Columnist Marty Nathan: ‘Pollute or convert.’ It’s time for green energy.

  • A United Airlines airplane taxies outside the International Terminal at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.  CHICAGO TRUBUNE VIA TNS/Erin Hooley

Published: 1/3/2019 8:32:24 AM

I am writing from a Tokyo hotel where my husband and I are meeting my daughter and her husband and small children to fly with them to their home in Guam. They are stationed there for three years, and we miss them terribly. We broke our pledge not to fly in order to see them. We are burning at a minimum seven-and-a-half tons of carbon in the trip. We will pay for offsets, but to my mind, creating greenhouse gases is creating greenhouse gases, and I wish it had not been necessary in order to hug my beloved progeny. Airplane flight hurts their future, offsets or no.

A benefit of the trip has been stimulation of our thought about the energy/economic transition that our country needs to make in order to meet the challenge of climate change. This fall, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) outlined our tasks more clearly than ever before: As a species we must cut emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and by 100 percent by 2050 to avoid the devastating effects promised by a 2-degree Celsius hotter world.

Japan has made major inroads in conservation and energy efficiency while providing comfort and convenience in housing and transportation. The public transportation system is comprehensive and convenient (buses are ubiquitous and frequent), an aspirational model for our PVTA. Individual vehicles are smaller and more fuel efficient, though we aren’t seeing as many electric vehicles as we might have expected. Electric current in our Japanese hotel room is triggered by cradling our key in a box on the wall: Only then will lights and the energy-efficient air source heat pump come into play. Houses are compact and close-set.

Though the Japanese excel at cutting energy demand per person in an industrial society, they lag in terms of conversion to renewable energy. Electricity powering the lights and heat pump derives mostly from coal and gas. Unfortunately, the void left by the decommissioning of nuclear power plants following the Fukushima disaster was filled mainly by imported gas.

In the U.S., the climate change reports have defined the crossroads we face: Will we cut emissions by slashing demand and converting supply to renewables as science requires, or will we continue to pursue fossil-fueled business as usual? Fortunately, our possibilities were enhanced by the recent election of a Democratic House of Representatives and a progressive flock of Western Mass State House reps.

On the national level, we have a chance to mold what newly-elected New York Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called the Green New Deal. She has proposed the formation of a Select Committee with a mandate to develop a far-reaching set of policies that would rapidly decarbonize the U.S. economy. The transition would incorporate jobs and social justice guarantees, including health care for all. No committee member would be allowed to accept donations from the fossil fuel industry to vest their interest in the status quo. So far, 45 representatives, including the majority of Massachusetts members, have signed onto the resolution creating the committee (Rep. Richard Neal has not).

This is a profound paradigm shift from the Trump-era policy of drilling and burning all remaining gas, coal and oil via opening up precious public lands and eliminating all environmental and public health regulations that would control the pollution. We have two years for the Democrats in Congress to plot a smart, fundable national climate policy, ready to go when (hopefully) Democrats retake the presidency and the Senate in 2020.

In Massachusetts, we fight the same fight: Pollute or convert. It’s time to pursue feasible alternatives on every civic level. We can support the Green New Deal, climate justice heroes in the Mass State House and the effort to stop new pipelines in our own backyard.

You can sign onto a comment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission demanding it undertake a real environmental assessment of the Tennessee Gas pipeline in Agawam, fully considering the toll on air quality, wetlands, childhood and adult asthma and climate catastrophe taken by this expensive and unnecessary enterprise.

Go to, read, and add your name.

Oh, and please rethink that next airplane flight.

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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