Israel may be a tiny country but its humanitarian outreach knows no bounds
By David E. Kaplan
Yes, we are all familiar with the line at the end of emails “Trees have feelings too, please don’t print this!”
It’s a reminder that “Paper doesn’t grow on trees” and we can all do our bit to help save our planet.
Some Israelis have opted to do more – a lot more and going to the heart of one the problem areas – the Amazon rainforest.
While the name ‘Amazon’ conjures up the immediate image as one the world’s most valuable companies, the threat to its namesake –hardly raises an eyebrow and yet, the ‘rainforest’ in South America is a crucial part of our life-support system, creating up to 20% of our oxygen.
Here’s why we need the world’s largest rainforest:
It’s also one of our best tools for keeping heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
All this resonated with the Israeli startup VeganNation that recently announced that it leased some 15,000 acres (60.7 square kilometers or 23.4 square miles) in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest for a ten-year period to protect the land from deforestation and wildlife poaching.
VeganNation is based in Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv, with an office in London. Thomas says the startup employs approximately 20 people and works with 30 “ambassadors” across the world in places like Argentina, Brazil, India, and beyond, to spread its message.
“The Amazon rainforest might be located in Brazil, but its destruction affects us all, as climate change is a direct result of human activity and it’s in our hands to fight it,” said Isaac Thomas, the CEO and co-founder of VeganNation.
The startup also announced that it was partnering with four local soccer teams from cities near the entrance to the rainforest to raise environmental awareness. Thomas told the Israeli innovation news network, NoCamels, that “VeganNation is already a main sponsor of the teams – three men’s teams and one women’s team – and revealed that an additional four top-tier national teams are set to sign on to the initiative.”
Kicking For Eco-Goals
VeganNation’s initiative comes amid the devastating fires that have continued to burn in the rainforest since early August, releasing dangerous air pollutants into the atmosphere, severely damaging flora and fauna ecosystems, and endangering indigenous communities that live under the forest canopy. The fires are so intense that they can be observed from space.
“When we measure the destruction of the rainforest, we talk about football (soccer) fields as a unit, so we thought what if we use that same measure to save parts of it,” explained Thomas. To illustrate the point, the land leased by VeganNation covers over 5,500 soccer fields if we’re using the measure of large regulation-sized soccer fields of approximately 2.69 acres per field.
“VeganNation understands that promoting veganism is an important step towards fighting the global warming crisis and raising awareness through local environmental projects among the Brazilian community is key. Partnering with four Brazilian soccer teams further enables us toward our mission of working together to create a better world,” he says.
Thomas reveals that the initiative came about through his close connection with a family in the city of Manaus in Brazil that owns land in the rainforest and used to lease it to a US gas company . When the lease was up, Thomas proposed to the family to lease the land to VeganNation explaining that “it’s a win-win situation for everyone as we’re not polluting the environment.”
The Israeli startup raised capital through private investors and added celebrity vegan activists Jerome Flynn, of Game of Thrones, and actor and dancer Jenna Dewan, to its advisory board.
Thomas says VeganNation’s work in the sports world is of key importance and the startup is set to bring in “one of the top three football players in the world as an ambassador for sustainability.”
Environmental groups and researchers say the fires were started by humans at an accelerated rate probably by cattle ranchers and loggers looking to clear the land. The area of devastation in this year’s forest fires marks a 47% increase compared to 2018 according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.
While deforestation had declined by 75% from 2005 to 2014 and Brazil was moving impressively toward a zero-deforestation policy, it started reverting back massively from 2015 onwards and now in 2019, it seems to have reached literally – a “devastating” peak.
Late last month, under heavy international pressure, and amid several public spats with world leaders rejecting aid offers, Bolsonaro finally issued an order to send over 40,000 troops to help fight the fires. Included in the global support are an eleven-member team of firefighters and rescuers from Israel to assist local authorities with search-and-rescue operations.
President Jair Bolsonaro who has good relations with the Israeli Prime Minister, accepted the aid from the Jewish state, which is understood to include 100 tons of fire-fighting material.
So, while Israeli firefighters will do what they can in the immediate term, the Israeli startup VeganNation is looking long-term – focusing on preserving Brazil’s home to 2.5 million animal species. Rainforest deforestation – which often takes place to raise and feed cattle for the meat industry – is one of the most important issues to tackle in the fight against climate change.
What also needs to ‘change’ are peoples understanding of the threat and this is where Israel’s VeganNation is looking to make a difference.
Its also about changing lifestyles.
Breath Of Fresh Air
Thomas exalts Tel Aviv as “number one in the world for vegan food,” having earned its title as the “vegan capital of the world.” Tel Aviv recently held the world’s largest vegan festival at the Sarona complex in June, attracting over 50,000 attendees. The city is home to some 400 vegan and vegan-friendly kitchens.
The Mediterranean diet, Thomas explains, “is naturally based on plants; there are salad bars everywhere in Israel. The basic Med diet is very complimentary to a plant-based lifestyle.”
Thomas met his co-founder Yossi Rayby while in Yeshiva (Jewish seminary) in Jerusalem some years ago. Rayby brought in Nati Giat and Shneor Shapira who all have a religious background, and some have maintained an Orthodox lifestyle.
“Judaism has a strong message that drives me toward making the world a better place, where we live in peace and harmony,” says Thomas.
Yes, its one thing putting out fires, but the real battle is to see that deliberate fires are not started in the first place.
Acknowledging that the Amazon rainforest creates up to 20% of the world’s oxygen – the Israeli startup VeganNation and the work it is doing is like ‘a breath of fresh air’.