Columnist Russ Vernon-Jones: Birthing a new era of climate responsibility


Published: 05-30-2023 10:30 PM

“How do you keep from despairing?” a friend recently asked me, knowing that I focus consistently on the climate crisis. It was a heartfelt question. He had started to put more attention on the climate emergency and was encountering the bad news that humanity is still not moving fast enough to avoid increasingly catastrophic climate disaster around the world.

I acknowledged that sometimes I do feel hopeless and despairing. Sometimes I cry, or tremble, or rage about creatures going extinct, about farmers in poor frontline nations experiencing one crop failure after another from climate disruption, or about the greed of the oil and gas companies that continue to expand their deadly business of extracting and burning fossil fuels and oppose transitioning to 100% clean energy. I’ve found things go best when we face and feel some of these painful feelings.

But we can’t just stay in our negative feelings if we want to enjoy life and have energy for engaging in effective climate action. So I also shared with him that I try to put my attention on good climate news every day. With eagerness he immediately asked me, “What is the good news?”

I told him that I had just read about communities in southern India and Bangladesh that are successfully creating floating hydroponic farms on huge rafts — growing generous crops of vegetables to feed their families and to sell. These new farms are flood-proof, don’t need noxious, expensive chemicals, and avoid the soils that have been ruined by saltwater from rising sea levels. Each one has a small solar-powered desalinator that provides all the fresh water needed. Apparently these floating farms have also revitalized community life and cooperation, and empowered local women.

Thinking about this conversation later, I realized that it was the ingenuity and creativity of people around the world finding successful ways to respond to the climate crisis that lifted our spirits as we talked.

I think there are many reasons to be encouraged about the possibilities for accelerating humanity’s progress on the climate crisis. The number of people around the world working on finding solutions to the climate crisis has exploded exponentially. People are working on making energy storage batteries without lithium and recycling old batteries, on making cement that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, on making electric school buses widely available to U.S. schools, and on solar powered irrigation in Senegal and Guinea

People are also working on clean air in Beijing, on getting solar power on low-income housing in the U.S., on reimagining the World Bank and IMF to provide climate finance for frontline nations, on ending new oil and gas extraction in Columbia, on making plastics from waste instead of from oil, and on adopting a carbon border tax in the EU. Activists are standing up against new methane gas pipelines in Springfield, MA, in East Africa and elsewhere. This is just a small sample of the many thousands of current initiatives.

No single one of these things is going to get us out of this crisis, but the multiplicity of efforts — literally millions of people around the world dedicating their ingenuity, determination, and energy to making a difference — is birthing a new era — an era where a significant portion of humanity is all working in the same direction, finding sustainable ways to live on this earth.

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As marvelous as these efforts are, new technology and new incentives for renewables will not create sustainable societies unless we also end the extraction and burning of coal, oil, and gas around the world. I don’t believe there is any way this can happen without building a grassroots movement powerful enough to overcome the political and corporate forces that still stand in the way. This will be difficult, of course, but it is necessary and must be a priority.

Building such a movement requires that a great many of us get involved in some way in addressing the existential issue of our time. If you are not yet actively involved in some climate organization, allow me to suggest some simple immediate steps.

First, if you possibly can, come to Springfield (at Stearns Square) on Saturday, May 20 for a 1 p.m. rally and short march to stand against the unneeded proposed Eversource pipeline through Longmeadow and Springfield. This event is co-sponsored by the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, Climate Action Now (CAN), and many others.

Secondly, you can join thousands of others in signing a petition to our new governor to “Put Gas in the Past” — to halt all gas system expansion until the state has a firm plan to transition to a clean energy future. (This will not affect individual gas hook-ups.) The petition is at If enacted, this would stop the proposed Eversource pipeline.

Third, sign up for the Climate Action Now-Western Mass newsletter and read it regularly for other action opportunities. Go to

Each of us can find ways to engage. It matters that all of us play some role in birthing this new era. We can do this together.

Russ Vernon-Jones of Amherst was principal of Fort River School for 18 years and is a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now (CAN). The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at . He blogs regularly on climate justice at [Note: Links to the projects described in this column can be found with the online version at]]]>