Columnist Marty Nathan: A watershed moment is here

  • In this Tuesday Aug, 16, 2005 file photo an iceberg melts in Kulusuk, Greenland near the arctic circle. AP photo

Published: 4/3/2019 8:00:03 PM

It is time to transform. We are at a watershed moment in the climate change movement, when following the flow of the status quo will lead to disaster. We must choose a new route that will not only limit bio-planetary losses but promises cleaner air and water and more social cohesion and security.

Now I am a woman of a certain age. I feel uncomfortable with such mega proclamations. Doing it renders me vulnerable to derision and assault by deniers and skeptics and all those who in their comfort just don’t want to be bothered.

Nothing prepared me or my fellow grassroots environmental justice organizers to publicly throw down like we feel we must in 2019. We just wanted to stop the pollution killing asthmatic kids and the elderly in our cities while the smoke shot carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to cause climate change. We opposed the spills and explosions from oil and gas wells and pipes fouling our waters and destroying cities and countryside. We were appalled at coal miners’ deaths and mountaintop removal.

We have been fairly incremental in our assessment and game plan through most of our history. Yet we knew all the while that the issue was systemic — continued and expanding extraction and burning of coal, oil and gas is driven at its core not by consumers whose needs and comforts can be satisfied by conservation and other less dangerous fuel sources, but by short-term profit for the Exxons, Kochs, BP’s and their related industrial cronies. The mounting externalized climate costs are being paid by the suffering and deaths of the vulnerable in Mozambique, San Juan, New Orleans, Omaha and, ironically, the town of Paradise, California.

A series of reports last fall told us that we have but 12 years to cut emissions by 45 percent or face catastrophic climate change. The rising temperatures will likely trigger feedback loops nearly impossible to influence. We in New England we will be particularly susceptible to sea level rise, flooding and devastation of our iconic fisheries.

This month we received some new news. Even as climate change-loaded Cyclone Idai was destroying 90 percent of the city of Beira, Mozambique, and killing perhaps a thousand people in the region, the United Nations Environmental Assembly gathering to the north in Nairobi released a study finding that the world is locked in catastrophic rise in Arctic temperatures. From gases already in the atmosphere, winter temperatures in the Arctic will increase 3 to 5 degrees C above preindustrial levels by 2050. This guarantees us destructive and dangerous sea level rise and storm surges that will only worsen if we do nothing.

All of this is saying to us who care about our children, grandchildren, the hundreds of millions of inhabitants of low-lying coastal cities (including Boston) around the world and the survival of the complex web of life that maintains our civilization — the time for effective action is running out. Last year, emissions in this country increased by 3 percent instead of falling as the science demands. What is needed is something far bigger than any measures that have been proposed so far.

The Green New Deal, submitted by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, is the kind of start we need. Its goals include expanding renewable energy to source 100 percent of electrical power; creating an energy-efficient smart grid; making every residential and commercial building energy efficient; eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from industry, agriculture and transportation and funding massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases. Because of the size and scope of the project, it has potential to eliminate poverty through job and income creation, economic development in poor communities and support of universal health care.

Markey and Congressman Jim McGovern held a packed town hall in Northampton late last month to support the Green New Deal. The following week, Sen. Mitch McConnell tried to kill the proposal in the Senate by bringing it to an immediate vote without testimony or discussion. Republicans tried to deride it as too expensive and unnecessary.

In fact, what is way too expensive in terms of dollars, lives and distress is “business as usual,” the subsidy of fossil fuels that even as we speak are costing Nebraskans $1.3 billion in immediate flood damages, not counting the multiples of that amount in destroyed farmlands, wells, infrastructure and hope.

There is no way the Green New Deal and its companion efforts will survive against the immense power of the industry without a massive movement to support it. The good thing is that polls say that 80 percent of those presented with its tenets like it. We need to get all those people to work.

Please join your neighbors on April 22, at 6 p.m., at Northampton High School’s auditorium for a Green New Earth Day Forum with McGovern and state Sen. Jo Comerford. Northampton High School students will discuss with these politicians how to ensure a Green New Deal. There will be an Earth Dance at First Churches at 2 p.m., and then at 5 we will March for Climate Action from the church to the High School. Join us.

Marty Nathan, MD, is a physician, mother and grandmother and serves on the steering committee of Climate Action NOW and the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. She may be reached at

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