TAU climate action: From Campus to Glasgow

TAU researchers report on global summit.

As more than 130 heads of state and thousands of delegates converged in Glasgow for the two week-long United Nations global climate summit known as COP26 and Tel Aviv University researchers were there as well, taking part in the international conversation.

This year’s summit aimed to set new targets for cutting emissions from burning coal, oil and gas that are heating our planet, as scientists urge nations to make an immediate switch away from fossil fuels to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. TAU has placed climate change research and action among its top priorities and has launched the Center for Climate Change Action to drive innovative solutions to the climate crisis.

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Hitting Rock Bottom?

First meta-analysis of its kind shows warming of Mediterranean Sea causes marine species to migrate.

As has been heavily discussed at the recent the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, our entire planet has been warming in recent decades. This process has been particularly marked in the Mediterranean Sea, where the average water temperature rises by one degree every thirty years, and the rate is only accelerating. One of the urgent questions that must be asked is how, if at all, the various species living in the Mediterranean will adapt to this sudden warming. In recent years, evidence has accumulated that some species have deepened their habitats in order to adapt to global warming, while other studies have found that species are limited in their ability to deepen into cooler water.

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TAU Initiates Model for Carbon Neutrality

Climate change efforts among University’s top priorities.

Against the backdrop of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, and following a comprehensive series of tests, TAU prepares to formulate a strategic plan for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated by its activities and promoting more efficient use of resources and renewable energy. The university places great importance on reducing its environmental footprint by using sustainable energy, recycling water and materials, reducing use of paper, introducing green purchasing procedures and other activities designed to reduce the campus’ carbon footprint, and eventually attain carbon neutrality.

Inspecting Footprints

To this end, a team of academic and administrative experts appointed by TAU’s Green Campus Committee headed by TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat, launched a comprehensive inspection to assess the overall carbon footprint (in terms of CO2 equivalent) and water footprint of all TAU activities both on and off campus. The analysis, which began approximately a year ago, included assessment of the following:
  • energy consumption from various sources on campus
  • water consumption
  • transportation to and on campus
  • construction inputs
  • pruning and gardening
  • waste production and food consumption
  • serving utensils and packaging at cafes and kiosks on campus, and more
The team will soon complete their mission and submit their findings to the Green Campus Committee and TAU’s senior management. Based on their report, TAU will formulate a strategic plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on campus and reaching carbon neutrality.

“It Can Be Done, And We Will Do It”

TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat: “As a leading academic research and teaching institution in the fields of ecology and environmental science, committed to addressing the climate crisis, TAU established an ‘initiative for carbon neutrality’ about a year ago – the first of its kind at an Israeli university. Currently we are completing the initial inspection, and its findings will serve as a foundation for a strategic plan that will significantly reduce the campus’ carbon footprint, and eventually bring us as close as possible to carbon neutrality. As a leading public university, it is our duty to lead the efforts for addressing the climate crisis on and beyond our campus. We hope that other institutions will join us. Time is running out and we must act immediately.” “It is our duty to lead the efforts for addressing the climate crisis on and beyond our campus,” says TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat. Prof. Marcelo Sternberg of the School of Plant Sciences and Food Security at The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, co-leader of TAU’s carbon neutrality initiative, added: “I am proud to be part of the team leading an historical move toward reducing TAU’s carbon footprint and turning it into a sustainable institution. The current climate crisis leaves no room for inaction. As a teaching and research institution, we can show the government and society the way to reducing the environmental footprint and ensuring a better world for future generations. It can be done, and we will do it. Lior Hazan, Chair of TAU’s Student Union, added: “The climate crisis is spreading and intensifying, causing great concern. It is no longer something occurring far away, it is happening right here and now. We, the young people, have the power to change and work for a better future, in face of the gravest crisis of the 21st century, and academia is an excellent place to begin. Students must become leading ambassadors of this cause, since they are the future of society, industry, and leadership, and to this end, we must change and introduce change for the benefit of our planet. The Student Union takes an active part in TAU’s plan to attain carbon neutrality and continues to work for the rapid reduction of environmental damage.” Ofer Lugassi, Vice President for Construction & Maintenance at TAU emphasized that the mapping of the university’s carbon and water footprints was carried out by a specialized external company, which made a great effort to include all activities on campus. Featured image: Students enjoying a moment on the increasingly greener TAU campus (Photo: Rafael Ben-Menashe)

Academic symposium on the challenges and opportunities to help forge a more sustainable planet

NASA astronaut Dr. Jessica Meir
Photo courtesy NASA


“We have to work together to truly preserve our planet for the future,”
says Jewish-American trailblazer.

WATCH: Jessica Meir’s full speech at the 2021 TAU Board of Governors Meeting:

NASA astronaut Dr. Jessica Meir on Thursday addressed Tel Aviv University’s 2021 Board of Governors Meeting, discussing her missions to space, life under extreme environmental conditions, and the relationship between her research and combating climate change.

Meir, who is also a marine biologist and physiologist, delivered her remarks by live broadcast at the Yehiel Ben-Zvi Academic Symposium, entitled “Between Climate Change, Space Research and Life under Extreme Conditions,” held on the TAU campus. This year’s symposium topic highlights TAU’s prioritization of climate change research. As part of this campus-wide effort, TAU recently launched the Center for Climate Change Action.

Meir, the fourth Jewish woman and 15th Jewish person ever to travel to space, was born to a Swedish mother and an Israeli father, who grew up in Tel Aviv. During her virtual presentation to the symposium, Meir spoke of her connection to Israel and displayed several images of the country captured from outer space. “Israel is a very important part of me,” she said, also mentioning the personal items she brought to the International Space Station including an Israeli flag, Hanukkah socks bearing Stars of David and menorahs, along with a commemorative coin honoring late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. Meir has celebrated her Jewish identity and ties to Israel on her widely followed social media accounts.

“We take a lot of photographs from the space station which can be used by scientists on the ground to see things like our changing planet,” said Meir from her current station in Houston, Texas. “By looking at things like the retreat of glaciers from the space station, at the same vantage point from which we’ve looked at for decades, scientists can make measurements and understand what’s going on with the ever-pressing battle with climate change.”

Answering a question from the crowd, Meir elaborated on the impact of space research on climate change.

“I’ve been an avid environmentalist since well before I got to space, and I assumed it would resonate even more loudly [once there]—and it really did,” said Meir. “You cannot avoid seeing how fragile it is, how special it is, and how we need to protect it. You don’t see borders from space, at least the ones we’ve imposed upon ourselves. We have to do what we can and work together to truly preserve our planet for the future.”


“Addressing the diverse challenges of climate change will require more than national policy.

It will require unprecedented collaboration across sectors and regions. It will also require joint, advanced research and studies. Space technologies can help in tackling major climate problems.”


In 2013, NASA selected Meir to join its highly selective astronaut program. During her first space mission in 2019, Meir and fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch made history when they completed the first all-woman spacewalk. Meir has to date participated in three space missions and spent a total of 205 days in space. Among her many honors, Time Magazine named Meir as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

“I want to dedicate this talk and our time today to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and, of course, Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space who was part of this mission,” she said of the tragic 2003 accident in which all seven crew members perished.

In addition to Meir, Israel’s Minister of Environmental Protection and TAU alumna Tamar Zandberg spoke at the symposium.

“Addressing the diverse challenges of climate change will require more than national policy,” she said. “It will require unprecedented collaboration across sectors and regions. It will also require joint, advanced research and studies. Space technologies can help in tackling major climate problems.”

TAU Rector Prof. Mark Shtaif chaired the symposium that was moderated by Prof. Colin Price, Head of the Environmental Studies Department, Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. The symposium is held in memory of Yehiel Ben-Zvi, a former TAU Vice President.

“There are many challenges, but also many opportunities to help us forge a more sustainable planet and have a cleaner, more just world for our children and grandchildren,” said Price. He explained that Tel Aviv University’s strides in combining space research and climate research include the multidisciplinary advances at TAU’s Center for Nano-Satellites and New Space, the Minerva Dead Sea Research Center, and the Center for Climate Change Action. As part of TAU’s national and global contributions, he added that the University will work with Eytan Stibbe, who is slated to become the second Israeli to travel to space next year.

TAU professors Dr. Ram Fishman, School of Social and Policy Studies, and Dr. Vered Blass, Porter School of the Environment and Earth Studies, concluded the symposium. They respectively spoke about tracking the effects of climate change on low income populations, and assessing the impact of new technologies on sustainability. They also explored the impact of COVID-19 on the environment.

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The Unique Ability of Seahorses

A short-snouted seahorse clinging to coral in the Red Sea
Courtesy of Gil Koplovitz

Among the Ocean’s Slowest Swimmers, Seahorses Snag Prey at Exceptional Speed. 

Seahorses are considered particularly poor swimmers. However, despite being relatively slow, they are adept at preying on small, quick-moving animals. 

In a new study conducted at Tel Aviv University, researchers have succeeded in characterizing the incredible preying capability of seahorses, discovering that they can move their head up at the incredible speed of 0.002 seconds. The rapid head movement is accompanied by a powerful flow of water that snags their prey right into the seahorse’s mouth.

Prof. Roi Holzman

 

“… . The big question applies to the evolution of the spring mechanism, how it was formed and when it developed…”

The study was led by Prof. Roi Holzman and the doctoral student Corrine Jacobs of the School of Zoology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University, and was conducted at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

The researchers explain that seahorses are fish that possess unique properties such as male ‘pregnancy’, square tail vertebrae, and of course the unique eating system. For most of the day, seahorses are anchored with their tail to seaweeds or corals with their head tilted downward, close to their body. However, when they detect prey passing over them, they lift their head at incredible speed and catch it. According to Prof. Holzman, while preying, seahorses turn their body into a kind of spring: using their back muscles, they stretch an elastic tendon, and use their neck bones as a ‘trigger’, just like a crossbow. The result is faster than even the fastest muscle contraction found anywhere in the animal world.

However, until now it was not clear how the spring-loaded mechanism enabled seahorses to actually eat. Just as anyone who tries to remove a fly from a cup of tea knows, water is a viscous medium and the fish needs to open its mouth to create a flow that draws the prey in. But how do seahorses coordinate snagging in prey with their head movement?

In their recent study, researchers from Tel Aviv University succeeded in characterizing and quantifying seahorse movement by photographing their attack at a speed of 4,000 images per second, and using a laser system for imaging water flows. This measurement showed that the ‘crossbow’ system serves two purposes: facilitating head movement and generating high velocity suction currents – 10 times faster than those of similar-sized fish. These advantages enable seahorses to catch particularly elusive prey.

Seahorse
Courtesy of Ori Galili


 

The new measurements also help shed light on the ecology of various species of seahorses, distinguished from each other by the length of their noses. “Our study shows that the speed of head movement and suction currents are determined by the length of a seahorse’s nose”, Prof. Holzman added. “From the evolutionary aspect, seahorses must choose between a short nose for strong suction and moderate head raising, or a long nose for rapid head raising and weaker suction currents. This choice, of course, corresponds to the available diet: long-nosed species catch smaller, quicker animals whereas short-nosed species catch heavier, more ponderous ones.”

According to Prof. Holzman, seahorses are not the only instance of the impressive spring mechanism. Actually, seahorses are counted among the family of fish bearing the appropriate scientific name Misfit Fish, including species such as alligator pipefish, shrimpfish, and cornetfish or flutemouths.

“These fish are called that because of their odd shape which enables stretching their body into a spring. The big question applies to the evolution of the spring mechanism, how it was formed and when it developed. I hope our recent study will lead to further studies designed to help solve the riddle of spring fish”.

Link to the article

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Fighting Pollution With Seaweed

Coastal seaweed farms can help fight environmental damage.

Nitrogen is a common fertilizer for agriculture, but it comes with an environmental and financial price tag. Once nitrogen reaches the ocean, it disperses randomly, damaging various ecosystems. As a result, the state local authorities spend a great deal of money on reducing nitrogen concentrations in water, including in the Mediterranean Sea.

A new study by Tel Aviv University and University of California, Berkeley suggests that establishing seaweed farms in areas where freshwater rivers or streams meet the oceans, or so-called “river estuaries”, significantly reduces nitrogen concentrations and prevents pollution in marine environments.

As part of the study, the researchers built a large seaweed farm model for growing the ulva sp. green macroalgae in the Alexander River estuary, hundreds of meters from the open sea. The Alexander River was chosen because the river discharges polluting nitrogen from nearby upstream fields and towns into the Mediterranean Sea. Data for the model were collected over two years from controlled cultivation studies.

The study was headed by doctoral student Meiron Zollmann, under the joint supervision of Prof. Alexander Golberg of the Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences and Prof. Alexander Liberzon of the School of Mechanical Engineering at The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, Tel Aviv University, and was conducted in collaboration with Prof. Boris Rubinsky of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley. It was published in the prestigious journal Communications Biology.

“My laboratory researches basic processes and develops technologies for aquaculture,” explains Prof. Golberg. “We are developing technologies for growing seaweed in the ocean in order to offset carbon and extract various substances, such as proteins and starches, to offer a marine alternative to terrestrial agricultural production. In this study, we showed that if seaweed is grown according to the model we developed, in rivers’ estuaries, they can absorb the nitrogen to conform to environmental standards and prevent its dispersal in water and thus neutralize environmental pollution. This way, we actually produce a kind of ‘natural decontamination facility’ with significant ecological and economic value, as seaweed can be sold as biomass for human use.”

Profitable and Environmentally Friendly

“Our model allows marine farmers, as well as government and environmental bodies, to know in advance what the impact will be and what the products of a large seaweed farm will be – before setting up the actual farm,” adds Meiron Zollmann. “Thanks to mathematics, we know how to make the adjustments also concerning large agricultural farms and maximize environmental benefits, including producing the agriculturally desired protein quantities.”

“The whole world is moving towards green energy, and seaweed can be a significant source,” adds Prof. Liberzon, “and yet today, there is no single farm with the proven technological and scientific capability. The barriers are also scientific: We do not really know what the impact of a huge farm will be on the marine environment. It is like transitioning from a vegetable garden outside the house to endless fields of industrial farming. Our model provides some of the answers, hoping to convince decision-makers that such farms will be profitable and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, one can imagine even more far-reaching scenarios. For example, green energy: If we knew how to utilize the growth rates for energy in better percentages, it would be possible to embark on a one-year cruise with a kilogram of seaweed, with no additional fuel beyond the production of biomass in a marine environment.”

“The interesting connection we offer here is growing seaweed at the expense of nitrogen treatment,” concludes Prof. Golberg. “In fact, we have developed a planning tool for setting up seaweed farms in estuaries to address the environmental issue while producing economic benefit. We offer the design of seaweed farms in river estuaries containing large quantities of agriculturally related nitrogen residues to rehabilitate the estuary and prevent nitrogen from reaching the ocean while growing the seaweed itself for food. In this way, aquaculture complements terrestrial agriculture.”

Featured image: The cultivation reactor that was used as the base of the model

Diminishing at the Edges

TAU study reveals: overfishing severely harms marine protected areas around the world

A new study by Tel Aviv University reveals significant ecological damage to many marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world. A strong “edge effect” was observed, resulting in a 60% reduction in the fish population living on their outer edges (1-1.5 km), compared to the core areas. The “edge effect” significantly diminishes the effective size of those areas, and largely stems from human pressures, first and foremost overfishing at their borders.

Marine protected areas were designed to preserve marine ecosystems, and help to conserve and restore fish populations and marine invertebrates whose numbers are increasingly dwindling due to overfishing. The effectiveness of the protected areas has been proven in thousands of studies conducted worldwide. At the same time, most studies sample only their “inside” and “outside”, and there still is a knowledge gap about what happens in the space between their core and areas around them that are open for fishing.

The study was conducted by Sarah Ohayon, a doctoral student at the laboratory of Prof. Yoni Belmaker, School of Zoology, The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University. The study was recently published in the Nature Ecology & Evolution Journal.

 

The “Edge Effect”

When a protected area functions properly, the expectation is that the recovery of the marine populations within it will result in a spillover, a process where fish and marine invertebrates migrate outside its borders. In this way, the protected area can contribute not only to the conservation of marine nature, but also to the renewal of fish populations surrounding it that have dwindled due to overfishing.

To identify the dominant spatial pattern of marine populations from within the protected areas to the surrounding areas (that are open for fishing), the researchers analyzed marine populations from dozens of protected areas located in different parts of the oceans. 

“When I saw the results, I immediately understood that we are looking at a pattern of edge effect”, says Ohayon. “The edge effect is a well-studied phenomenon in terrestrial protected areas, but surprisingly it has not yet been studied empirically in MPAs. “This phenomenon occurs when there are human disturbances and pressures around the protected area, such as hunting/fishing, noise or light pollution that reduce the size of natural populations within the protected areas, close to their borders”.

 

No-Take Marine Protected Areas Are Too Small

The researchers found that 40% of the no-take MPAs (areas where fishing activity is completed prohibited) around the world are less than 1 km2, which means that entire area is likely to experience an edge effect. In total, 64% of all no-take MPAs in the world are smaller than 10 km2 and may hold only about half (45-56%) of the expected population size in their area compared to a situation without an edge effect. These findings indicate that the global effectiveness of existing no-take areas is far less than previously thought.

It should be emphasized that the edge effect pattern does not eliminate the possibility of fish spillover, and it is quite plausible that fishers still enjoy large fish coming from within the protected areas. This is evidenced by the concentration of fishing activity at their borders. At the same time, the edge effect makes it clear to us that marine populations near the borders of the protected areas are declining at a faster rate than the recovery of the populations surrounding them.

 

Buffer, Enlarge and Enforce

The study findings also show that in protected areas with buffer zones around them, no edge effect patterns were recorded, but rather a pattern consistent with fish spillover outside their borders. Additionally, a smaller edge effect was observed in well-enforced protected areas than in those where illegal fishing was reported.

“These findings are encouraging, as they signify that by putting buffer zones in place, managing fishing activity around marine protected areas and improving enforcement, we can increase the effectiveness of the existing protected areas and most probably also increase the benefits they can provide through fish spillover”, adds Ohayon.

“When planning new marine protected areas, apart from the implementation of regulated buffer zones, we recommend that the no-take MPAs targeted for protection be at least 10 km2 and that their shape be as round as possible. These measures will reduce the edge effect. Our research findings provide practical guidelines for improving the planning and management of marine protected areas, so that we can do a better job of protecting our oceans.” 

Featured image: Photo credit: Dr. Shevy Rothman

He’s Bringing Plastic Back

TAU alumnus Tal Cohen and his company “Plastic Back” converts plastic waste back to its original form.

We use plastic in almost every aspect of our lives. It is cheap in production, durable and can be reused multiple times. The problem is, though, that 350M tons of plastic waste is produced annually, out of which only 8% is recycled. To counter the environmental hazard, laws and regulations, are implemented towards reducing landfill and increasing recycling. The EU has pledged to reduce landfilling to 10% of its current capacity by 2030. We spoke with Tal Cohen, a TAU alumnus with an MBA from the Coller School of Management and founder of a startup company called “Plastic Back”, who may have found the perfect solution.

The Big Savior Becomes the Big Offender

When plastic was originally introduced, 70 years ago, it was commonly believed that it would contribute to save the environment. “When plastic was first introduced, it was actually thought to be the big savior of the future environment, replacing the use of ivory, tortoise shell and corals. While petroleum came to the relief of the whale, plastic has given the elephant, the tortoise and the coral a respite in their native haunts,” says Tal. With time, however, it went from being the big savior to instead becoming recognized as a major environmental hazard,” Tal muses. Over the past 70 years since its invention, 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste has been accumulated worldwide.

And how is plastic produced? “After developing over millions of years underground, crude oil is drilled out and extracted. It is then sent to be refined by the petrochemical industry, after which it can be used for various purposes, such as fuel for cars and… plastic production,” explains Tal. Plastic is, in other words, produced from oil, a non-renewable source of energy.  

Tal is well acquainted with plastic. After earning his B.Sc. in Marine Sciences and Environment at the Ruppin Academic Center, Tal Cohen worked as a marine biologist. Three kilometers offshore, surrounded by fish and – you guessed it – plastic, he would research, work in the lab and dive. After a few years, he went on to study for an MBA at Tel Aviv University: “I wanted to learn how to develop technologies and businesses that are focused on ecological solutions. While studying ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation Technology Management’ at TAU, I was also working at a venture capital fund, handling portfolios of ten renewable energy companies. It taught me a lot about the needs of startups in the renewables field.”

 

Plastic Back’s technology offers waste handlers to help treat their waste streams and create profit, as an alternative to landfill

Bring it Back: A Chemical Solution

Tal Cohen and his Israeli based startup company “Plastic Back” offers an interesting solution: “By way of ‘reverse engineering’, we are able to convert plastic waste back to its original, valuable form of oils, waxes and other valuable chemicals. With unique chemicals, ratios and timing, our technology breaks down the carbon-to-carbon bonds of the plastic polymer to liquid fractions that can be (re)used by the petrochemical industry.” Brilliant, isn’t it?

“While transforming plastic back to oil through burning is already done, that requires very high temperatures, between 600-1000 degrees Celsius, which constitutes an environmental and financial burden. The real innovation here, is that we manage to convert the plastic to oil by chemical means only, and at room temperature. So there’s an environmental advantage which is expressed financially, and it is also advantageous energy-wise. The goal is to offer an alternative to the traditional drilling for additional non-renewable oil.”

The idea, Tal got while he was working with one of the aforementioned portfolio companies: “Once I felt like I had learnt enough about the startup world and what setting up a startup entailed, I went on a mission to find technologies. At The Hebrew University, they had a technology in place from 2016-17. It spoke to me, as it was related to plastic, which I was intimately familiar with from my time working underwater as a marine biologist, and I also knew that the renewables field is evolving.”

“The technology was in place, and so I decided to find out if there was any business interest for it. In 2019, I attended Shell’s competition in Holland, which is the largest energy competition in the EU, where more than 250 companies competed during 10 days of business and technological validation. We ended up in 2nd place. We knew then that there was demand for the crude oil which we were able to convert the plastic back to. Shell was willing to invest and to pay some money up front, so we had some starting capital. I went ahead and founded the company. We have since found an angel investor who invested a certain amount, have received recognition from the European Commission and are taking part in the EU accelerator program.”

Making Waste Vanish and Renewing Non-renewables

Who are the winners with this initiative? “Plastic Back enables a shift from a linear to a circular economy, by closing the loop between the petrochemical industry (including companies such as Shell), which is currently dependent of crude oil drilling and operating under increasingly heavy regulation and pressure, and the waste handlers who receive millions of tons of plastic waste from waste manufacturers, such as agriculture, factories and hospitals and medical devices, most of which goes to landfill. The waste handlers are seeking alternatives, especially as there’s been a fivefold increase in landfill price since 2019. The waste manufacturers, on their side, would gain the ability to treat their waste on site/close by, save expenses on removal and treatment fee and even create profits from their plastic waste.”

Tal is not planning to rest in the coming years, “The research and development phase of our project is completed for the most part. Last year, we successfully proved that there is demand for what we are offering. We have received a grant from the Ministry of Energy to set up our first pilot facility together with an industrial partner in the South of Israel in 2022. A year and a half after that, we would like to set up our first facilities. In five years from now, we should have two or three active facilities, hopefully one of them here in Israel and the rest in Europe.”

 

Tal Cohen presenting his startup at TAU’s Coller $100,000 Startup Competition in July 2021

Featured image: By way of ‘reverse engineering’, Tal’s team is able to convert plastic waste back to its original form.

We Are Part of the Problem and the Solution

Tel Aviv University launches first-of-its-kind multidisciplinary research hub on climate change.

Tel Aviv University last week launched the multidisciplinary Center for Climate Change Action, with the aim of finding solutions to the global crisis. The new Center, the first of its kind in Israel, will operate under the auspices of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and will investigate the subject from all angles, drawing on the knowledge and resources of all faculties on campus. The Center will collaborate with partners from industry, academia and government, in Israel and abroad, in an effort to develop technological solutions, raise public awareness, promote environmental legislation and policy, and more.

The initiative was launched by researchers from various disciplines, among them Prof. Colin Price and Dr. Orli Ronen from the University’s Department of Environmental Studies, Prof. Marcelo Sternberg from the School of Plant Sciences and Food Security, Prof. Dan Rabinowitz from the Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences and others.

Scores of students, faculty, researchers, dignitaries and guests attended the festive event marking the Center’s launch, which took place in the award-winning Porter School building overlooking the Tel Aviv skyline.

Israel’s outgoing President, Reuven Rivlin, lauded the University’s new initiative as a significant demonstration of institutional action on the global climate crisis. “The need to address the climate crisis isn’t a luxury, it’s an inevitability,” he said in recorded remarks, noting the dire need for immediate change for benefit in this lifetime and for generations to come.

Mobilizing for Change

Ahead of the Center’s launch, TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat stated: “Tel Aviv University is a committed partner in dealing with the dangers of global warming and climate change. Confronting this challenge requires examination from many perspectives: technological, social, moral, economic, sociological, legal, and more.”

Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality also endorses the project. Tel Aviv, listed among the world’s greenest cities, launched its climate change preparedness plan about a year ago as it realized long ago that being able to live here in the future requires action today. Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv, Reuven Lediansky, hailed the launch of the Center and spoke about the University’s role in writing the municipal plan for dealing with the crisis. “The [municipal] program positioned us among big cities in the world, such as Berlin, Amsterdam, New York and Paris, that have all been working resolutely for some time in order to influence and prepare to handle the climate crisis. I am proud of the long and thorough professional process led by the Environmental Protection Authority, with the professional assistance of Dr. Orli Ronen to formulate such a comprehensive and professional plan. Parts of the program have already been incorporated in the municipality’s work plan for 2021.”

Prof. Noga Kronfeld-Schor, Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and researcher from the School of Zoology at The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, called for action: “The third decade of this century is characterized by the understanding that in order for us and our children to lead healthy and equal lives, we need to take nature into consideration, and we need to protect it. Global warming is threatening the life on our planet. The consequences are complex and we are only starting to grasp them. Extensive research is required. We need to develop the ability to predict the broad effects of rising temperatures, ecologically, economically and socially, in order to develop ways and means to deal with them if possible.”

 

Prof. Noga Kronfeld-Shor used the platform to call for action (photo: Yael Tzur)

Too Little Water for Too Many People

Prof. Hadas Mamane, Head of the Environmental Engineering Program at The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, discussed the predicted imbalance between the amount of rain fall and clean drinking water due to the climate crisis and offered creative ways to address the problem. She emphasized the expected increase in the world’s population, which corresponded well with insights from Prof. Tal Alon from The Department of Public Policy at the Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences, who pointed to the close link between demographic stability and the successful handling of the climate crisis where greenhouse gas emissions are concerned.

Dr. Dov Khenin, Head of the Parliamentary Clinic of The Buchmann Faculty of Law, discussed the  ‘Change of Direction’ program, aimed at decision-makers and intended to promote rapid change of direction in the State of Israel’s approach to the climate crisis.

Prof. Shoshi Shiloh from The School of Psychological Sciences, discussed how to leverage the worrying environmental situation so that it stimulates us to act. Is instilling fear the way to go when confronting a problem of this magnitude, or are there more efficient approaches?

Prof. Avi Kribus from the School of Mechanical Engineering presented renewable energy solutions that are particularly suitable for Israel, allowing us to make use of the resources that we have plenty of, such as solar energy.

The Green Revolution in the Naftali Building

Prof. Itai Sened, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, presented a practical plan for transforming the Naftali Building to become the greenest building on campus.

Lior Hazan, Chair of the Student Union of Tel Aviv University also spoke at the event, calling on her fellow students to take an active part in mobilizing as ambassadors for environmental change.

Head of the Climate Center and the University’s Department of Environmental Studies Prof. Price concluded the meeting alluding to the Center’s unique position for driving change: “We have expertise and brainpower from nine faculties, and in each of those faculties there are people dealing with the climate issue. We also have non-university organizations, partners who wish to work with us. We need to start by influencing the behavior of the general public. We can demonstrate to the government that it is financially worthwhile to switch to renewable energy. However, we need to do both to succeed.”

 

Head of the Climate Center Prof. Colin Price gave the closing remarks at the event (photo: Noam Wind)

Our Planet in the Hands of Academia

TAU to launch a multidisciplinary research center on climate change with the aim of finding practical solutions to the global crisis.

Tel Aviv University will soon launch the multidisciplinary Center for Climate Change Action, with the aim of finding practical solutions to the global crisis. The new center, the first of its kind in Israel, will operate in the framework of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and will cover the subject from all angles, utilizing the knowledge, resources and capabilities of all faculties on campus (engineering, medicine, the exact sciences, life sciences and earth sciences, law, the social sciences, humanities, and the arts). The center will collaborate with representatives from industry, academia and government, in Israel and around the world, in an effort to develop technological solutions, raise public awareness, promote legislation and regulations, and more. Furthermore, the center will support the development of new and existing projects, award scholarships to students, develop a fellowship program, fund mentorships and advanced training programs, and launch an accelerator in collaboration with industry representatives. In addition, the center will publish annual position papers and organize international conferences.

“The time has come to find solutions”

Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University: “Tel Aviv University is a partner in the need for all humankind to deal with the dangers of global warming and climate change. Confronting this challenge requires a view from many perspectives: technological, social, moral, economic, sociological, legal and more. The huge variety of disciplines at Tel Aviv University allows for such a broad view. This new multidisciplinary center that will deal with climate change joins the several multidisciplinary centers we have established in the last two years at the university, including the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, the Center for Combating Pandemics, and the Center for Quantum Science and Technology.” The center will be headed by Prof. Colin Price, Head of the university’s Department of Environmental Studies, who explains that “Basic research is important, but since we already know that there is a problem with global warming, and we know what causes the problem, the time has come to find solutions, from every perspective and every discipline. There are technological solutions that will come from engineering and the exact sciences, but there are also solutions that will come from regulation, public policy, and even psychology. After all, you don’t need modern technology to mobilize public support for action, and without this support, technological solutions will not be implemented. The Center for Climate Change Action will be a cross-campus collaboration, with partners in high-tech, industry, government and civil society.” According to Prof. Price, the main goal of the research center, and of humanity in general, is to first and foremost address the source of the problem, namely the greenhouse gases that humans emit into the atmosphere, and to meet the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as defined by the UN. “We have a total of 30 years to find solutions and reach a global balance, and there are still a lot of problems to solve,” adds Prof. Price. ”A good example of this is solar energy. It’s cheaper to generate electricity from solar energy today  than from a power plant that uses fuel, coal or even natural gas, but the solar energy must be transported to people’s homes, the electricity generated must be stored at night, that is, in batteries, and you need infrastructure to carry the energy to population centers. We need to invest in finding practical solutions today, in order to avoid the gloomy forecasts of tomorrow.” Prof. Colin Price: “We have a total of 30 years to find solutions and reach a global balance, and there are still a lot of problems to solve.”


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