Marty Nathan: One climate marcher’s dream: an Environmental Marshall Plan

Last modified: Wednesday, October 01, 2014

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author wrote this essay on the bus returning to Northampton from the People’s Climate March in New York City Sept. 21:

The sun is setting, my feet hurt and my back is aching. I am 63 years old and I am tired. I have just walked at least four miles.

Questions weigh heavily on my mind:

Did they hear us? Could they hear the whistles, the church bells, the pounding of the drums of the Haitian reggae band, the chants — “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Hey hey! Ho ho! Fossil fuels have got to go!”

Did they hear the sudden profound silence maintained for two whole minutes by hundreds of thousands of strangers mourning the loss of species and cultures devastated by global warming? Or was it all drowned out by the clamor of Big Energy’s big money?

Could they see all 400,000 of us dancing, marching and rolling down Central Park West then across to the Avenue of the Americas, over twice the number expected on the streets of Manhattan? Or were they blinded by the gleam of the lobbyists’ green?

Could they feel our passion and desperation as we made our case about the fate of our beautiful world jeopardized by the massively profitable fossil fuel industry providing the source for the greenhouse gases that have given us (despite New England’s relatively cool June-August) the hottest summer in history and a killing drought in the West?

We wrote the names of our children and grandchildren on our posters to tell them that this is not an abstract argument. They must act for those we love, not for the sake of ideology. Or does political and financial expediency numb them?

Who are they? They are Barack Obama, Ban Ki-Moon, and the leaders of 125 other countries gathered in New York City for the United Nations Climate Summit. The summit is a prelude to a climate agreement that is to be signed in Paris in late 2015.

What are we asking?

For them to act on the danger of climate change with the same urgency and immediacy that they have manifest in response to past security threats. An international agreement must be reached. It must be binding on all nations. The big polluters must stop polluting through conservation and alternative energy. The threatened and already-suffering nations — Seychelles, Marshall Islands, Maldives — must be compensated. Developing nations must receive support for feeding and housing their people without fossil fuels.

And the source of that support must come from those nations, including especially our own, that have benefited for over a century from burning cheap fossil fuels and putting the vast majority of those greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

We must put a real price on carbon emissions — even the World Bank admits that a tax is necessary — in order to re-order our economy and our lives.

I am fully aware that it is an unequal struggle being waged. Business as usual is the mode in Washington, where much of Congress is under the sway of the oil and gas industry and their allies. It will not pass a climate treaty even if Barack Obama were to negotiate one.

However, there is word that the administration may agree to a deal that can be implemented by the EPA and executive order, bypassing Congress. Such an agreement would not have the full weight of a treaty, but could mean the beginning of the necessary policy changes.

“Necessary policy changes” reads pretty dry.

We need full public investment in solar, wind and hydro-power. We need usable mass transit throughout the country, walkable, bikeable, livable cities and towns, with all the jobs that those changes entail. We need insulated houses, returnable bottles, composting and recycling, public gardens and local food systems.

It would be an Environmental Marshall Plan. We dreamed it as we marched the streets of Manhattan. We did our best to communicate that dream.

As the People’s Climate March so vividly illustrated, the struggle pits lots of people against lots of money. We have done and will do our best, but can only see success if millions more commit to living and demanding the possible and the necessary, outweighing the influence of the corporate armies.

It can be done. Time is very short. Is it now too late to prevent the rolling disaster coming our way? On behalf of all the world’s children and the biosphere itself, I hope not.

Marty Nathan is a founding member of Climate Action NOW! and physician at Baystate Brightwood Clinic in Springfield. She lives in Northampton.


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