then she's like, do you belong to synagogue? I'm like, no. Are you religious? I'm like, no, but I did tell I fasted on Yom Kippur.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And then I see her like, like wagging her finger at you. I mean it took forever. And then what was she asking you?
DAVID KAHN: And then she's like, well do you know any other holidays? And I was like, Passover. What else do you celebrate? And I said, maybe I'll go to a Seder and then I'm like, but Hanukkah, my cousin throws a big Hanukkah party. She goes really, like, what kind of party? And I'm like, well it’s a latke party, and we got 20 pounds of potatoes and I peel the potatoes.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And she didn't even believe you right?
DAVID KAHN: No, she kept listening, and at the end, I'm like, yeah, it's a really big party with like 100 people, with like candles. And she goes, okay, you can go. And that was it.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, anyone listening out there, you've got to just participate in a cultural event like peeling potatoes and you can get into Israel. We did a lot more. Where we landed, it was just amazing, how atrocious the drivers were. I've never seen. I didn't know what it is.
DAVID KAHN: I don't think they used the blinker one time. I felt like just from the airport to where we were staying, we could have gotten in three accidents.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It was amazing. Next stop, literally the first day, was the single best falafel I've ever had in my life.
DAVID KAHN: Unbelievable. I wanted to eat more, but I knew we had a lot more falafels to taste.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And then, every single night we'd binge. I mean we were been working hard, don't get me wrong, David and I were doing a lot of work for Podship Earth, but at night we'd go out. People every single night would be partying till two in the morning.
DAVID KAHN: Every waitress we had during the meal would come over and be like, can I give you a free drink? Jared is still drunk on all the free drinks.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I'm not sure that's true. But like could you believe on a Tuesday afternoon at 3:30pm, like the beach was packed?
DAVID KAHN: Literally, if we were in Los Angeles who would be like the Fourth of July, that's how many people are on the beach. And it was just a normal day. It was. I didn't understand it.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Okay. We did have work. The work was to try and find out what the hell is happening on environmental issues in Israel. We actually did manage to find that out. First up, we talked with Jay Shofet, who's the director of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and he helped give us kind of a lay of the land. I started by asking Jay about the Israel National trail, which looks like an even hotter drier version of the hike Yair and I did this summer in New Mexico.
JAY SHOFET: It's called by National Geographic, one of the 20 epic trails of the world and traverses Israel north to south or south to north depending what season you want to hike it. It's quite a strong hiking culture here, and the Israel National trail is a rite of passage for Israelis sometimes when they finish high school with a group of friends or when they finish the army or when they finish college, but it’s a good three-month trek.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Have you done any of it?
JAY SHOFET: Parts of it here and there but haven't set out over the whole trail.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Talking of long journeys, I couldn't help but notice all the birds in the sky in Israel.
JAY SHOFET: We're the second most important bird migration flight route in the world. Virtually, all the birds from the Eurasian landmass, except for the ones in the far western part of the continent that migrate, fly over Israel and over the Saharan desert and the Arabian desert, and they winter in Africa, about a half billion birds, 500 million birds each direction, each six months. We take that very, very seriously with the government. They created with us a network of birdwatching centers and scientific observatories along the length of the country.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Jay, so how long has your organization been around?
JAY SHOFET: SPNI was founded in 1953 by a group of citizens and the scientists who were concerned when the government and the Jewish National Fund came in with this grandiose plan to drain the Hula swamp land.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I'd always heard the Hula area out by the Sea of Galilee had to be drained because of malaria.
JAY SHOFET: It had nothing to with malaria. It had to do with creating more agricultural land for the farmers and the lobby and the Israeli ethos of settling the land and farming the land. But we knew that it was going to damage both the quantity and quality of the water flowing into the Kinneret. Those wetlands are a huge kidney that purifies the water and you know, acts as a crucial conduit. And that is now one of the most important bird migration stopovers on our flight route in the world. Virtually, the entire world population of European cranes stop there. 40,000 at a time lift off from the Hula wetlands during migration season. When they wake up, they sleep standing up in the wetlands, and it's an incredible sight to see.
JARED BLUMENFELD: On the topic of planning, it seems like Israel copied the worst from the US when it came to things like urban sprawl.
JAY SHOFET: I mean it's a small dense country and we suffer, just like America, from suburban sprawl where land use and carbon footprint is really high per person. Every person when you turn 16, you need a car, because there's no other way to get around. And every city in Israel has suburbs or even parts of the city whereby they take 15 or 20 story buildings and put them way out in the middle of nowhere. Four or five together with beautiful green grass around it, but nothing else. No services, no nothing. It's a crazy way of building. A lot of planners working in the environmental field have really begun to change the culture. City mayors and city managers now think differently. Tel Aviv is a dense, a smart, relatively environmentally friendly city. There are more skyscrapers per capita in Tel Aviv than any city in the world, but we don't really want to be Manhattan. We'd be really happy being Amsterdam or Brooklyn.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Israel and California have a great deal in common. We both are Mediterranean climates and we both are suffering from droughts more frequently because of climate change. But in the case of Israel, I read that the Jordan River, the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee are losing water at a very rapid rate. Very well worrisome issues, you know, water issues have been from time in memorial the main problematic issues of this part of the world. Some of it is, you know, probably cyclical cycles, but Israel's current drought cycle is unprecedented. You know, many people think like many things in the world, the extreme weather events that are happening are due to climate change in Israel a tiny country isn't a huge contributor to the global problem, but as a coastal country and as a very fragile country situated here at the intersection of three continents and five climatic zones, we're very sensitive to changes. What we call the Jordan river is really just a trickle, not navigable even by a flat-bottomed Kayak. People try to do that early in the summer before the summer really started. It was not possible. The problem is both the lack of rainwater and the rapid development, I would say to a large degree, especially up north, the nature protection people are in a constant struggle with the farmers. One of our simple solutions is, but if we just take the water downstream rather than upstream, we can pay for it to go back upstream in a pipe, but that allows nature and people included to, you know, to be able to kayak and benefit. Keeping that water flowing through nature is one of our top goals. And then in the Dead Sea, the problem is exacerbated by a couple of things. One is all of the mining that goes on for salt and potassium and bromide and the geology of the area is causing these huge sinkholes, which were making it really dangerous. Gas stations were falling into the cracks in the road and every month they're changing another portion of the road.
JARED BLUMENFELD: We're in Tel Aviv right now. It looks like there's rampant development. Where are they getting their water from, Jay?
JAY SHOFET: What's really feeding the huge development and what's making sure that what happened in or almost happened in Cape Town is never going to happen here, is there are heavily, and I think wise precedents, and a relatively well-planned investment in desalination. We have five plants online. Four along the Mediterranean, one in the Gulf of Aqaba. There's another one coming online that will be powered by solar power in Aqaba that we are theoretically sharing with the Jordanians. And that's keeping water in the taps, but it's not keeping water in nature. There's is a plan now to put desalinated water back in the Jordan River. And of course, the overuse of the aquifers, under the coastal aquifer and the mountain aquifer which Israel uses at will and until those aquifers are also dangerously close to their red lines and they can start to get brackish. Still, the biggest and only real fresh water reservoir source in the country. We’re by far the country that reuses 80 percent of its waste water. The next highest country is Spain. Less than 40 percent is used and that goes all only to agriculture. So, you know, the drinking water in Tel Aviv and the home use and stuff, which again is only 10 percent of water use in an industrialized country, that's coming mostly from desalination.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Talking to Jay made me curious about Israel's reputation as a global leader in water conservation. We meet up with Odette Distell who directs the Environmental Innovation Program at Israel's Ministry of Finance. I asked Odette to explain the source of this focus on eco-ingenuity.
ODETTE DISTELL: I would say one is then the necessity and the feeling that we simply have no other choice. So, we have to invent. This is a good drive. And second, I think it's in the culture in Israel. People dare to think differently.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Because like drip irrigation, that was an Israeli invention.
ODETTE DISTELL: Yes. And you know, the story is amazing. It's a story about somebody that looked out the window and all of a sudden, he saw that one tree is bigger than the others, said how come? And then he went out, investigated and he realized that there is a leakage in the pipe. And then he thought, oh, let's use it. And this is the beginning of drip irrigation. The wave of new stuff is amazing. The fact that in the law, in the years before this, high-tech sector was defined to software defense, Internet and now it is spread all over. So, we see it in water and agriculture and transportation, in energy. And it opens amazing new opportunities for those sectors to become much more efficient, faster and cheaper and to interact with their customers, to be able to be transparent. And so, it's a new, it's a new game.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Jay Shofet from the Protection of Nature in Israel was just talking to me about the gravity of water problems right now in Israel.
ODETTE DISTELL: The Jordan River and the Dead Sea are both in bad shape. And there is a huge project that is being discussed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and Jordan about saving the Dead Sea. Hopefully, it will materialize. And the story with the Jordan river is really sad. I do hope that we'll be able to overcome and to inject fresh water to the river and revive it.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, the Dead Sea may really actually be dying.
ODETTE DISTELL: Yeah, we don't get enough water entering the Dead Sea.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, we have a place called the Salton Sea in California, which is very similar. I just spoke to some people
that were looking at piping water in from the Pacific and they said, oh, actually, like 25 years ago a project was proposed like that for the Dead Sea. And actually, it could be gravity fed because the Dead Sea is so low.
ODETTE DISTELL: So, it didn't happen till now for different reasons, some environmental objectives and some financial and on and on. But I think we understand now that probably this is the only solution to the Dead Sea. Otherwise we're losing it.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Given that the vast majority of water being used in Israel is for agriculture, I wanted to find out what new technologies Israeli farmers that turning to for help. I meet with Nir Ohana from Conserve Water who himself grew up on a farm in the north of Israel. Nir, what did you grow?
NIR OHANA: We grow apples, cherries, plums, pomegranates, basically any fruit that you can imagine. I used to help my dad in the community picking fruits, trimming trees, fixing irrigation and anything that requires labor basically.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Water seems like the lifeblood of Israel, especially if you're a farmer.
NIR OHANA: Most of that percentage of the land of Israel is actually desert and this percentage is going higher and higher over the years. And because of that it opened a lot of room for innovation in that field of saving water and basically precision agriculture.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How is water priced in Israel?
NIR OHANA: Farmers get a budget, a budget that they can use, and they can't use any more than the water budget that actually receive. So, before every season, a farmer actually needs to decide how much land he actually going to be farming and which crops will actually get more or less water based on the pricing in the market or based on the future predicted a market price of the crop.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How do farmers think about water relative to other costs?
NIR OHANA: So, obviously being a farmer Israel is a very, very tough job. The main costs for farmers in Israel will be the water.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Tell us a little bit about how artificial intelligence is being used in your startup to help farmers.
NIR OHANA: We can determine how much soil moisture is in the ground every day by measuring and basically analyzing the data from these satellites. And by doing that and gathering a lot of our information and data, we basically predict how much a water needs to be irrigated every day for over 90 different crops anywhere in the world. It actually gets to the accuracy of sensors in the ground, but not, not, not come with the cost.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Does that mean farmers who couldn't afford previous technologies are now going to be like… if you were a farmer and you didn't have enough money to invest in monitors that gauge your soil moisture, you could now invest in Ai?
NIR OHANA: Yes, exactly. So, most farmers in the world, not just in Israel, most of them don't even have the basic knowledge for the right irrigation needs. Most of the farmers in the world, they irrigate with flooding their fields and basically, they want to make sure that plants get the water and they get their crops at the end of the year. That alone saves probably 50, 60 percent of water use.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, your dad up in the Golan Heights, does he use these technologies?
NIR OHANA: Yes, I'm currently operating the system for my dad. The new generation is basically accepted with open arms and adopted really quickly and the old generation obviously, it takes more time, and it's obviously not the easiest thing for them.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Whether you farm in Israel, Brazil, or Fresno, California, pollination is critical for both crop production and for nature. Michal Roizman and Omer Davidi founded a very cool company called Bee Hero to help farmers and stay in the game. I started by asking Omer how bees are doing.
OMER DAVIDI: Seventy percent of the major crops that humanity consumes are dependent on bee pollination and there are huge mortality rates of bees because of colony collapse disorder, so the trend is not very good in terms of the bees.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Is it getting better? Where are we?
OMER DAVIDI: So, for the last 10 years, the world faced colony collapse disorder that brings bee mortality rates to more than 40 percent every single year. You have millions of beehives dying every year, and you have those commercial beekeepers doing the best they can, struggling in order to make those colonies survive in order to sustain an ecosystem where we get pollination and honey and the bees can live. Because of the environmental changes, because of urbanization, because of a lot of use of pesticides in the last few years, some part of the intensity of agriculture and all those verticals makes the bees live in an environment where they cannot sustain. They cannot survive. So, the main challenge is to bring the beekeepers the right tools in order to handle those new environmental changes and help the bees live and survive for a long time.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, David and I were actually just in the San Joaquin Valley talking to almond farmers. One of the things they talked about was making almond trees that don't need pollination.
OMER DAVIDI: I think we're very far from a day that we will have no bees to pollinate our crops. The technology is very expensive, and the efficiency of the bees is something that we will find very hard to compete with. Its millions of years of evolution brought the bees to be the most efficient creatures in terms of pollination and if you only treat the almond trees by providing better, doing GMO in order to have self-pollinated trees, what happens to the rest of the plants on this planet? We do not understand
that the moment the entire impact and value of bees on our ecosystem.
JARED BLUMENFELD: If you lose 40 percent, and then next year you another 40 percent, that that's pretty traumatic.
OMER DAVIDI: Every year you get those more than 40 percent mortality rates, the margins getting lower and lower and you don't see a lot of new commercial beekeepers getting into this business because it's a low margin field. And in few years, we will be in the situation that we don't have a lot of people responsible for bees. And then what happens? We used to have those 10, 15 percent mortality rates because of winter loss, because of storms, etc. But the extra 30 percent, this is all us.
JARED BLUMENFELD: That's a pretty dramatic problem to try and solve. Michal, how did Bee Hero get started?
MICHAL ROIZMAN: So, we're talking about a very low-tech world. We figured out that there is so much technology you can bring
into it and we tried to understand how a beekeeper’s day looks like and today the way that it actually operates is that he needs to just by his intuition and gut feeling, decide to which one of his hives is he going first. Then he goes into these hives, opens the hives. It's something that really hurts the bees. We understood from a very early stage that we need to use the state-of-the-art technology and make a kind of a frog jump to the best technology that is out there, and now we have it. We have sensors that we can put inside the hive that can monitor the hive 24/7 and actually give us insights of what’s going on into hive all of the time. And you don't need to travel for two or three days to a yard with hives when there are hives in other places that need to be examined.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, tell us a little bit about a beekeeper.
MICHAL ROIZMAN: So, in a hive we have between 20 to 80,000 bees. This is one hive. When we look at United States, this is a very centralized market. We have beekeepers that have thousands of hives, and the largest beekeeper has 100,000 hives. When we look at Europe for example, we have a lot of hobbyist beekeepers owning just a few hives. So, it really varies from one country to another. We as a company, especially in our first stages, look at the commercial beekeepers because of the way they work.
OMER DAVIDI: We're working at the moment with 25 percent of the Israeli beekeeping market and we're starting to work with very large key players in the US beekeeping landscape all in order to generate better quality beehives. And what we've seen for the last few months, working with our technology, is that we have the ability to generate those hives. And hives that were monitored and empowered by Bee Hero, increased crop yields in sunflowers, for example, by 20 percent. And the same thing we want to bring to the almonds and the cotton and the soybeans.
MICHAL ROIZMAN: We take all of the information that we collect. Some of it is temperature, humidity, sound that is going on inside the hive, with a know-how of the beekeeper, with genetic lines of the queens, with a microclimate and so forth. And we take all of that and, and we have our machine learning algorithm that keeps learning that and training itself. And then from just understanding when a hive is an anomaly being not healthy, we can actually understand the specific situation such as a missing queen. When there is no queen in the hive, the hive is going to collapse in a few days and the beekeeper needs to know about that so he can go and treat it. And this is something amazing that can actually change the way that beekeepers operate today.
DAVID KAHN: Why does the hive die if the queen is dead or not healthy?
MICHAL ROIZMAN: The idea of the hive is to keep creating itself. So, the queen is responsible for creating the new generation and this is what all the hives is about, bringing the into the hive the new generation and when the queen is not there, and the bees understand that, they just go out of balance and this is why it can collapse.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Are you more optimistic than when you began this venture that this data will allow us to help bees and bee colonies recover?
OMER DAVIDI: Definitely. For the last year and a half, we've been running a lot of experiments and collecting huge amounts of data in order to be able to classify specific reasons that make the colony collapse. And once we get bigger in scale, we will have the ability also to optimize the way that you distribute those beehives in the field in order to generate an environment that it's better for the bees and they want to go much out and bring more food to the colony. And it's a never-ending process. So as long as the colony gets stronger, the quality of pollination increases, and then the quality of pollination brings more food to the colony and generates better quality of a beehive. We are still getting to know this amazing world, huge amount of data of something that we are dependent on and no one collects any data today. So, we are actually building the largest data set of bees in the world.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I love bees and I’m so glad that they now have a hero. There's so much innovation happening in Israel. At the same time, in areas like goals for renewable energy, it seems like the country is going nowhere. I asked Jay Shofet from the Protection of Nature in Israel to help me understand.
JAY SHOFET: Israel is still stuck in some pre-enlightened quagmire in terms of renewal energy. Our goals are 17 percent by 2030. That's ridiculous by global standards. And we're probably not even going to meet that if things are going the way they're going. Unlike our water management, our electrical management system, the power grid, I like to say we have a very smart water grid where we're constantly taking water from here to there and you know, moving it and keeping crops and everybody happy, but we have a stupid electric grid. We have a highly centralized electric company in an electric authority above that. It's a politicized organization, you know, this is the country with 360 days a year of sun. The potential for expansion is unlimited.
JARED BLUMENFELD: David is like everywhere you go in Tel Aviv, it seems like some kind of electric scooter or electric bike. It was insane.
DAVID KAHN: Yeah, there were definitely a ton of those Birds. And what was the other one that you tried?
JARED BLUMENFELD: Everything, I mean like they have the bike program that they have in every city around the world and then they have like Mobike and all kind of share programs. But just the bikes go so fast.
DAVID KAHN: They definitely went fast, and you wanted me to test out the Bird and I thought it was too fast for me. So, I had to go to a regular two-wheel bike.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Well I'm a big advocate of electric bikes and in all the cities I've been to around the world, there's never been this critical mass of electric bikes. The thing that you notice is there a little bit out of control and I don't know, there needs to be some rules probably if we're going to get electric bikes more widespread.
DAVID KAHN: I love getting around the town. I thought it helped a lot. I just didn't know where I was supposed to be riding. A lot of people are riding in the streets. Some people are riding on the sidewalks and then sometimes you know, I would be clicking that really obnoxious ringing noise all the time to get people out of the way and I just felt bad. Sometimes I’d just click it if I wanted to get your attention. But it helped.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It was funny. I mean the thing is like we spend a lot of time thinking about electric vehicles only in the context of cars. Bicycles and scooters and all these other things are going to probably play a big role. One of the things that I learned in Israel is that the biggest breakthrough in electric vehicle technology is not about the vehicles themselves, but rather the streets on which they travel. David and I go to a garage 25 miles north of Tel Aviv to meet with Oren Ezer with Electron, a company that spent the last six years perfecting a way of powering cars as they move. So, Oren tell us more.
OREN EZER: Our mission is to create a sustainable transportation and we transfer the energy wirelessly from the road, wirelessly directly to energize the car or the vehicle or the bus. So, by doing that, we remove the size of the battery. So, we reduce the weight of the bus, reduce the cost and eliminate the range anxiety. You can drive 24/7.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, it's kind of like one of those Phillips tooth brushes, right?
OREN EZER: Actually, the concept is almost the same, but here we are transferring 20-kilowatt to one meter. So, one part is coil that we buried under the asphalt. We connect those coils to our system, to the electricity grid. Of course, the second part is a receivable that we installed at the bottom of the bus or the vehicle, and from there we can reach out to the battery or energize the engine. And the third one is the management unit outside the road onto the pavement. So, the system is passive, all the coils are passives, which means no energy under the road and only when a bus drives over it, only a coil under the bus will be active and transmit energy.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Do you want any vehicle to be able to eventually use it?
OREN EZER: I believe in evolution rather than revolution. So, we decided to start with a segment which is very polluting like a bus inside the city, and we can create a project, a very small one from the beginning. So, a bus drives a fixed route, so it's very easy to prepare all the infrastructure needed for this bus. And then after we deploy the system in a city, we will open it for delivery trucks, car sharing service, and I believe the vision is to have autonomous vehicle in a city like Uber without systems.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, let's go and have a look at it.
OREN EZER: The energy goes from that coil to that receiver.
JARED BLUMENFELD: You’ve got these black pads with about six inches between them. So, tell us what's in the black pad that's buried under the asphalt?
OREN EZER: Only coils. So, we have copper under the road so it will last 100 years. So, it's very important not to maintain the system and it must be cheap. This is the only solution when you can share this system. Because if I'm buying a battery, I'm the only one that can use this kind of battery, right? But if I'm putting the money and all the funding on the infrastructure, everyone can share it.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Have you looked at other applications? Like in the United States, we were looking at this type of technology for the port of Los Angeles where there's a lot of big movie equipment and the equipment only moves less than a mile back and forth.
OREN EZER: Perfect solution. Even airports. We are working on this technology for six years already. It's not easy because you need to create a system that will be cost effective, so it must be cheap, easy to maintain, easy to install. We have already a car that drives on this system, and I believe the next year you will hear about a project that we are going to do all over Europe. It's very difficult to create a system like this when the cost were one kilometer will be $300,000, which is something very good.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And so that's your goal, to bring the price down?
OREN EZER: Yeah, the goal is to create a system, where the cost will be very attractive because eventually this will drive the change. You want to see it?
JARED BLUMENFELD: Yeah, definitely.
OREN EZER: So now we are going to activate the road, and we will drive the receiver along the route, and we will transfer energy. So, you will see the red light which means that it's on, and we have an active system. So, the energy will go from the coil to the receiver to charge the battery inside the lab.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, what's your prediction twenty years from now, what will you see?
OREN EZER: Twenty years from now, we would see electric roads all over. We will see autonomous vehicles without a battery that can drive 24/7, and in that case, we will reduce the number of cars dramatically and of course the pollution. And you don't need charging stations if you have this kind of technology here, you don't need charging stations, so you'll give back all the real estate to the public and you will see electric roads.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It was like magic to see this electric vehicle whizzing around the track, powered by coils 20 inches under the ground. It reminded me of disco lights because the power cells only activate when the vehicle is directly above them and then they automatically turn off. Another feature of this technology is that going downhill, the vehicles can return power to the grid. California just set a goal of building 250,000 electric vehicle charging stations. But if Oren gets his way, that approach may soon be obsolete. David, when we were at the beach yesterday with all those folks, did you notice that people were just flicking their cigarette butts on the beach as if nothing wrong with that?
DAVID KAHN: It was pretty crazy. There were cigarette butts everywhere. Like you never see that.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Yeah. And like bottle caps, everything. Like there's a lot of litter.
DAVID KAHN: There's so much litter. Not just there. I mean we were driving around outside of that and people were just throwing
bags of trash.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Like it made no sense to me. We visit with all these clean tech companies that are on the cutting edge and then you go to the beach and it's like a trash party.
DAVID KAHN: It was pretty ridiculous.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And kind of confusing. So, we ask Jay Shofet with the Society to Protect Israel's Nature, what's up with that?
JAY SHOFET: On the one hand, I would say Israel has a very deep and a natural connection to the natural world. Part of the Zionist ethos coming here was to reclaim the land beyond the land. But Israel has a culture of littering as well.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Because at the same time when you look out on the rooftops, there's a lot of solar hot water heaters and seems like there are some practices that are pretty ingrained.
JAY SHOFET: Actually, Ben Gurion pushed that law, and since I think ’77, all dwellings that are in units of under eight, all buildings that have less than eight dwellings in them are required to have a solar hot water heaters.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It's also odd that every home has a solar hot water heater, and yet there are very few solar electric panels. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the only recycling that happens is in big cages on the sidewalks where you can throw your plastic bottles and cardboard. Everything else gets sent to landfill, including food waste. David and I meet up with Oshik and Orit Efrati who run HomeBioGas, which takes food waste and turns it into natural gas and fertilizer in your yard. So how big an issue is food waste in Israel?
OSHIK EFRATI: I think it's not just in Israel, it's billions of tons of food waste every year in the world. And it’s just going up and
today, 90 percent of the food waste is going to landfills, and it's a total waste of raw material. Lots of pollution created.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, was this designed around what the average family throws away?
OSHIK EFRATI: Yeah, exactly. This system is for an average family that produced one, two kg of a food waste a day and needs around two hours of cooking gas a day.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, what are we looking at right now?
OSHIK EFRATI: This is the home biogas system. You can see there is an inlet where we can throw the waste. I have here some banana peels.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It kind of looks like a very small version of one of those jumpy castles that kids have, you know, at birthday parties.
OSHIK EFRATI: Yeah. So, I'm throwing the banana peels in the inlet chamber, pushing it. Now the banana peels will go into anaerobic digester. In the anaerobic digester, there are bacteria that decompose organic matter and produce methane gas. The gas will go up through a filter and it will go to a gas holder. The gas holder can hold around 700 liters of gas and create pressure without electricity.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So literally the whole thing is maybe seven feet by four feet.
OSHIK EFRATI: So, this system can treat more than two tons of food waste a year and produce enough gas for a normal family for almost all their cooking, and it works purely on biology. And six tons of carbon emissions a year is equal to the pollution that your normal family car is producing. So, it’s a real impact. Let me show you something new. It’s another application which is a toilet.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Let's go and have a look at the toilet bio. Look, David, you're not meant to be sitting on the toilet. Come on,
get up. Come on. What are you doing?
OSHIK EFRATI: So today they are more than 2 billion people that don't have access to toilets and it's a major issue, both ecological, social. It's a big thing. You can see it looks like a normal toilet.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Okay.
OSHIK EFRATI: It has a manual pump on the side. It flushes human feces into the bio system.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Into the same system.
OSHIK EFRATI: Into the same system. It's good enough according to American standards. It's much more economical than connecting to sewage, especially in places where the sewage is far, and you produce from your shit, literally you produce value now. It's not just a recycling the waste. It's also reducing water. Normal toilets take about 40,000 liters of water a year.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Crazy. Yeah. No, no, that's right. I'm sure that's right.
OSHIK EFRATI: So, this one, reduces it by 90 percent.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Yeah, water is our most valuable resource and we're flushing it down the toilet.
OSHIK EFRATI: Exactly. This one only takes one liter of water per flush and it doesn't need clean water.
JARED BLUMENFELD: This is kind of a toilet revolution.
OSHIK EFRATI: Yes. Yes.
JARED BLUMENFELD: We need one because it's such a waste right now.
OSHIK EFRATI: Yeah. We started working with the UN for refugee camps and many interesting places around the world like that. For them, it's a life changing solution.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, what's your next goal?
OSHIK EFRATI: Today, there are 3 billion people around the world that still cook on open fire and charcoal, so we are developing now a bio system that will be more economical, and the big vision of the company is that even the poorest people on earth can use it. In this way, we will reduce, you know, deforestation, and also reduce death caused out of breathing the indoor air pollution, you know, out of the smoke that while they cook. We are going to be very active in East Africa and in India and also in some places in Mexico and Brazil.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Orit, how has the system changed your life?
ORIT EFRATI: I also cook on biogas for six years now, almost only on biogas for the daily life for my family, we have two children. I cook on it every day.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And is there any difference with cooking on biogas from normal gas?
ORIT EFRATI: For my feeling, it's more of a mild, like softer. Like it cooks good and it doesn't burn. It's a very good feeling.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Tell me about like the project that you've gone and helped see that is the most inspiring to you.
ORIT EFRATI: The most exciting thing for me was actually when we delivered to the Red Cross in Gaza. I think this is where it's needed.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Tell us about how you're using them in the refugee camps.
OSHIK EFRATI: In refugee camps, generally, they have problems with infrastructure, waste management and energy. Because we are in the Middle East, we want to do good. We have done already a few projects, the Biogas for Peace Project. We trained Israeli students together with Palestinian students, got some sponsoring from the EU and the USA, and those students worked together. And they were the technicians that actually went and installed to very poor communities in the Palestine community. And we made them work together, and we brought technology from Israel to Palestine to improve their life and to improve the environment. As I see it, all you need is mutual experience and when you work together, you sweat, you speak, so you see that we're all the same. We're all human beings and this is the best way to connect between people.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Amazing. I was glad to hear from Oshik and Orit that they're engaged in trying to find some way of bridging the massive divide between Israel and the Palestinians. I asked Jay Shofet to give David and I an environmentalist perspective on this seemingly never-ending conflict. These views are all Jay’s and not his organization’s.
JAY SHOFET: The environmental problems with the West Bank and the fact that the Israeli settler population, which is five percent of the population of the West Bank, uses 60 percent of the water and all kinds of issues like that. I'm talking about water from the aquifer. Israel uses a way disproportionate amount of water in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank than the power that is available to the Palestinians. Israel is an occupying force in the West Bank. It does what it wants. The restriction of movement of the Palestinians and restriction of their ability to plan and build houses, buildings, businesses, we control it all under a military government. And so, we certainly control who's pumping what from the aquifers. So that's how it happens.
JARED BLUMENFELD: From a personal perspective, how does it feel to bear witness to that?
JAY SHOFET: Israel is now 50 years into this occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, even though we removed the settlers from Gaza, we still control Gaza. And that is, you know, essentially rule over two and a half, 3 million people that are not citizens and don't have a path to citizenship. I've been fighting against that for the 35 years I've been in Israel. What Israel has done and hasn't done it in the last 10, 15, 20 years since Oslo, to advance it, is a huge criticism that I have of this country. And I fight and demonstrate and I’m politically active to change it. Apropos, Trumpian America and his supporters and fellow dictators in training around the world from Putin to Hungary to Latin American countries, this is something that's beginning to happen in Israel now. I mean, there's an erosion of the rule of law. Netanyahu has been Prime Minister for 10 years now and 13 altogether. He has set Israel on a destructive and immoral path.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Thanks to Rebecca Geller, Noah Avrahami, Motti Patriano, Noah Isralewitz, and Ron Brun for making David’s and my trip to Israel so productive. And to Jay Shofet, Odette Distell, Nir Ohana, Michal Roizman, Omer Davidi, Oren Ezer, and Oshik and Orit Efrati for spending so much time with us and for bringing Israeli’s environmental issues and innovations to life. In next week's episode, David and I travel to the Palestinian West Bank to work out if the politics of water has a chance of being resolved. Thank you so much for being part of the Podship Earth journey. From the entire Podship Earth crew, sound engineer Rob Spate, producer Nancy Ferranti, executive producer David Kahn, and me, Jared Blumenfeld, shalom.
DAVID KAHN: Shalom.