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Abramowitz expressed astonishment that Israel, with its reliable year-around access to sunlight in the Negev and elsewhere, had only committed itself to obtaining 10% of its energy from renewable sources, like solar and wind power, by 2020. He called that target “really, incredibly, embarrassingly modest” and voiced dismay that the government has not been eager to allow more solar projects in the country.
Vinegar said he was not opposed to developing Israel’s solar potential – and would welcome a tax on fossil fuels to fund research and development of renewable energy sources. “We believe renewables and fossil fuels can coexist and help each other,” he said.
Abramowtiz wants Israel to show the way for other nations to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. He specifically called on the Jewish state to use natural gas to produce electricity instead of the much more polluting coal and diesel on which it now significantly relies. He also wants Israel to start using electric cars and to invest in better electric storage capability to allow solar plants to store electricity for use overnight.
The timeliness of the two advocates’ debate was underlined by an event taking place outside the conference at Walter E. Washington Convention Center, even as they spoke. At a protest outside the White House, just a few blocks away, hundreds of college students from around the country called on President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in the Gulf Coast. Like Vinegar’s shale oil, tar sands oil is difficult to extract and produces more greenhouse gases than regular oil.
The protest ended with 398 students arrested in an act of civil disobedience.
The event was the brainchild of Michael Greenberg, a Jewish sophomore at Columbia University, who is heavily involved in the Columbia Hillel and the Columbia chapter of J Street, a progressive Israel advocacy group.
“The Keystone decision symbolizes the choice between finding progressively worse forms of energy, or making the transition to safer and more just ways of powering our society,” Greenberg said. “President Obama has been waffling on his commitment to future generations and putting our bodies on the line could be our most powerful tool for holding him accountable.”