Columnist Marty Nathan: The many plays in climate fight game

  • In this March 2016 photo, bikers enjoy a spring day on a Northampton mulituse trail. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 3/7/2019 8:47:26 AM

Sometimes when writing this climate change column I feel like a sportscaster. A powerful, filthy-rich, entrenched, well-uniformed team fights a young (or old), street-bred, poorly-outfitted but dedicated opposition over control of our nation’s emissions and our world’s future.

There are many plays in the game. The tempo is quickening.

Local victories

I am a walker. My husband would say instead that I am a waddler, shifting from arthritic knee to bursitic hip to make it from point A to point B. But I do make it to point B, usually the grocery store, pharmacy or bakery, to get the daily staples. In the process I strengthen my heart and muscles, reduce my cholesterol, save gas and cut my carbon footprint. What a deal.

It can be dangerous, though, with sidewalks icy in winter and sometimes drenched the rest of the year. The streets are always cleared by the city, but there I compete to my disadvantage with cars many times my weight and speed. There have been more than a few near misses.

So I was delighted this weekend to receive an email announcement of a workshop to be held next Monday at Northampton City Hall to discuss a proposed 26-mile multiuse ONE Trail.

From the map, it appears to ring the city, bordering the Connecticut River then veering to the west through Fitzgerald Lake and ultimately steering back through the Meadows.

The idea of pedestrian access to every sector of the city displays an appreciation of our local natural beauty while promoting citizen fitness and clean air. I may never waddle the whole trail but I will do what I can and enjoy every minute.

We are scoring another local point for public and environmental health with Amherst’s establishment of an Energy and Climate Action Committee. The body will recommend dates by which Amherst “will become carbon neutral and electricity used will come from entirely renewable sources.”

It is not pie in the sky. Benchmarks will be set and met for decreasing the burning of fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases. Town Councilor Darcy DuMont has been the committee’s champion and previously with many others fought for the passage of the cutting-edge Zero Energy Building bylaw requiring new town buildings to use no more energy than they create.

The national offensive

All of this local effort is in the spirit of the Green New Deal, introduced to Congress last month by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts.

It calls for a plan to transform our economy from a coal-, gas- and oil-burning one to a system that is energy efficient, and relies on renewable sources like wind and solar power.

The legislation includes providing jobs for displaced fossil fuel-energy sector workers, specifically mitigating pollution in low-income neighborhoods and addressing issues of universal health care and inequality of income along the way.

One hundred federal lawmakers — 89 representatives and 11 senators — have signed on to the legislation. Senators who oppose it have each accepted more than seven times the amount of donations from fossil fuel companies as sponsors of the legislation have received.

The young people of the Sunrise Movement recently rallied at Congressman Richard Neal’s office in Springfield to demand he become the last Massachusetts federal lawmaker to support the Green New Deal, which they call “our generation’s last and best hope at avoiding climate catastrophe in our lifetimes. Any politician with a conscience will stand up to the fossil fuel lobby and co-sponsor this resolution.”

National loss

The climate catastrophe these youth who are involved in the Sunrise Movement deplore is meanwhile being enthusiastically furthered by those same fossil fuel cash-drenched senators, who last week approved the appointment of Andrew Wheeler as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Trump had to look hard to find a fox as big as this to guard the environmental henhouse. You’ve probably heard that Wheeler’s most recent job was lobbyist for Murray Energy, the largest coal company in America. Previously he worked for Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, without question the most virulent climate denier on Capitol Hill.

Wheeler has already tried to rollback environmental regulations on the utility and transportation sectors, including rules on emissions from coal plants and tailpipe pollution from automobiles.

Local battles

Though there are local wins in Amherst and Northampton, the emitters keep trying to maintain and expand their turf and profit in western Mass. Columbia Gas persists in its attempt to build new and bigger pipelines to service our area, and Holyoke Gas & Electric is giving it cover by imposing a moratorium on new gas hookups in the city.

Saying that there just isn’t enough pipeline capacity, HG&E is attempting to “fuel” the demand for the Columbia Reliability Project, which was rejected last year by Northampton. Instead of investing in energy efficiency and conversion to electric heating to cut gas demand, HG&E will burden its customers with $2.3 million to pay for the new pipe. HG&E joined the wrong team. The local Neighbor to Neighbor chapter will challenge its plans at the April City Council meeting.

There is a union song from Kentucky that goes “Which Side Are You On?” It runs through my head as I walk the streets of Northampton.

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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