Tel Aviv traffic Photo: Ilan Malester

How Do We Stop Deadly Pollution? The Ministry's Director General Has His Say
Tel Aviv traffic
Photo: Ilan Malester
Our vehicles emit toxins that are responsible for many deaths each year. The solution is simple: Invest in clean transportation powered by natural gas or electricity.

An opinion piece by Ministry of Environmental Protection Director General Yisrael Dancziger, published in YNET, March 8, 2016.

Air Pollution Kills

​1,250 Israelis lost their lives prematurely last year, according to the OECD. These people did not die from terrorist or criminal attacks – but their deaths are noted within Israeli society. A similar number of people were killed in previous years as well. Every victim has a name, a life story, and families who have lost someone precious to them.

Despite all the efforts that have been invested until now, the killers continue to roam free. They kill in disguise, they kill quietly. We must stop them. Those that are guilty also remove our garbage, lead us on the road, transport goods. Sometimes they are even status symbol of which we are proud. They have many faces, but their murder is quiet. Out of sight, but directly affects our hearts and lungs.

True. It is a little unconventional to call our transportation vehicles murderers. But it’s the truth. Internal combustion engines, which are powered by gasoline and diesel, in buses, our private cars, taxis, and trucks. We breathe the poison they emit directly into our lungs all the way to the grave; all the way to some 1,250 new graves every year.

Vehicular air pollution is responsible for a higher mortality rate than all of Israel’s wars combined. And we, a nation that knows how to defend itself and to attack our enemies without fear – what have we done to fight the enemy that takes down such a vast number of people?

How Can We Fight Air Pollution?

​The offensive and defensive moves we should be taking against the enemy are simple. Yet we procrastinate. We must continue to invest in clean, gas-fueled transportation infrastructure. The same gas that we came upon, as if from heaven, which is just waiting for us to use it. We must not give in, and we will not give in, to the bureaucracy and the endless wars between those with self-interest in the issue.

We must continue to change the tax system, customs, excise, recognized expenses, insurance rates, such that it will be crystal clear to the truck driver, fleet owner, taxi driver, leasing companies, and to any citizen – that it will be worthwhile to buy an electric or gas-powered vehicle.

We must continue changing the regulations for vehicle maintenance, payroll benefits, public transport fares, so that any reasonable person would prefer to go to work via public transportation. We must continue to invest in railways and light rails, to prohibit polluting transportation from entering urban centers, to prohibit construction near streets and roads with heavy traffic. And we must continue, and even to increase, supervision of licensing institutions that test emissions and of passenger cars and trucks on the roads.

We [at the Ministry of Environmental Protection] have done this, and we will do much more, because we have no choice. If we do not continue to work, we will have no one to blame but ourselves. The next step in the fight to save lives, should be a national program to reduce pollution in transportation that will lead the clean transportation revolution. The plan will include all the stakeholders – the Tax Authority, the Ministries of Transportation, Energy, Health, Finance and Environmental Protection, which will spearhead the initiative that will lead to a solution.

Clean Transportation is a National Goal

​The task is not an easy one. It involves mountains of red tape, processes, certification, standardization and legalization – all of which make any change difficult, even before we hit the decentralization of powers and responsibilities among the various entities, which will create a struggle about honor, prestige, budget, and evasion of responsibility. All of these together and each one separately, have a way of putting a freeze on good will and good intent that does actually exist in all government agencies.

Defining the issue of saving lives from vehicular pollution is a national goal, for which we have allocated all necessary resources: budgets, decisive legislation, inter-ministerial cooperation, and collaboration with local governments.

True, the road is a long one. But we must not fear it. The challenges are great, but we can overcome them. This revolution can not be stopped. A move to clean transportation is not a luxury, it is an existential need.

Every polluting vehicle that is taken off the road saves lives. Every polluting vehicle pollutant that continues to drive in our midst, takes – yes, takes – a life. Maybe even your life.