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December 07, 2016
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Our carbon problem; Local citizens work to address climate change

Even if we acted today and turned off all the greenhouse gases (GHG)—especially the two most abundant that we pour into the atmosphere daily because of our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels, carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4)—the earth would continue to warm for the next 60 years. NASA research scientist Elaine Matthews shared this and other information with several dozen Upper Delaware River Valley residents at the Climate Change Symposium in Eldred, NY last Saturday. Global warming is certain, she said, and the earth has reached its warmest temperatures in 800,000 years.

The symposium was produced by Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development in partnership with the NACL Theater’s The Weather Project, and it was hosted by the Town of Highland, with sponsorship by several other individuals and organizations.

Matthews was just one of 20 speakers who discussed many aspects of climate change, as themes emerged throughout the symposium: (1) the need to mitigate the flood of carbon entering the atmosphere, (2) the need to adapt to the impacts of a warming world—impacts on weather; on agriculture, i.e. our food supply; on public health; on the economy and on society (because those least able to adapt will suffer harsher consequences); (3) the need to relocalize our region’s economies to produce food, energy, fiber, building materials and goods close to home, and (4) the need to build sustainable and resilient local communities.

“We have a planet in crisis,” said Ulster County Legislator Manna Jo Green, who attended as the environmental director for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. “We need to act now,” she said, an assessment on which all of the day’s speakers concurred, including Stu Starkweather, a character created by NACL for its Weather Project to communicate messages about climate change through theatre.

One of the day’s speakers, farmer Greg Swartz of Willow Wisp Farm in Abrahamsville, PA, explained how organic farming helps sequester 3,500 pounds of carbon per acre, whereas conventional farming sequesters only about 200 pounds per acre.

Peter Pinchot, senior research fellow at Milford, PA’s the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, which works to conserve forests and clean water, talked about the need for everyone to work together, even with people we disagree. He further called for a tax on carbon or cap and trade legislation.

Jannette Barth, managing director and senior economist at the Pepacton Institute, spoke about the feasibility of converting New York State’s energy infrastructure (for electricity, transportation, heating/cooling and industry) entirely to renewable (non-carbon-based) energy—wind, hydropower and solar—by 2050 (www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/NewYorkWWSEnPolicy.pdf). Barth emphasized that as fuels, wind, water and sunlight are free.

Renewable energy, relocalization of our economy, living simpler lives by consuming less (because our current lifestyles are devouring more of the earth’s natural resources than it will be able to bear in future generations), sustainability and resilience were the watchwords of the day.

After spending a day with a group of concerned citizens and dedicated volunteers from the Upper Delaware River Valley who are already working hard to achieve a good future in the face of climate change, The River Reporter would like to salute their important efforts. Likewise, we salute the work of professional organizations such as SASD and NACL Theatre for its Weather Project; towns that have adopted the Climate Smart Communities pledge; and citizen/government collaborations, an example of which is the Bethel Green Committee. That said, many more local citizens need to get involved and join the conversation about what we will do about climate change—both averting its worst consequences and preparing for the impacts we cannot change.

We agree with the symposium’s participants that citizen action is urgently needed right now. As individuals we need to make changes our own lives, including by consuming less, because our current lifestyles are devouring more of the earth’s natural resources than it will be able to bear in future generations. We must ask our municipalities to reduce their energy consumption and consider renewable energy alternatives, and then we must help our towns achieve this goal by assisting them to access available funding and financing resources, which might even include a return to locally-owned/community-owned energy production. Further, the time is now for applying pressure on state and federal governments and on business by demanding and encouraging changes in our economic and financial systems to facilitate reducing America’s carbon footprint rather than continuing a business-as-usual culture that is killing our planet. We agree that the time has come for a carbon tax as a means of encouraging the reduction of GHGs.

While it may sound like bad news that each and every one of us contributes to climate change, the good news is that, due to the fact that each and every one of us has the power make choices that will reduce our carbon footprint. The time for action is now, or the outlook for future generations on planet earth may be very dim indeed.