Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Back to School

I haven't been posting much lately, as I have become a bit busier this past month. After 10 years, I am going back to school. I signed up for the International Environmental Studies masters degree program at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. This is the first year of the new English language program, but it is based on the Hebrew program that is internationally recognized, and many courses are taught by the same Professors.  I have 15 classmates and they range in experience, from an Economics masters, a school teacher, a variety of social science majors, and several environmental studies undegrads.  Some are just out of undergrad, but I discovered that my German classmate shares my birthday - yes, my exact birthday!

The last week of October was orientation week. We began on Monday and Tuesday with meetings on campus at Tel Aviv University.   I had to temper my expectations for organization as the University runs like the rest of Israel - they don't seem to get too concerned about the details. ID cards weren't ready, course offerings were not finalized (and therefore neither were syllabi), online access was not yet available, and yet we were being asked to meet deadlines utilizing these tools. To our program coordinator's credit, it appeared that our class was considerably more organized than other programs. But she was running into the same institutional barriers that we were, and working feverishly to address them.   As an American who immigrated to Israel about 10 years ago, she has been wonderful in helping us navigate this new experience.

Wednesday and Thursday of orientation consisted of a "Tiyul," or field trip. We were taken north to Israel's national water carrier, Mekorot, for a tour and lectures about the country's water sources. Israel has only one fresh water lake as I have mentioned before - the Sea of Galilee, known locally as the Kinneret. It also has two natural aquefers in the north. Already over 30% of their water comes from desalination, and this is expected to become 50-70% in the next 5-10 years. They re-use grey water (waste from homes) at a rate of 78%, far beyond any other country in the world. They treat it, then send it out for agricultural use.

We stayed overnight at a simple kibbutz hotel, common in the north, then visited one of the few significant year-round water sources (I would call it a stream, but they call it a river). It is in the Banias Valley (We visited this site with my dad last May, when it was rushing full of muddy water from spring rain. This time it was clear.)

Our last stop was the Hulu Valley, where feeding practices have made it a major stop on the bird migration from Europe to Africa and back. We saw pelicans and cranes by the thousands. They gave us a brief demonstration of the bird research they do here, and I released one of the tiny tagged birds.

In case you are interested in learning with me, our pre-program reading included:

1. Tal, Alon, Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel, 2002. Chapters 1, 2, 12.

2. Meadows, Donnella H. "Envisioning a Sustainable World," 1996. http://www.sustainer.org/?page_id=107

3.  Hardin, Garret "The Tragedy of the Commons",
Science, December 1968, Volume 162, pp. 1243-1248. 

4. Lovins, Amory; Lovins, L. Hunter; Hawken, Paul "A Road Map for Natural Capitalism," 1999.

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