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Marty Nathan: We must all answer climate change call

Globe in ice with oil derek

Globe in ice with oil derek

Last weekend I twice found myself discussing with friends the best response to the threat of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report declares that global warming and chaotic weather are occurring much more rapidly than predicted. As its effects become more apparent, I find more people want to talk about how they can act to prevent catastrophe.

Consider the following from “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.”

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased .... Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”

It is predicted that unless we fully deploy all available methods to limit greenhouse gas emissions, global warming will increase to more than 2 degrees Celsius, at which point global feedback mechanisms — fires, melting of methane-containing tundra, decreased reflection from sea ice — will automatically kick in to raise temperatures still further without our control.

We face a scenario of massive drought and flood, crop and animal loss, species extinction, killer heat waves and hunger in decades, not centuries, to come. People who read and listen are responding. Even the media has been provoked, with the premiering of the new Showtime documentary “Years of Living Dangerously.”

What is to be done about what many people believe is the issue of our times? Both discussions I had with friends devolved to: What is more important, lifestyle changes or political action? Should we ride the bus, walk and ride bikes, insulate our houses and mount solar panels, eat local vegan and line-dry our clothes or dive into the frustrating and often corrupt mess that is politics and demand that our government face this challenge?

Both. To use a bad analogy for a doctor who cares about teeth, we must learn to walk and chew gum.

It seems clear we need to radically reform our lifestyles to limit our personal carbon footprints, because we North Americans have contributed and continue to spew way more than our share of that CO2/methane blanket that is warming us. We must carefully rethink what we do now and demonstrate to each other and the world that life is not just possible but often more meaningful and enjoyable if we stop relying on combustion engines and carbon-based heat and electricity for our every move. More consumption is not more happiness.

But that just isn’t enough. Things systemic must change. The best climate scientists say that for the earth to have any chance of not passing that 2-degree hike, 80 percent of the fossil fuels in the ground now must stay in the ground. Personal efforts, though important, won’t do it in time.

Many others much smarter and more knowledgeable than I believe it is time that all of us who care about the future enter the fray. And at this very moment a crucial battle is playing out over the granting of U.S. permission for the Keystone XL pipeline. We need to join it.

A significant portion of that 80 percent of fossil fuels that must stay in the ground is the two trillion barrels of tar sands in Alberta, Canada. It is filthier than regular oil and its extraction has devastated huge swaths of Albertan ranch and forestland, polluting soil and water with the heat and toxic chemicals needed to take this tar from the earth and prepare it for travel.

It is an expensive process and the oil quality is poor, meaning it fetches lower prices on the oil market. So in order to be able to more than break even and boost their production, oil companies must find a cheap way to get it to the specialized Gulf Coast refineries. Rail, though used, is expensive and dangerous, not nearly filling the bill. At present trains only deliver 5 percent of what a pipeline can move.

Enter the Keystone XL. It and its proposed sister pipelines are critical to make tar sands fuel profitable enough to increase production by more than a factor of four, as tar sands producers plan. If built, the Keystone XL will bring 830,000 barrels per day to refineries on the Gulf Coast for export to China. The pipeline is the tap for a flood of greenhouse gases, each barrel 22 percent more polluting than regular West Texas crude. That extra 22 percent alone is the equivalent of 5.7 million more cars on the road.

Do we need it for energy security? No. It is going to China. Will there be jobs? Yes. About two thousand over two years but only 50 permanent jobs. Could the money building it be better spent? U.S. tar sands infrastructure will need a $50 billion to $100 billion investment. That amount put into clean energy alternatives — solar and wind power development, insulation, public transit, waste management — would bring many more jobs and would reroute us from the climate disaster we face.

I have got to resist this, for my children’s sake. I am supporting folks gathering from around the country on Saturday in Washington, D.C., for the Stand in Solidarity protest (all of them taking the bus or public transit, eating as little meat as possible.)

I will participate in all local protests and will write again to President Obama and my senators demanding that the Keystone XL decision, which is now put off till after the mid-term elections, prevent this travesty. It is time to walk and chew gum.

Marty Nathan, M.D., is lives in Northampton and works at Baystate Brightwood Health Center. She can be reached at martygjf@comcast.net.

Legacy Comments21

"... eating as little meat as possible." What a hoot.

To set aside the side issues, the issue raised is the importance of avoiding increased carbon emissions by blocking approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. I agree that, from all accounts of weather impacts, melting of polar ice, and so forth, restraining climate change is something we should be very concerned about. I cannot see, however, that the tiny incremental impact that the proposed pipeline would have should be the focus of folks in the Valley. It seems to me that we have work to do closer to home. Unlike other regions within Massachusetts we have a uniquely "Sprawl-dependent" development mode out here. While in Boston our DOT planners are talking "Transit Oriented Development" and planning extensions to streetcar lines and commuter rail, out here we have State officials cutting ribbons on the "Chicopee Crossing" project that promotes more strip development. It seems to me that before we point fingers at other's consumption levels or aspirations we should work on creating a development mode and a consumption ethic that includes things like ending needless school busing, whether for racial balance or regionalized schools, building our neighborhoods around real transit services (That means not useless PVTA buses that are not dependable and do not go anywhere fast enough to matter, ending purchase of foods from ridiculously distant parts, and even living within walking distance of where we work. If we did these things, which we could do, as a region, we could not only gain the moral high ground from which to suggest that people should not build pipelines, we would improve the local environment, save money, and even be more economically competitive. Determining how to do this is where we should be investing our energy, rather than engaging in useless arguments, etc..

Why do you say she's respected? Not by me. It seems like she is a far left "drone" to quote Mark Levin. She, Paki Weiland and that bird who lives in the big house on Langworthy Road with the illegal Democracy Now transmitter - or is that down now. Talking of democracy now - a new poll shows the vast majority of Americans want the keystone pipeline built - 78%. But the left is anti -democratic - we already know that. Thats the nature of a socialist drone.

"That bird"? Is one of the voices in your head British? Or are you actually hallucinating a radio-transmitting bird?

That's all you can say about one of the most important impacts to our lives, our children and future children? To denigrate social activists instead of commenting on the story line? The new report released by the IPCC is something that should be read by all. Climate change will decimate much of our lives as we know it now, not only in poorer countries, but also in the US. Our government (and those governments in other countries) need to reign in new laws and newer technology to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases. Farming and ranching is already at risk because of drought and contamination from the oil/gas industries and it will only get worse. It's also time to stop haggling about the left and right and start working together.

The thing is I disagree about the conclusions you've come to about the affects of global warming. For you and your great leader its a settled matter and there is no possible outcome except the one you predict. I disagree entirely with that premise. We don't know the sensitivity of the atmosphere to increased CO2 and any scientist who says they do is not following the scientific method. We part ways at that point. These predictions are meaningless. So really, this alarmism and the sky is falling hysteria is political theater at this point. All I know is tomorrow 10 billion people need to wake up and eat food and get to work and they all want the same lifestyle you and I have. Global depression is a far greater threat at this point than global warming. Thats where I come at it from. All of the models used by the IPCC have failed to acurately predict the actual global warming - I think that says they need to go back to the drawing board. All of the people who wrote the report are UN bureaucrats, not scientists. This is a political document more than anything else. Also if Dr. Nathan is so concerned why doesn't she move to Springfield and live in a 600 sq foot apt and walk to work. Then I might admire her for her priniciples. Instead she cuts out one trip to Cambodia or whereever it was and now take public transportation to work for who knows how long and we are suppoed to think she is some saint. Give me a break. I am sure her lifetime CO2 footprint is about 1000 times mine.

Not sure where you are getting you're information from (and not sure who you think my "leader" is) - do your research instead of reading Fox News. There are over 830 scientists from around the world involved in the writing of the 5th assessment report on climate change by the IPCC. Climate deniers are the real reason that no real progress is being made.

What I said was the final report was written by the UN bureaucrats. It was the climate negotiatiors who will be writing up the regulations for the treaty that will replace Kyoto that compiled and edited the final report. Here is cooberation. "His comments follow a decision two weeks earlier by Sussex University’s Professor Richard Tol to remove his name from the summary of an earlier volume of the full IPCC report, on the grounds it had been ‘sexed up’ by the same government officials and had become overly ‘alarmist’." Anyway in all seriousness - can you tell us what you personally are doing to reduce your carbon footprint? Is it anything more than getting a hybrid? Do tell, since you are coinvinced this is going to lead to the end of the world. I would like to know how you have or are willing to make changes to your life to reduce your carbon footprint. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2614097/Top-climate-experts-sensational-claim-government-meddling-crucial-UN-report.html

Well said, novio.

Just doing a quick google search on the article's author reveals she lives in a 3108 square foot 5 bedroom house with 3 full baths worth about $600,000. Not very green!!! Green is living in a 700 Sq foot house boys and girls. Found an article on gazettenet about the Dr. flying off to Ethiopia 2 years ago - not very green progressive boys and girls. Green is not ever going near an airport. Ah - the hypocracy of the limoseine liberal. Gotta love it. And I'm the problem? Please - get real. Green would be moving to Springfield and walking to work.

Ad hominem attacks are the final recourse of people who have absolutely nothing intelligent to offer to a conversation. Gary, make some friends. Adopt a pet. Take up a hobby. Please stop cyber-stalking the poor doctor. Creepy, creepy, creepy.

Better yet, have the guts to send a letter to the Gazette with your real name so that folks can do a similar background check on you. If it's half-way sane, I'm sure they'll print it.

That's too bad, because many of us who has similar perspectives on this policy issue feel our perspective is completely negated by such odious statements such as yours. You live in the best democracy on earth, yet you choose to disengage and shoot spit balls like a seventh-grader.

You sound like Pol Pot.

If you knew anything about Pol Pot you would be ashamed of your comment. One can disagree about energy policy and climate change without making irresponsible statements. Take some responsibility for yourself and think before you speak.

I said 'sounds like' not acts like. Btw, both are/were Maoists. Both want to return to some simple agrarian society and act as some form of elite vanguard.

And so ... what about Pol Pot's call to kill foreigners (Chinese?Vietnamese), educated people, people who "look" educated, artistic people, doctors, etc.? You have no idea how offensive you are. You really want to demonize a respected local physician in this manner? You couldn't come up with a more nuanced critique based on a real disagreement over a policy issue? Calumny is the refuge of the weak minded.

Would you have preferred 'Shining Path'?

Keep spreading' the hate there ... good solution. Never respond to the substance of any constructive argument ... Great way to live.

Que, sera, sera. There is no possible way to discuss any issue with a zealot so I don't bother anymore. In the mean time, I'll take my shots, let the vanguard know that they haven't got us all yet.


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