Marty Nathan: The urgency of ‘any and all’ in climate change fight


Published: 6/1/2016 12:40:05 PM


Much of what drives me these days is delight in and concern for my family. I have three kids of whom I am excessively proud, and my oldest daughter is expecting her second baby, after introducing us a couple of years ago to the unexpected delight of grandparenthood.

This resetting of my generational status as “Demma” means that I view the future differently. I have a new stake in what happens 30 years from now. It’s a good bet my husband and I won’t be here but Misha and her little brother will be. And so will all of our children and grandchildren into whom we have poured our love and hopes.

Last week at a Climate Action NOW meeting we were asked to think about why the climate justice movement is mushrooming, so that 60 or 70 people regularly come to the monthly gatherings. The many answers boiled down to “crisis and opportunity.”

The crisis is real. The scientific news is grim for those who are willing to go beyond the front pages plastered with Donald Trump’s latest harangue. Two recent articles, to quote my daughter, “made my heart hurt.” The first, from, relayed the report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not just rising, that rise is accelerating.

In the second, writers for calculated that, with present carbon emissions rates, it will be only five years from May 2016 that we will reach atmospheric greenhouse gas levels that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in 2014 would inevitably lead to 1.5 degree Centigrade global warming in the 30 years that it takes for climate to fully adjust to those levels.

Beyond that 1.5-degree rise the “feedback loops” — melting of the polar ice caps, massive tundra methane release, burning of forests – begin to kick in, making a further climb unstoppable.

The two reports together — that we are not cutting emissions and that we only have five more years of doing what we are doing until we have “blown our carbon budget” — must make all of us with conscience stop what we are doing and re-evaluate our priorities.

I have often had arguments with friends about whether to do one thing or the other to oppose climate change.

My response has been, always, “Do any and all.”

The news tells us that this is the moment to determine what constitutes any and all.

It seems that is beginning to happen. Grassroots organizations like Climate Action NOW are springing up all over the place, joining forces in coalitions that aren’t just the usual suspects — inner-city bus riders and gardeners and renters who want the financial and clean air advantages of solar energy meeting with clergy compelled by the moral imperative of the Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change, led often by angry and idealistic young people who see their future being stolen from them by the greed of the intransigent fossil fuel companies.

All are seeing an opportunity, however brief, to turn the ship around, not just to environmental sustainability — a climate that will allow the growing of crops and the survival of coastal cities — but towards justice and inclusivity through the establishment of community rather than corporate control over neighborhoods, cities, states and nation.

And we are not just building the movement, we are beginning to win battles. The defeat of Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline was a huge one locally and, paired with the demise of the Constitution Pipeline in New York, has provided a hopeful model for those fighting fossil fuel giants around North America.

The state Supreme Judicial Court has gotten the message and said as much in its recent interpretation of the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act that cuts in emissions are mandates (meaning, you must do them) not just targets (well, maybe, after we’ve done all the other stuff …)

The Omnibus Energy Bill emerging from a House committee is heading in the right direction. Though it certainly must be improved by further increasing wind power development and the utility companies’ Renewable Portfolio Standards, the bill succeeds in eliminating the taxing of Massachusetts electricity users to fund more pipelines.

There is so much more to do.

Nationally, we must stop fossil fuel mining on public lands and prevent the export of natural gas overseas (the intent of the now-defunct NED pipeline).

In Massachusetts we must roar forth with fair carbon pricing and divestment of our state pension funds, both of which are gaining momentum in the Legislature. Moreover, there seems always to be another pipeline: in Sandisfield, the Kinder Morgan spur that threatens to destroy the pristine woods and water of the Otis State Forest and in West Roxbury a huge climate justice atrocity in the form of the proposed Spectra Pipeline.

And locally, gas leaks. There are at least 90 of them in Northampton and over 500 in Springfield. They are a danger to public health, they kill trees and we are paying for them. The main component of natural gas, methane, has been called by Bill McKibben the key factor in the “terrifying new climate math” and was cited in both articles I mentioned as a major threat to our ability to avoid climate disaster through cutting CO2 emissions. Methane is over 80 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide in the near term, and recent studies tell us it is the next few years that count.

Time is shorter than we thought. The stakes are higher. Let’s carpool to the next meeting.

Marty Nathan, MD, works at Baystate Brightwood in Springfield and is a Climate Action NOW Steering Committee member. She lives in Northampton.

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