Columnist Marty Nathan: Get on the climate bus

  • Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, center in first row behind the banner, attends the 'Friday For Future' rally in Berlin, Germany, on March 29. Thousands of students gathered in the German capital, skipping school to take part in a rally demanding action against climate change. AP PHOTO

Published: 9/7/2019 12:05:45 PM

What are you doing Friday, Sept. 20? I know where I will be and what I will be saying. I will go to Boston with the young people of the Sunrise Movement and then come back to Northampton to march from Sheldon Field to City Hall. And I plan for most every sentence I utter to contain the three words “Climate,” “Emergency” and “Action.”

The remarkable Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has landed in the United States after sailing across the Atlantic so as not to generate the massive emissions of airplane flight. Her message: “Our house is on fire. We must act like it.” 

She and the students of Sunrise and the Extinction Rebellion have busted through all the fossil fuel CEOs’ denial, mystification, “too expensive”-ism and “too late”-ism. They are saying that climate change is here; it is caused by our drilling and burning of fossil fuels; we have a limited window of time to stop its most ravaging effects and it is far more expensive — in dollars and lives — not to act. It is threatening their future and they are inviting all of us to stand with them to demand immediate and sweeping action.

Climate Emergency. The Northampton City Council accepted that concept as fact on Aug. 15 when it unanimously supported the local Sunrise Movement’s resolution in favor of Ed Markey’s and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is the first realizable plan for a rapid and just transition off fossil fuels to conservation and renewable energy. Its necessity is predicated on the findings by scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have but 11 years left to cut emissions of CO2 and methane by 45 percent or face devastating and perhaps unstoppable damage to the earth’s biosphere, including its humans. 

We need the ferocity, determination and energy of these young people who, like the young boy who called out the obvious about the emperor’s lack of clothes, are diving to the heart of our predicament, bypassing conformity, comfort and corporate kickbacks to describe our geophysical reality and what we can and must do. 

The social norm promoted for decades by corporate American has been to consume, waste and burn without thought for the consequences. Allow the fossil fuel companies and their allies to expand and profit as if there were no tomorrow. Well, tomorrow is here, and we need to re-steer the course and create new norms that preserve the air, water, soil and climate we all rely on for life.

These young people have no illusions about what they are up against, and nor should we: Our greatest enemy is the present administration, which has so far rescinded 84 rules dedicated to cutting emissions and preserving the environment. Last month it attempted to remove a restriction on methane leaks from oil and gas wells, enhancing fossil fuel profits by cutting costs. In tribute to the climate movement, even the big oil companies are shying away from this because those leaks add enough to not-so-natural gas’ emissions profile to make it worse than coal for the climate. It will be fought hard in court.

Earlier in the month, the White House declared major changes to the Endangered Species Act to eliminate protections that prevent mining and drilling in areas inhabited by threatened flora and fauna. This added to a previous Interior Department measure opening 9 million acres of Western land to oil and gas drilling by weakening habitat protections for the imperiled sage grouse.

The administration’s largesse is not limited to fossil fuel companies. He is equally generous to big logging, granting the industry rights abolished 20 years ago to cut in the continent’s largest temperate rain forest, Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Of course, this move will also allow drilling and mining in the Tongass, so no Trump cronies go unblessed.

Meanwhile, the administration is firmly allied with Brazil’s “Trump of the Tropics” Jair Bolsonaro, whose policies promoting agricultural production at the expense of the rainforest have produced 26,000 fires in the Amazon, the most in a decade. Bolsonaro is destroying one of the world’s greatest carbon sinks, creating more emissions through burning and robbing indigenous peoples of their land. Offered to join an effort by the G-7 to stop the burning, Trump refused and sided with Bolsonaro.  

Climate. Emergency. Action: Turn it around and cut emissions. New norms, most importantly, mean new laws, regulations and huge programs that we must fight for in a united movement for survival. Our demands must be based on a better understanding of what is truly precious to us as a society: our children’s future.

Join me in Boston and in Northampton on Sept. 20, and at events around the Valley the following week. It is time to create new norms for a livable earth. For a bus seat to Boston, go to and for a list of Global Climate Strike local events turn to

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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