Columnist Marty Nathan: Think globally, act locally when it comes to climate change

  • Broken sea ice emerges from under the hull of the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it sails through the Victoria Strait while traversing the Arctic's Northwest Passage, July 21, 2017. Sea ice that foiled famous explorers and blocked the passage to all but the hardiest ships has slowly been melting away in one of the most visible effects of man-made global warming. AP PHOTO/David Goldman

Published: 9/6/2018 7:34:18 AM

Labor Day: Looking at my calendar for the week, the highlights are working and voting in the midterm primaries on Tuesday, canvassing South Street Northampton neighborhoods for energy efficiency on Wednesday, seeing patients at my clinic on Thursday, and going to Worcester on Saturday to demand that politicians around the world cut greenhouse gases and provide relief for the victims of climate change.

I retired (mostly) a year ago. Though I love my job as a family physician in the North End of Springfield, I am happy to be spending a lot more time doing what I can for the issues that are smacking us all in the face in 2018. The corruption and autocracy of the Trump regime, climate chaos, genocidal war, government-encouraged racism and xenophobia, to name just a few, greet us with the morning news and dog us as we go about our daily tasks. I now have the leisure to throw my lot in with others working to create a world that is both livable and just. On the one hand, I feel grateful that I have lived long enough to retire. On the other, I am weary that we are facing the same threats — with the unwelcome addition of global warming and mass-species extinction — that kept me awake at night as a teenager. 

Climate change grinds on. I am forced to sit in air conditioning in September in Massachusetts. A renowned expert on coral reefs reports that a large portion of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached by the warming Pacific. A study recently published by scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands promises that, if greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide and methane mainly) continue at their current rate, the temperature will rise a perilous 1.5 degree C (2.7 degrees F) by 2040. If governments don’t take action to fight climate change by 2035, humanity enters a “point of no return,” according to the report.

That level of temperature increase is expected to trigger runaway processes that will themselves propel further and faster emissions release and temperature rise. As a people, we are beginning to believe what we are seeing and feeling: Research at Yale finds that 70 percent of U.S. adults think that environmental protection is more important than economic growth.

Yet the economic and political processes creating the problem also grind on. In a painful irony, the oil industry is buying thousands of $10,000 refrigeration devices to keep the Arctic tundra frozen so that oil production can continue in the face of climate change-mediated melting. The Trump administration has drastically reduced the size of the only U.S. national monuments created in coalition with native peoples, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. The motive? Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke vociferously denies it, but the move is seen by the rest of the world as an indefensible land grab for energy companies. It frees for extraction a wealth of oil, gas, coal and uranium that belong to us all. (After a year and a half with the Trump administration, it will come as little surprise that now-EPA Secretary Andrew Wheeler was a lobbyist for the very uranium company angling for free rein to dig in Bears Ears.)

Here is our conundrum: Another recent Yale study found that “individual city, state, region and business commitments represent a significant step forward in bringing the world closer to meeting the long-term temperature goals of the Paris Agreement, but it is still not nearly enough to hold global temperature increase to ‘well below 2°C’ and work ‘towards limiting it to 1.5° C.’” (Italics mine.)

Catastrophe from burning fossil fuels is coming clearly into view, requiring massive, national-level action coordinated internationally with other industrialized nations. Yet the U.S., the largest driver of greenhouse gas emissions, is led by an administration owned lock, stock and barrel by fossil fuel profiteers. Time is short. We are staring into the abyss.

That is why I cast my vote after consulting the climate platforms of those who want to represent me. The primary is the portal to door-knocking and check-writing for congressional and senatorial candidates all around the country who can block the Trump regime’s mass-murderous agenda. This election is make-or-break for the climate and therefore for our future. We must do more than vote.

In Worcester, I am joining tens of thousands of people around the world in the People’s Climate Movement, Rise. We will be demanding that leaders in the United States and around the world, despite the Trump administration’s obstruction, convert to 100 percent renewable energy and bring equity to those who are the first to suffer from pollution and climate change. Does it make sense to protest? I believe so. In face of Trumpian venality, we must maintain a culture of hope and resistance and openly link arms with those victimized by our energy, trade and military policy. Saturday is the opportunity.

Though local action will not by itself stop climate change, we can block fossil fuel expansion here in the Valley. Columbia Gas is proposing to build more and bigger pipelines to increase gas delivery to our area. Grassroots groups in six different communities are coordinating efforts to stop the Columbia “Reliability” Project, stating that we want pipes that no longer leak, but we don’t want more gas that causes climate change and pollutes our air. With the Button Up Northampton 2.0 Campaign, we are providing alternatives conserve home heat through the Mass Save Program. We also offer the opportunity to convert to energy-efficient electric mini-splits (air source heat pumps) and paths to rooftop and community-shared solar electricity to power them. There are good alternatives to gas and oil heating, and it is time, now, to adopt them. Local work is walking the walk of the talk and the policy that we are aching to take national.

Marty Nathan M.D. 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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