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Columnist Marty Nathan: How to get out of bed

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Thursday, July 05, 2018

I don’t know if you have noticed, but my monthly columns — this one included — are pretty formulaic: reflect news of the worsening climate crisis and its impact on natural processes and humans around the world; link to new scientific discoveries and theories that refine our understanding of the climate change process; cite actions by those in power that influence greenhouse gas emissions now and in the decades to come; and, finally, recommend action — personal or collective (emphasis on the latter) — to cut emissions.

I try to follow the money to explain the venality of the opposition on the one hand and explore connections to other real or potential allies around us seeking justice and security for their communities.

I could title the process “How to get out of bed.” Every morning I listen to NPR’s “Morning Edition” and read the Gazette, and I am blasted by the usually alarming news: dying coral reefs, killer heat waves smothering the Eastern U.S. (all that was needed there was just to open the bedroom window) or northward movements of lobsters from the Gulf of Maine. The media’s previous unwillingness to link the catastrophes to their climate source is changing as the evidence becomes less deniable.

I usually scan the climate science news, reading the feeds from Pulitzer Prize-winning Inside Climate News and Yale Climate Connections or waking early on Saturday morning to catch “Living on Earth.”

It is almost all bad news in the geophysical and political spheres. This year, climate change-induced drought has already led to severe June wildfires in Colorado and California. Antarctica’s ice loss has tripled in the last five years, adding another half foot of sea-level rise to climate scientists’ previous predictions. A new review of global data on hurricanes shows that, since 1980, the yearly number of strong Category 3 storms has doubled, and the number with Category 5 winds has tripled. The season started earlier this year with the first named storm in May.

As for policy, the farm bill in the U.S. House of Representatives (handcrafted by agribusiness) proposes not only massive cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but it and the Senate version promise cutting agricultural conservation programs that encourage farming practices that aid soil health, facilitate local marketing and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, a new pipeline was approved to traverse Minnesota native wild rice wetlands to bring more filthy, carbon-laden, tar sands oil to the United States for refining and export. That bookended the report of the explosion of another gas pipeline last week in West Virginia. And even when not exploding, gas infrastructure was recently estimated to leak 2.3 percent of its content of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times as potent over 20 years as carbon dioxide. Total leakage from oil and gas production was much higher than the Environmental Protection Agency had calculated.

And in possibly the worst political news, Anthony Kennedy will retire. He was the swing Supreme Court vote in Massachusetts v. EPA, which established greenhouse gases as pollutants to be regulated by the Clean Air Act. His replacement will almost certainly be handpicked by the Koch brothers’ crowd to protect the fossil fuel industry. None of this could be better designed to make those of conscience and love for our children and a livable planet want to stay in bed, pull the covers over our heads and mourn.

But union organizer Joe Hill said it best in 1915 as he faced the gallows in Utah for a murder he didn’t commit. “Don’t waste any time mourning. Organize!”

Timely advice. And pertinent. Billions of people have a stake in whether the climate gallows is built and we all have a say in preventing its construction. We are in a far better position to change history than Joe was when he sent that famous telegram to Big Bill Haywood.

We have a whole bunch of allies who will join us if we treat them respectfully. A glaring example is the humanitarian movement in support of the host of Central American immigrants turned back and imprisoned at our borders. One of the core issues forcing the horrific crisis, complexly intertwined with drug violence and globalization, is the severe drought and subsequent crop failure in the Dry Corridor of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua over the last 10 years. Climate scientists have called this area “Ground Zero for climate change in the Americas.”

The mind-blowing hypocrisy of our government punishing those fleeing a crisis that stems at least in part from our carbon-burning profligacy cannot be avoided by any honest analysis.

Our movement needs to be multifaceted. In its simplest form we must understand and thwart the climate crisis even as we support and stand side-by-side with its victims. They come from San Juan, Guatemala City and Houston today, from who-knows-where tomorrow.

It is both more important and more affirmative than ever to get out of bed. The streets are filling with protest over Trump’s immigration zero tolerance. We all need to be there. The most interesting people will be at the next Climate Action Now or Mothers Out Front meeting, so mark your calendar. Eat a little less lunch today; instead call your Massachusetts state representative (constituents of the late Rep. Kocot, make direct calls to Reps. Kulik, Scibek or Goldstein-Rose!) demanding that the House pass bills that:

Make a detailed plan to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 (H21499);

Ease the Renewable Portfolio Standards by 3 percent per year, allowing a climb to 50 percent renewably sourced electricity by 2030 (H2700);

Provide equitable access to solar power to low-income communities and codify environmental justice into law (H3396 and H2913);

Stop subsidizing gas pipelines and instead reform the Department of Public Utilities to include consideration of the environment and climate change before permitting new carbon infrastructure (H3400); and

Institute a just carbon pricing mechanism that deters pollution while supporting low income communities (H1726).

Or maybe you can make one call for each bill every day until you finish. Then start over. The legislative session ends on July 31.

To use a dangerous mix of metaphors, let’s get out of bed and dismantle the gallows.

Dr. Marty Nathan lives in Northampton and is a physician at Baystate Brightwood Health Center in Springfield. She is on the steering committee of Climate Action NOW and drinks coffee with 2degreesatgreenneighbors.earth. She may be reached at martygjf@comcast.net.