Are We Doing Enough to Combat Climate Change?

The debate is over. Even The Economist magazine has weighed in, in its recent Special Report, announcing, “Global warming, it now seems, is for real.”


There is no time to lose. Jim Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and leading climate researcher, (the scientist that the Bush Administration tried to silence) makes the case in the July 13 New York Review of Books: “…we have at most ten years—not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions.” He asks, “Who will pay for the tragic effects of a warming climate? Not the political leaders and business executives…But our children will pay the consequences.”


The problem is politics. The Economist article states “Technological and economic solutions to climate change are available. The problem is politics.” The federal government of the United States of America is ducking this unprecedented planetary crisis. It is a global problem, but America’s leadership is essential. The article states that “America is the key. If America does nothing, then the developing world’s big polluters will do nothing. “ Tragically, however, nothing is happening at the federal level.

All Politics is Local.” On a hopeful note, Tip O’Neil’s famous maxim “All politics is local” is in evidence all across this country. In an interesting political phenomenon, cities and towns across the United States are stepping into the national void, initiating myriad programs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. For example, 276 mayors have joined the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Plan.

This rally at the local level doesn’t have the Marshall Plan type of federal investment that experts like the World Wildlife Fund call for. It’s not tantamount to the analogy the Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown makes regarding the mobilization of the extraordinary collective abilities of America that enabled it to rapidly gear up to fight World War 11. But it is a start, and grassroots Americans are definitely on fire (no pun intended in this hottest of western summers with record numbers of wildfires). Here in Massachusetts, some 25 cities and towns have joined the Cities for Climate Protection Plan. (Lexington is not yet among the members.)


How does our state government stack up? There is room—lots of room—for improvement. Massachusetts has done some good things—going after the “Filthy Six” polluting power plants (which Governor Romney has just succeeded in weakening!); requiring small surcharges on electric bills to fund energy efficiency programs and investment in renewable energy; adopting the latest California Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards requiring that new vehicles delivered for sale in Massachusetts meet strict auto emission standards beginning in late 2008 when automakers release the 2009 model year; and establishing the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requiring electric utilities to get a percentage of their power from renewable energy. We even have a “Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan,” but most of the things in it either have no teeth or haven’t been enacted.

Meanwhile, lost opportunities litter the State House floor. To our disgrace, Governor Romney has kept Massachusetts from joining the nationally acclaimed Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), developed and signed onto by seven New England and Mid-Atlantic states. RGGI is singled out in the current Scientific American special issue on global warming as an example of state leadership in the face of “the current federal policy vacuum.” Massachusetts was front and center in the early planning of RGGI but is shamefully absent now. (RGGI is a regional program for controlling greenhouse gases from power plants. For more information, visit www.rggi.org.)

Beacon Hill needs to hear from us. A bill to override Governor Romney’s action to remove Massachusetts from RGGI died in the Senate this year. A number of practical and sensible bills addressing reducing greenhouse gases have languished in the state legislature, Special interests are vocal on Beacon Hill. But our planet’s future needs a voice too, and it has to be ours. Have we been loud enough? Let’s start now with calls to our state legislators, asking them to make taking action on climate change, including signing on to RGGI, a high priority.

Jim Hansen concluded his talk at the National Academy of Sciences by saying that that our best hope is a public that becomes informed and gets angry. Lexington has a proud tradition of political action, starting with the American Revolution. “All politics is local” has special resonance here. Let’s make our grandchildren proud in knowing that, as a community, we took on the premier challenge of the 21st century—weighing in, heart and soul, on global warming and climate change.


Brought to you by Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition. Contact us at www.lexgwac.org. The next presentation in our film series is “Kilowatt Ours” – a plan for shifting America’s energy paradigm towards conservation and renewable power. October 24, 7PM, at the large meeting room at Cary Library.