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Holiday gifts: reduce carbon footprint and build peace?

Dear friends and faithful readers,

Here are two ideas for easy holiday gifts that make the world a better place: a local option, and one in the Middle East. (We have no financial stake in either.)

The local option is the exciting project, Evergreen at the Brickworks. It is becoming everything we hoped for it, and a model for green cities: http://ebw.evergreen.ca. Gifts of Nature (trees) can be planted through the website, and the physical onsite store sells dozens of delicious, local, sustainable treats that support farmers and artisans around the GTA. Each has a small carbon footprint. The sales help to support Evergreen’s programs, which include powerful experiences that introduce underprivileged GTA youth to nature. And our clients have raved about the treats.

In the hope of building peace in the Middle East and a smaller carbon footprint, we also purchased offsets through an innovative Israeli program. This Jewish-Arab team helps Bedouin switch from dirty, unreliable diesel to solar power: www.goodenergy.org.il. It thus does something to help on two challenging issues: the place of Arabs in Israel and Climate Change. Read what the founders say:

“POWER OF THE SUN begins by observing that many Bedouin do not have acceptable “deeds” to their lands and as such can’t access home equity loans or government services like water, roads or electricity. They make do as best they can and for electricity they run diesel generators. It is around these generators that our two issues converge:

Diesel generators are one of the dirtiest forms of electricity known to man. They are noisy, polluting, and prone to spillage, carcinogenic and prodigious emitters of greenhouse gases. They are so expensive that they are only run four hours a day — most Bedouin have no power for the other 20 hours. Our project allows them to disconnect this toxic technology and switch to clean, quiet, 24 hour solar power. In so doing we provide more computer time for children’s homework, more light for mother’s housework, more power for home businesses and refrigeration so medicines remain effective (and hospital visits are reduced).

POWER OF THE SUN works by calculating the CO2 that will not be emitted because a given diesel generator is displaced by solar panels. This quantity is verified and expressed as certified carbon offsets. These are sold to anyone who wants to ‘neutralize’ their greenhouse gases. The proceeds from the sale subsidize the purchase of the solar panels so the Bedouin pay about the same for solar as they formerly paid for diesel.

While this project’s main purpose is CO2 reduction, it also contains significant peace building possibilities. Through its intercultural origins the project is a microcosm of the Middle East: Over the years it took to launch, forward-looking Jews worked tirelessly with and learned to depend on a small group of Bedouin village elders. All of them had to overcome major trust barriers to make it happen. To illustrate the trust deficit, initially no ordinary Bedouin would sign on to the obvious benefits of changing their 4-hour-a-day diesel for 24-hour solar (at no extra cost). Not until four months after a trusted elder had a system installed and working on his house did the first ordinary Bedouins stepped forward.

But there is more here than a few people learning to trust each other across a reinforced cultural divide. There is the issue of how Israel is seen by its neighbours, particularly the “Arab street”. To the average Arab in the countries around Israel there are few political issues more important than how Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are being treated. These are essentially the same people as the Israeli Bedouin.

By improving the living conditions of the Negev Bedouin, Israel seizes some of the high moral ground in this debate. It shows that it cares about its minorities and in particular that it is willing to treat its internal Palestinians with dignity and respect. As it now stands Israel is vulnerable to the charge that it tolerates third world living conditions for its Arab citizens. POWER OF THE SUN not only improves the living conditions of these marginalized people, but, if implemented broadly, would allow Jewish culture to compare itself favourably with less tolerant Middle Eastern cultures. In the court of world public opinion it only benefits Israel to show that Israeli Arabs are able to enjoy modern civilized lives.

This project allows GEI and Bedouin leaders to reduce CO2 while inviting these former desert dwellers into the educational, health, business and social life of contemporary Israel.”

And here are MORE details:

“the project is PLANNED to produce 11,000 tons CO2eq from the first 90 families we recruit. Out of this number we have installed 60, and have sold carbon credits from 30 systems (20 with sick or disabled members to the Negev Institute for economic development – NISPED, and 10 to Kata-Manfrotto bag company). We are trying to sell carbon for the next 30 installations.

Each family produces 122 tons CO2 over the project’s lifetime as assessed and approved by both the international DNV carbon verifier, and by BDO-Israel – as a third party. When this sells at 17$ per ton it generates 2074 USD or 7880 NIS

Each subsidy is worth 5000 NIS. The rest of the money is used for project expenses including locating the family, explaining, negotiating, diesel-use figuring, contracting, installation monitoring, and long term monitoring for 25 years – as is required by the CDM guidelines for these types of projects.

The panels are installed all right. We are there to install them personally with Interdan – or visit each and every system within 2 months of installation. We visit each proposed site beforehand to see the diesel generator, electric system, and lack of PV. This is why the project expenses are rather high – jacking up the price of carbon. 2 visits per household at least to insure the process, and 3 more visits to monitor over the years.

Money loans are paid back – just like all the microloans system work – way better than the normal banking loan return rate. Planetfinance gives the loans, and collects them in order to re-distribute them to other members of the community. This cycle puts a social pressure to return the loans according to plan – because your neighbor/cousin/brother is probably waiting for the loan for their PV. The loans CAN be paid because the PV saves diesel costs – and they understand it very well.

The Bedouins know they get help from Jews and non-Jews in Israel and abroad – both for their microloans, and for their carbon subsidy. We have been working VERY hard to make them feel proud about selling carbon subsidies – because its an environmental benefit that they create. Its different than a loan. Still – they know that it’s a good good opportunity created by eco and peace supporters, mainly abroad.

Nevertheless – they know, see and feel that Jewish NGO’s like GEI, PlanetFinance Israel, and NISPED are helping out against all odds, and unlike the State. They see that and are thankful about it.

Which brings us to the most difficult and subjective answer about the peace-bringing value of this project. I had a staff meeting this morning about this and we all agreed to declare that this project is a heart-opening, hope bringing project – done by people, for the benefit of people. The Issue of Jewish-Muslim peace is too large and vulnerable, and beyond our reach. It’s a definite step in the right direction. Its definitely adding to peace between humans and the planet. Less crude oil is less friction and funding of terror-supporting regimes, and happier Bedouin citizens are a lot less prone to negative actions – but we cannot fully pledge to more than that.

As true as I can be on it

Love and Happy Chanukka

Eyal”

I found this inspiring, and hope you do too. Go ahead, buy a tree or an offset… please.

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