President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement left many people with the impression that there’s not much America could do about global warming, until we get a new administration.
But now an international climate conference — and thousands of local events planned ahead of that gathering — are giving new hope to those who see climate change as a moral issue and a mortal threat to civilization.
Leading up to the conference, these “Rise for Climate” events on Sept. 8 will call for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels to cleaner energy. Without that shift, scientists around the world agree, the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will make our planet an increasingly hot and unstable place to live. And the world’s poorest people will suffer the most.
A lead organizer of the Sept. 8 events is 350.org, the international climate group founded by Vermonter Bill McKibben and a corps of Middlebury College graduates. The organization takes its name from the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide that we can have and retain a stable civilization — 350 parts per million.
We’re now at 409 ppm and rising.
The upcoming conference, called the Global Climate Action Summit, will convene mayors, governors, business and civil society in San Francisco on Sept. 12-14. It’s designed to highlight positive actions around the world, and inspire deeper commitments to slow the shifts in climate that are already causing sea level rise and food shortages. These same shifts also threaten to bring about massive economic and social disruption in our lifetime.
Hundreds of environmental and social justice organizations from around the world see the summit as “an opportunity to pressure local leaders to step up and do much more to stop the fossil fuel industry,” says the event site, http://www.riseforclimate.org.
The word “local” is key. Trump’s climate policy is blatantly anti-science and denies the overwhelming consensus that climate change is real and caused by human activity.
In response, some cities and towns have recently committed to going fossil-free. Here in Vermont, 35 towns and cities passed resolutions at 2018 Town Meeting calling for no new fossil-fuel infrastructure.
Burlington became America’ first all-renewable energy city, getting all its power from wood chips, hydro, solar and wind. Montpelier has committed to reducing its use of fossil fuels by 80% by 2030, and Vermont is aiming to cut fossil fuels by 90% by 2050.
“We can’t keep powering our lives with dirty fuels from the last century,” asserts the Rise for Climate website. “It’s time to repower our communities with clean, renewable energy from the sun, earth, wind and water.” (The site also has much more info on Sept. 8 events including those in Burlington, Rutland, Montpelier and elsewhere in Vermont).
Among those invited to the conference in San Francisco is Vermont Gov. Phil Scott. But he has decided not to attend the summit, apparently believing there are more important things than climate change. Maybe he’s got a stock car race that day.
Gov. Scott’s lack of true engagement with climate change puts us even further away from the essential goal of vastly reducing the use of fossil fuels.
“Despite all the great progress on climate and energy issues, Vermont is going backwards on renewable energy,” said Robb Kidd, the conservation program manager at the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club. “Vermont is nowhere near reaching our renewable energy goals, and we used to be known as a leader.”
Lily Jacobsen is the volunteer coordinator for 350Vermont.org:
“In Vermont, we’re seeing the effects of climate change—to name a few, this crazy hot summer, and shifting ski and maple sugaring seasons—and things are getting more intense and less predictable,” she told me. “This place that we all love is changing frighteningly fast.
“There’s still time to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, but time is running out,” she said. “In many areas of social change, Vermont has held a unique position of showing the way for other states. But in climate, we’re lagging behind. Rise for Climate provides an opportunity to call for major action on climate, and to be heard by the people who hold the power to make the sweeping, systems-level changes we need.”
Business and individuals can only do so much. What’s critically lacking is political leadership powered by citizen support. Until government officials require green energy and lead the way to sustainable sources, we can’t make the big changes we need to solve this impending crisis.
Meanwhile, many Vermonters continue to fight against the carbon bomb that is “natural” gas. Bristol residents have sued over expansion of the Vermont Gas pipeline to that town. Construction of a Monkton gate station for the pipe is at least temporarily on hold, and citizen groups forced Vermont Gas to pay millions more for construction cost overruns.
No one is asking Vermonters to freeze in the dark, or to bear an unfair share of what needs to be done. But we urgently need to move toward a world where we burn little fossil fuel.
The Sept. 8 events provide an opportunity for us to demonstrate there is popular support for taking big steps — now, not in a decade or two when it’s too late — to stem climate change and avoid the dangerous new planet that our children and grandchildren will otherwise inherit.
Or as we used to put it, you’ve got a choice. You can either be part of the pollution, or part of the solution.
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