Susan Theberge

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Climate Science Massive Online Open Courses

Here’s a great resource from, a site by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists.  Online courses and quick responses to developing stories providing context usually missing from mainstream noise… news.

Massive Online Open Courses on Climate Science

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[quote]Knowledge is power.  Francis Bacon[/quote]

March Featured Climate Actions

March Featured Climate Actions

Wow, there’s lots of news and action this month related to Climate Change! Each month we present suggestions for actions YOU can take to address climate change and increase resiliency in a changed climate. We urgently need to act on many levels at once: personal, community, state/national/global, and keeping ourselves informed and inspired. Would you pledge to yourself to carry out one or more of these monthly actions? These featured actions are brought to you by the Climate Action Group of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. To learn more contact Molly Hale at or 585-0791. 

1. Personal: Set a goal to eat less meat and dairy, especially from industrialized meat and dairy production. Globally, “the livestock sector accounts for 9% of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65% of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure. And it accounts for respectively 37% of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants.” (1) “Fossil fuels … are [also]used to grow grain to feed to cattle, to make processed feed cake for cattle to eat, to pump water for cattle to drink, to refrigerate meat, to transport refrigerated meat, and to sell meat in supermarkets in open fridges and freezers.” (2)

2. Community: This is a crucial time to focus on the Keystone Pipeline because Secretary of State John Kerry will be issuing his National Interest Determination to President Obama soon, probably within the next 60 days or so. Consider signing the Pledge of Resistance against the Keystone Pipeline, in which you pledge to risk arrest or support others doing so if Kerry recommends the project go forward. Then sign up here to attend the Civil Disobedience training on March 15 in Springfield in preparation our local Pledge action. The training will prepare you for the protest likely to occur in late April or early May in Springfield. For more info about the protest or training contact Molly (see above).

3. State/National/Global: IMPORTANT: MARCH 7 DEADLINE. Call, email or send a postcard to Secretary of State Kerry telling him to reject the Keystone Pipeline. General info about the pipeline can be found here and the Final Environmental Impact Statement that Kerry must consider is here. Just a brief note is all that is needed and you input is important! For email comments use this link. For text you can copy and paste to use in a letter or email click here:

U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Energy Resources, Room 4843
Attn: Keystone XL Public Comments
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

 4. Inform yourself: Get involved with Climate Action Now MA, our grassroots, Pioneer Valley climate action group. To receive their weekly newsletter that is a clearinghouse for climate actions and info in the valley go the website at and click on “How we communicate”. Archives of past Monthly Climate Actions can be found here:




Paul Revere, We need You!

Richard S. Stein
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Paul Revere’s Ride

Most of us learn about the ride of Paul Revere who alerted the American colonists in the 1700’s that “The British are coming!” This was a wake-up call that led to the events of the American Revolution. There is an urgent need to be woken up again. We  are suffering from the apathy about what may be a more serious future happening that dwarfs most of our concerns in importance – the possible extinction of our civilization.

A recent “Letter” by the minister of a church in Haydenville, MA has called attention to a book published in 2008 by the very reputable National Geographic Society, “Six Degrees, Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynas. It contends that if we continue to live as we presently do, there is a high probability that our civilization may not survive this century – an alarming prospect worthy of Paul Revere’s efforts. It is disturbing that more attention has not been paid to this, and another book, “The Sixth Extinction” by the New Yorker magazine author, Elizabeth Kolbert, makes similar predictions. We are experiencing changes very similar to events occurring in past centuries leading to the extinction of must forms of life. Some survived since  the changes occurred very slowly and there was time to adopt. This time, matters are very different, changes are occurring in decades that took thousands of years in the past, so there may not be enough time for adoption. If we hope to preserve our civilizations heritage accumulated over millions of years, very rapid action is necessary.

Some of the more pessimistic of us are sufficiently alarmed that they believe this catastrophe cannot be prevented. I am hopeful that it can be, since while changes are occurring rapidly, so is our development of technology. I believe that if it was earnestly applied, we might at least significantly delay, if not prevent this happening.

While technology might save us, the question is whether there exists the will to use it. The problems reside with today’s politics, the country’s economic structure, and the media. Measures to combat global warming cannot be taken easily. Many require investment and sacrifice of some of the pleasures being enjoyed today. We are, so to speak, ”living off our father’s bank account”. We are enjoying the benefits provided by our forbearers, some leading to the depletion of ever diminishing resources and resulting in pollution of our land, its waterways, and the atmosphere. Our principal energy sources, fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, are being consumed at a much greater rate than new sources become available. Population growth and third-world development creates ever-increasing demands. These fuels arose from biological sources subjected to geological processes taking millions of years and finite resources are becoming depleted. Burning them has resulted in unprecedented increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide to higher values than have occurred for thousands of years and which most believe leads to the “greenhouse effect” resulting in global warming. While critics dismiss predictions as being “just theory”, most reliable models under predict what is observed. Average world-wide temperature increases approach 2 C, and many believe that without corrective measures, they will reach 3 C in a decade or two or less. If they become that high, the prediction is that a “tipping point” may be reached, beyond which it becomes impossible to avoid further increases. A consequence of the increase, already seen, is the melting of glacial and Arctic and Antarctic ice, giving rise to sea level rise and flooding, some of which leads to the loss of habitat to many in the less-fortunate parts of the world. The water supply for drinking and agriculture becomes threatened at a time when its need for providing food for the growing world is increasing. Many believe that the warming oceans are leading to more water evaporation, giving rise to the probability of more frequent and intensive storms, some of which are already with us.

Leading environmentalists like Bill McKibben and James Hansen contend that it is essential that we cease burning fossil fuel. Their request is strongly opposed by industrialists, dependent upon its industry and on its use and who are enjoying profits as high as 10% per year on their investments. Renewable energy sources are not capable of meeting the demand that would occur if fossil fuels were abandoned, although investments for their development have been inadequate. There is reluctance to spend money now, but the present cost would be small as compared with the costs of the environmental damage if it is not done.

One might hope that public pressure would lead to changes, but little has happened, probably a result of much of the public being ill informed. Those profiting from our present lifestyles, the so-called 1%, are among the most wealthy and have used their resources to accumulate control of the media and of many of our politicians. Public support of the media has diminished and they are increasing dependent upon income from commercial advertising. Citizens United legislation has reduced limitations of contributions to their chosen politicians who are increasingly dependent upon them to finance their ever more expensive campaigns. The media has generally failed to inform the public about these very probable future threats to our civilization.

It has been said that public activism often awaits a disaster for motivation. I believe such a disaster is at our doorstep. We are witnessing more severe weather patterns and very probably will see appreciable price increases for food in view of deteriorating growing conditions. The hope is that the wake-up will occur soon enough before the tipping point is reached.

Paul Revere – please help sound the alarm!

Quiz: Will the TPP Be Good for Me?

By Helen Scharber, CPE Staff Economist, Assistant Professor of Economics, Hampshire College and Steering Committee, ClimateActionNowMa.Org

Leaders of TPP Countries

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement that the U.S. and 11 other nations—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam—have been negotiating behind closed doors for four years. Now President Obama wants Congress to “fast track” the agreement, so that it can be passed without debate or amendments. Perhaps the secrecy and urgency sound suspicious, but you may still be wondering “Why should I care about the TPP? Will it be good for me?” To address these questions, we’ve developed a short quiz to help you determine whether you’ll benefit from the TPP:

  1. Are you a major shareholder in a multinational corporation who has lost (or has the potential to lose) profits from frustrating environmental and labor regulations?
  2. Are you a pharmaceutical patent-holder who would prefer that generic versions of your drugs not be made available to people in developing countries?
  3. Are you an important player in the financial industry who spends too much energy trying to innovate around existing regulations?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, congratulations! You are likely to benefit from the TPP!

As with any new rules, though, some parties will not benefit. As economist Paul Krugman has pointed out, international trade itself is unlikely to get much of a boost if the TPP is signed. According to Krugman, “most conventional barriers to trade — tariffs, import quotas, and so on — are already quite low, so that it’s hard to get big effects out of lowering them still further.” Even pro-TPP researchers Peter A. Petri, Michael G. Plummer and Fan Zhai were only able to squeeze U.S. GDP gains of 0.1 percent over 10 years from their model of its economic impact.

If the TPP is only minimally about making trade freer or increasing GDP, what is the purpose? The agreement is likely to reduce other “trade distortions” (sometimes known as democratically-determined regulations) by empowering corporations to sue governments for taxpayer compensation if national laws are thought to impinge upon expected future profits.

Despite the President Obama’s faith that the TPP will create new jobs and encourage environmental protection, it is unlikely to do either. Experience with NAFTA suggests that we greet job promises with skepticism: Bill Clinton projected that NAFTA would create 200,000 U.S. jobs within the first year of the agreement, but by 2003, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute blamed the agreement for the loss of at least 850,000 U.S. jobs. Further, in a recent study on the effect of the TPP on U.S. wages, David Rosnick at the Center for Economic Policy Research found that “the median wage earner will probably lose as a result of any such agreement,” though “many top incomes will rise as a result of TPP expansion of the terms and enforcement of copyrights and patents.”

Due to the profits-over-people bias of the TPP, rights to a safe environment and health are likely to suffer as well. The leaked environment chapter pays lip service to the right of sovereign nations to set environmental priorities and to the importance of upholding multilateral environmental agreements, but unlike the enforceable rules outlined for perceived loss of profit, environmental protections in the current version are not binding. Rather, in the case of environmental difficulties, parties are encouraged to “consider whether the matter could benefit from cooperative activities.” To its credit, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has been trying to uphold the May 2007 deal made by then-President Bush and Congress that all future trade agreements include binding environmental rules, but the U.S. appears to be fighting that battle alone. If environmental laws end up being subjugated to anticipated profits, we can expect to see more lawsuits like the one under NAFTA in which a U.S.-incorporated company, Lone Pine Resources Inc., is suing the Canadian government for more than $250 million in lost profits due to Quebec’s moratorium on fracking.

The TPP would also extend patent protection for pharmaceutical companies, an industry whose profits are already well sheltered from the vicissitudes of the free-market. Economist Dean Baker estimates that, without patent and other similar protections, the U.S. would spend around $30 billion per year on prescription drugs, instead of the $300 billion we spend now. That’s a $270 billion transfer from consumers’ pockets to Big Pharma profits, and the TPP would extend their reach across both time (more years of protection) and space (to countries where generic versions of name-brand drugs improve health and save lives).

The editors of the San Francisco Gate wrote in support of fast-tracking the TPP, noting that “Prior trade pacts used the same path, the better to empower U.S. negotiators and minimize political interference back home.” They’re right: fast-tracking the agreement would undermine the ability of polities to “interfere” with corporate profits by passing or enforcing laws to protect jobs, wages, human rights and the environment. Fortunately, people are becoming wise to the false promises of trade agreements. According to a 2012 Angus Reid Public Opinion poll, only 15 percent of Americans believe the United States should “continue to be a member of NAFTA under the current terms,” while 53 percent of Americans believe the United States should “do whatever is necessary” to “renegotiate” or “leave” NAFTA. Some legislators, as well, are standing up for democracy. In November 2014, 151 members of Congress signed a letter to President Obama expressing opposition to fast-tracking the TPP.

If you think you or your loved ones may not benefit from the TPP, you’re not alone. But what to do?

First, check out the excellent resources at Public Citizen, then tell your friends, sign a petition, write a letter to the editor, and call or write your representative. In this case, political interference is exactly what is required.

More thoughts on “Six Degrees”

Richard S. (Dick) Stein

I very much agree with the guest column by the Rev. Andrea Ayvazian concerned with the book, “Six Degrees” by Mark Lynas.  I join her belief that this is a “must read” book. I had read it two weeks ago and my reaction was very similar. The prospect it points out that is well documented is that there is a high probability that our civilization will not last this century and that we only have about seven years (from 2008 when the book was written) to act to try to prevent this. This means that today, we only have one year left. I hope we have more as the chances of doing something in a year are quite small. It is sobering to think that the civilization may be lost during the lives of my great grandchildren! It makes the problems we are concerned with today seem trivial. It would be the greatest of crimes to allow our civilization and its rich heritage, thousands of years in the making, to be lost as a result of our apathy for a few years. I hope I will never have to account for this crime. The book should be read by our politicians, preached about in our churches, and be required reading in our schools. The extinction of a civilization is a much more serious matter than the crime of genocide involving the attempt to destroy people of a particular race or country. If such is to be damned, the loss of a civilization is far more serious. It is difficult to understand why much of the public and the media ignore this. While they may be figuratively having “their heads in the sand”, the probability is high that they might actually end up doing it.

As pointed out, I join her in my disappointment that this authoritative book, published by the National Geographic Society in 2008, is not better known. It presents a strong case for the high probability that our civilization will not survive the century unless action is taken within the next few years. This is a highly alarming prospect that should be a leading subject for much discussion by the world’s population. It is a disgrace that our politicians and the media have not sounded the alarm and made a call for action.

I believe that a principal cause for this inaction is because of the influence of an affluent small segment of the population. They are anxious to maintain the status quo and retain the profitability of their ventures. These often focus on present earnings without sufficient regard to the status of the less fortunate, both in the US and elsewhere, and concern for those in future years when the economic picture may be very different. Many politicians are dependent on their contributions and the media increasingly depend on income from advertisements from their organizations. It becomes increasingly difficult for their efforts to be opposed. Much money has been spent on propaganda that has had much influence on many. Those of less education and living in more isolated areas are particularly susceptible. It is noted that the fraction of deniers of the problems among those in such groups is high.

A problem is the discouragement of those more pessimistic who suffer “burn out” and feel that the problems are too big to solve and become resigned to focus on survival. It is like the view of some toward banks – that “they are too big to fail”. I believe this attitude is self-defeating. If one does not work for change, it will not occur and the perpetrators of actions leading to problems will win.

A note of optimism is that such difficult times have been faced in the past such as during the periods of slavery, segregation, and the depression of the 1930’s. Recovery occurred and was greatly facilitated by the remarkable efforts of strong leaders. It is a hope that such leaders will emerge today.

I believe that our problems are technically solvable, but dealing with them presents political and social problems. There are encouraging changes such as growth of farmer’s markets, increased use of alternate energy means such as solar and wind, emphasis on localization, changes toward more energy efficient cars and growth of public transportation. No one of these will be the “magic bullet” that well solve our problems. We need them all and more! We are confronted with a time challenge. If action is not taken soon enough, some believe there will be a “tipping point”, beyond which further actions will be ineffective. Thus we cannot procrastinate. We MUST act!

Words are not enough, and there is a saying that “money speaks louder than words”. Corporations depend upon investments and sales to customers for success. Thus, efforts to divest and to buy from well-behaved producers can have an influence. Such may not seem presently financially attractive since investments in ill-performing companies may be currently more profitable and their products may be somewhat cheaper. This may true now, but may not always be. One must consider the “big picture” and realize that such advantages sometimes occur at the expense of environmental damage and by exploiting vulnerable workers. If this can be understood, it may become apparent that current costs should be regarded as an investment that could lead to a better future. Public pressure can have great effects, but it must occur by educating people about these matters. Fortunately, with means such as the internet, there are tools that can be used, and I urge that strong efforts be made to engage them.

Many corporations have mastered the skills to affect attitudes and those of us who have different aspirations need to also learn to employ them. We CAN win but it will not be easy.



Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: A must-read book by Mark Lynas about our planet’s top crisis

HAYDENVILLE — A Google search of “50 books that changed the world” provides a fascinating list that includes many volumes I would never have thought of. I knew the Bible, the Qur’an, the Torah and the Bhagavad Gita would be on the list, but I had not thought of the “Tibetan Book of the Dead,” the “I Ching,” and the “Tao Te Ching.” Of course “The Republic” by Plato, “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine, “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, “Das Kapital” by Karl Marx, and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe are there.

But the Google list also contains a few surprises — at least to me — including “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence and “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by JK Rowling.

If it was up to me, another book would be on that list. Having spent the past week reading — and being totally shaken by — “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynas, I want to make a case for why this book should be read by every adult alive on Earth. I also want to ask these questions: Where was I when this book was published in 2008, and why did I not know about it? Why didn’t the publication of this book make two-inch high bold headlines in the New York Times? How can we get President Obama and every elected official in America to read this book — and weep?

“Six Degrees” is a meticulously researched, totally sobering and extremely upsetting book that makes you want to buy two dozen copies and stand in front of Stop & Shop handing them out.

Troubled is a good word for my reaction. Depressed is another. Activated is yet another.


Lynas discusses how — in the not-so-distant future — the ocean will swallow the island of Tuvalu and the snows of Kilimanjaro will be gone. There are countless other examples of what will happen to the Amazon forest, the Queensland Wet Tropics, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Kalahari Dunefield, the Nile delta, the Greenland Icecap and the Gobi Desert.

The models and predictions about future disasters are terrifying. But the evidence of the effects of climate change that are already happening globally is staggering.

I had no idea that the permafrost holding rocks together on the Matterhorn had already melted and in 2003 the formation shook as gigantic rocks fell, changing the mountain forever.

I had forgotten that a heat wave in Europe in 2003 killed 15,000 people in France alone. I did not know that the Yellow River in China was already depleted and toxic along much of its lower reaches.

The extreme storms, hurricanes and droughts that seem to befall us with increasing frequency are a sampling of what is to come. Lynas offers story after story, example after example, of what lies ahead until you want to throw the book in the fireplace and retreat to a place of air-tight denial.

In fact, in the closing chapter, Lynas discusses the forms of denial he encounters regularly (“I protect the environment in other ways, like recycling,” “I am not the main cause of this problem,” “You have no right to challenge me,” “I don’t know the consequences of my actions,” “Nothing I do makes much difference” and “There are too many impediments.”) But, thankfully, Lynas also discusses a “low-carbon” society that “remembers that our planet is a unique gift” and discusses what we need to do to stop and reverse climate change.

There is much we can still do to rescue our planet and Lynas offers glimmers of hope. But only if we act now.

Although active in the environmental movement since 2001, when I was part of a group of clergy who blocked the entrance to the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., to protest drilling in the Arctic and was hauled off to jail, my commitment to this work needed a jumpstart. My focus had wandered and I needed to be recharged and reignited. “Six Degrees” was a painful but necessary wake-up call. I am a less happy, better informed and more agitated person having read this stunning book. This is my pledge to get busy. Again.

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics.

Considering Our Future

Richard S. (Dick) Stein University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Many decisions today are based on consideration of “here and now”. They consider their effect on our present welfare and on those living in our country and/or immediate vicinity. I ask for a broader view and will present some examples.

Energy: It is evident that there are difficulties with the availability, cost, and environmental impact of our conventional energy sources. Much of the energy in the U.S. comes from burning coal, oil, or natural gas (NG). Supplies of some of these are becoming scarce and increasing efforts are required to find sources and to find better ways for extraction and processing. Furthermore, these, when burned, produce carbon dioxide, CO2, that many believe to be a “greenhouse gas” that significantly contributes to global warming. They predict that its continued emission will lead to temperature increases that lead to undesirable environmental changes.

To contend with these problems, many propose that we cease using fossil fuels and turn to renewable sources that do not emit CO2. One of these, nuclear energy, has its problems concerning whether it is economical, danger of  radiation, consequences of accidents, and lack of an acceptable means of dealing with radioactive waste. Thus, there is opposition to continued operation of present facilities and of construction of new ones. A “No Nuclear Energy” policy is advocated by some.

While I agree that present facilities are undesirable, I have hope that the development of “safe nuclear” may someday be possible. While some possibilities for this have been proposed and are being explored, none have proved feasible so far. However, I am hesitant to make a commitment for the future. We have seen many cases where apparently impossible developments have occurred as a result of unexpected technical advances. Thus, I propose a stance of “No Nuclear Energy Now”. I cannot be sure of the future but we should admit possibilities and continue exploring them.

If we abandon fossil fuels and current nuclear energy now, what are the consequences? While rapid advances are being made, most agree that presently available renewable sources are only capable of furnishing a fraction of current energy use (perhaps 20– 30% in the U.S.).  Predictions suggest that energy needs will grow as a result of technical developments, growth in population, and changes in the “third world”. What are we to do?

An obvious approach is to use less energy. The U.S. is said to be an “energy hog” using much more energy/capita than most of the world.  decreased energy consumption implies changes in lifestyle, but from personal experience, such might not be as great as feared by some. I would guess that a decrease by about 50% would be acceptable to most.

Some propose even more drastic efforts to curtail energy use such as giving up travel, living in smaller houses, eating less and differently,  and moving from a more industrial toward a farming economy. While some changes in these directions may be desirable, I believe there are limits to what we find acceptable. I enjoy the benefits of travel, accomplishing interesting tasks on my computer, and using a snow blower as I did recently) rather than a shovel to clear my driveway (which I find increasingly difficult as I age). I dislike routine tasks requiring  physical effort but not much thinking. I find that technological advances permit me to enjoy more of these pleasures that increase the quality  of my life. I prefer an approach where we carry out sensible conservation in eliminating wasteful tasks, but make efforts to find new ways of replacing them with more effective ones. We must, however, realize that we live in a society having all sorts of people with a variety of skills, interests, and desires, sometimes different from our own. We need to seek ways to complement each other so that we can live together without exploiting each other.

We must learn to use available energy more efficiently. This is already happening with the replacement of incandescent light bulbs that waste  about 90% of their energy as heat with more efficient compact fluorescent and light emitting diodes We are seeing efforts to urge or require better insulation of houses and more energy efficient appliances. Solar panels are enabling home owners to generate their own electricity and car makers are being required to do what was previously claimed to be impossible to increase fuel efficiency of their cars. Hybrids and electric cars are gaining popularity with the realization that the internal combustion engine is a relatively inefficient way to obtain mechanical energy from fuel. Electric power generation and use is more efficient.

There is the realization that thermodynamics limits the  efficiency of electric power production in power plants, where for most, less than 50% of the energy in fuels can be converted to electricity with the rest being liberated as heat, often wasted. The better approach is through cogeneration where this heat is used for purposes such as heating buildings. This requires a size and location of the plant where this is possible. For example, the new power plant at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst uses this heat for university buildings.

It is apparent that such changes in energy use may not be enough. Efforts are needed to grow availability of renewables as rapidly as  possible, but I believe it may take 5 – 10 years to fill the gap. Thus, “bridge means” may be needed to do it. We may need to not completely abandon fossil fuel and nuclear during this period but should phase it out as rapidly as possible with regulation to assure that it be done as safely as possible during this period.

Fracking: The introduction of hydraulic fracturing, “fracking” has made available large resources of NG with a decrease in cost an  increased use. It has resulted in a “fracking boom” with many companies vigorously attempting to acquire profits. It has the promise of providing abundant NG during this bridge period.

Fracking is not without its problems. The burning of the NG it produces is still a source of CO2, albeit less than from the fossil fuels, and most believe this must be minimized or stopped. Also, fracking, as now done, requires use of large amounts of water that must be disposed after use. Chemical additives are added to this water, the nature of which is currently not revealed because of industrial secrecy. There is concern that contamination of drinking and agricultural water may occur, and with improper technology, gases, primarily methane, may be released to the atmosphere and serve as potent greenhouse gases. The number of fracking installations is increasing at a great rate consuming appreciable funds and using much increasingly scarce water, along with payments paid to farmers to acquire leases for their operation that often result in undesirable changes in their lifestyles and useful productivity. It is apparent that this use of funds competes with those that might have been used for renewable energy development. There is also some evidence that fracking activities may affect seismic events.
Thus, there is an environmental impact so restriction and regulation of its use seems essential. It is apparent that fracking is an attractive and profitable technique for those  practicing it so decisions are needed about what constraints should be placed on its growth. Advocates contend that it will make the U.S. energy independent for many years and make the economy more competitive. These advantages need be balanced against its environmental price. My opinion is that we will need it to get through the bridge period, but it should be regarded that it is a temporary effort with a plan for phasing out as soon as renewable energy techniques grow enough to satisfy needs.

Divestment: Some universities, towns, and other organizations have decided that they will divest their investments in fossil-fuel related  companies. Their view is that these companies are promoting fossil fuel burning and sometimes opposing renewable development efforts. By divesting, one is decreasing their ability to do these things. This thinking may be an over simplification in that most of them realize that the days of fossil fuel use are limited and there will eventually be a “crossover” after which use of renewables becomes economical. In view of this, many are conducting studies on renewable so as to be prepared for this event.

Many of these companies are very efficient, well funded, and productive. The industrial development of America owes much to their abilities. Ideally, it would be desirable for them to change their emphasis toward the development of renewables. We need to utilize their talents to help bring about this necessary change. There is some reluctance to do this, considering the current profitability of their fossil fuel activities. Their management must be persuaded to carry out the transformation as rapidly as possible and be thinking more about the future of their companies.

With today’s economic difficulties, many universities are also suffering economic difficulties. Support of public universities has largely decreased as have donations to others. They have become more dependent upon industrial contributions and industry and military financed research programs. There is concern that divestment will lead to a decrease in such support and lower their ability to educate students who may become the leaders who will contribute to our future economy. A problem is whether this possibility may be a worthwhile investment to allow them to maintain their educational effort that could lead to a brighter future. This emphasis on profits is even affecting religious thinking, with the Pope receiving criticism for his views on some industrial practices.

My view is that investment in companies is needed so as to benefit from their abilities that may help with the needed task. The problem is  whether this can be done with “strings attached”, where restrictions were placed on the use of these investments to assure that they are assisting the transformation away from fossil fuels. Mechanisms for doing this are not simple, and there is need for developing means for doing so.

Climate: There is concern by many about the consequences of climate change that may result from the consequences of global warming. As indicated above, climate and energy problems are closely related. Some think that climate changes are inevitable and it is useless to try to affect them. There are those who have suffered from the blizzards and frigid weather this winter who doubt the reality of global warming. There is often little understanding about the difference between climate and weather. They say that matters like the tilt of the Earth’s axis dominate over which we have no control. I disagree as studies have demonstrated the importance of human-related activities like fossil fuel burning, forest clearance, and poor agricultural practices that have major effects. There is strong evidence for this that is widely believed by those who are knowledgeable I believe we have influence over these and should take positive action toward helpful directions. Not doing so is almost certain to lead to difficulties, but constructive actions are likely to help.

Those believing we cannot modify climate often propose accepting the changes and building up defenses like sea walls, dykes, etc. These certainly will help, but I believe that in the long run, these will be overwhelmed by changes. My personal observations come from having lived in the Rockaways on Long Island, NY where there was much devastation during storm, Sandy, despite may years of expensive efforts to secure protection. As there are a limited number of possible measures that we are able to deal with, a major part of out effort should be directed toward prevention.

A deterrent for preventive measures is their cost, but this should be considered along with eventual costs if changes are not avoided or delayed. While present actions may be a present economic burden, these would be paid for by us, and the probable future much greater ones will have to be paid by our descendants. Should we depend on them to pay the bills arising because of our neglect?

Furthermore, the changes will affect the majority of the poorer populations more than ourselves. We can take defensive actions, but many of them cannot. Should they have the burden of paying to maintain our present affluence? I am pleased to have a request for cooperation from a group in India where the consequences of climate change will be much more serious. We must realize that we must be thinking of the world, not just ourselves.

Water: Along with energy, the availability of suitable water for drinking and agriculture is a concern. Droughts in parts of the U.S. are already a problem as is the rapid growth of cities in arid area where the water table continues to lower. The problem is even more serious in parts of the world that depend upon glaciers for their water supply. Glaciers are receding and sometimes disappearing, due in part to the increasing temperatures from global warming. There are shortages of water needed for agriculture for growing food for increasing populations. Energy harvesting techniques like fracking compete with this.

An obvious approach is conservation. Irrigation techniques common in the US of spraying water into the air are wasteful in that up to half the water is lost by evaporation. Drip application directly to plants, as practices in the Near East, is much better. Water delivery to plants using absorbents like biochar helps. There is saving with low flush or no flush (composting) toilets. Recovery and recycling of waste water from both domestic and industrial sources can be aided with with rapidly developing membrane technology. Toilets in Scandinavia often are divided into compartments separating solids from liquids, facilitating recovery. Nutrients obtained from these as well as sewage treatment facilities can serve as agricultural additives to help with the growth of much needed food.

We can avoid contamination of existing fresh water reserves by reducing run-off from industrial and agricultural sources. Excess use of synthetic fertilizers is a big offender. The run-off from fertilizers sometimes results in eutrophication leading to harmful algae growth and harm to fish. The economics can be helped where there is value for the materials recovered from the waste water.

There is plenty of water on the Earth, but most of it is in the oceans where it is contaminated by salt. Desalination is possible, but it requires energy, so it is only feasible where energy is plentiful and the value of water is high. It is currently used on cruise ships, in the Arab states, and in the U.S., in places like Key West. Reverse osmosis requires much less energy than distillation and is increasingly used. It is now also used to recover potable water from liquid sewage on the space station and efforts are beginning in a few cities.

Food: This will be an increasing problem as population increases and sources of arable land decrease as a result of desertification, soil deterioration, and urban growth. Land availability is related to energy needs and the loss of agricultural land for use in growing energy related biofuels is a factor. The “corn for fuel” and demands for palm oil are examples. Farmland is sometimes lost as it is used as locations for petroleum extraction, fracking, and mining, and its usability for food growing is sometimes diminishes by its use for disposal of waste from these and other industrial operations.

There is a need for increasing agricultural efficiency to be able to grow more food on existing land without diminishing soil quality. Means for dealing with contaminated soil are needed so as to bring more land into productive use. New farming techniques such as use of hydroponics and indoor farms in vacant buildings are being explored. Using animals for meat sources is demanding on land and resources so changes in diet and production of synthetic substitutes are being explored. Fish are a major source of nutrition in many places, so more efforts are needed for fishing regulations and for consideration of fish farms.

There have been proposals for hydroponic agriculture, growing things in aqueous solutions rather than soil. This could expand available area, making use of abandoned buildings. Some have proposed doing it indoors. Such would require providing light which might be done by “piping in” sunlight using fiber optics or by energy efficient LED’s. The economics is uncertain, but it is an approach that should be explored.

While food production could be increased by genetic modification, this must be done with care to avoid accompanying detrimental effects.  There is a reaction against genetically modified food (GMO’s) and research and control is needed. My belief is that we should not prohibit GMO’s but use them with care to avoid harm. Many accepted foods today have developed through genetic modification by nature and by plant and animal breeders. However, genetic knowledge has increased at a great rate and has outpaced the knowledge of ability for control. It is evermore apparent that consideration of factors other than profit is needed.

Jobs: Unemployment is a major concern today. This is partly a result of a stagnant economy and partly from the replacement of human efforts by technology such as use of robots. Stimulation of the economy to produce more jobs has been recommended, but this costs money that has become increasingly difficult to obtain. It is a “chicken and egg” situation.

Stimulation produces more jobs that leads to income of workers that then may become customers for their products. However, doing it requires investment and there is uncertainty about whether there is gain.

Also, technology replaces workers, and fewer are needed to produce the products. However, in many cases, such job loss is temporary, and the jobs lost to technology often involve routine and uninteresting tasks, and the technology leads to newer and better jobs, sometimes in greater numbers. The displacement is often temporary, and measures are needed to ease the burdens. One of these is for education and training to allow workers to participate in advanced technologies. I’ll offer a few examples.

When dial telephones were introduced, there was concern that many telephone operators would lose jobs. I do not believe this has had a major impact over the years and it has resulted in better and cheaper telephone service.

When I visited Shanghai about 20 years ago, their subway system was under construction, and the necessary digging was done manually by thousands of workers using shovels. One would not think of this happening today where employment has grown with many more interesting jobs in a developing economy.

Fifty years ago, messages such as this were dictated to secretaries taking shorthand who the typed them. Today, I and most of my colleagues type their own using word processors. Secretaries today must lean to use such  equipment to be employable. I do not believe there is a dearth of jobs for such people but they must learn different skills.

I recently read that there are more workers in solar energy related fields than there are coal miners. Which job would you rather have?

In my younger days, mail was delivered twice a day. It is now reduced to once and Saturday deliveries will probably cease. I just learned that Canada plans to abandon home mail delivery. Of course, this will lead to the loss of postal jobs, but again, I think the loss will be temporary and most will move on to other ones. E-mail makes more sense, and it seems foolish to depend on people to carry the mail when it could be done electronically.

Newspapers are having difficulties and the numbers have declined and many are being consolidated. I am thinking of cancelling some of my own subscriptions. The news I can get on my computer is quicker and better, I can scan several newspapers from major cities before breakfast. I suspect many of the former newspaper reporters will find activity in the electronic news business.

A recent study by a member of the UMass Economics Department (reported in a testimony to the Congress) compared investment in the fossil fuel industries with that in renewable energy, and concluded that the latter produced many more jobs for a given amount of money.

Of course, the profits from these technological advances usually go to those who can afford the technology and the workers do not benefit as much. This leads to the problem of “the rich get richer” leading to a greater class separation. This is an unstable situation and means are needed to find ways to better deal with it.

I do not believe that one can stop technological advances. There were futile attempts by the “Luddites” to do so and there were those protesting the banning of slavery claiming such would be an economic disaster. While it led to some problems, I believe the country is better off for it to have happened.

All of this requires improving education to furnish workers capable of involvement with technology. There is actually a shortage of such and means for enable people to make the transition are needed. I think providing such is one of the best investments possible.

Overview: It is apparent that the world is changing and our welfare is dependent upon our adopting to the changes. The human race has been successful in doing this. A century or two ago people like Malthus predicted that the population would grow faster than the means to support them. This has not happened, even though population grew faster than they predicted. We are facing such problems today and I believe that our future depends upon our ingenuity in finding ways to deal with them, If we don’t and have a “gloom and doom” attitude, I think we will face a downward spiral. We can’t be sure that well succeed, but if we don’t try, we are sure to fail.

It has been pointed out that there were past periods of global warming when CO2 levels were high, but life survived. It should be realized  that it almost didn’t during “the great extinction” when many forms of life disappeared. Fortunately, a few survived and evolved to forms including us. However, the climate then changed slowly and there was a chance that evolution could proceed fast enough for adaptation by newly developed life forms. However today, such changes that then occurred in thousands of years now seem to be occurring in decades, so it is doubtful that evolution can meet the challenge. This means we need to work harder to try to do so.

Our chances of success are limited, so perhaps failure is 80 – 90% probable. It is encouraging that it is not zero, but would be if we don’t try. If my chances of winning the lottery were only 10%, I’d think it worthwhile to play. I don’t because they are much smaller. However, the benefits of winning at the climate game are so much greater and the cost of failure is so great that I urge taking such risks.

I suspect that I may not encounter this downward path during the few remaining years of my life, and my four children may not. I do believe the lives of my six grandchildren and three great grandchildren will be affected. I hope that I will not have to face the question of “Why did you not do something?”

I plead for us to remain optimistic. We face an “uphill battle” but if we don’t try, we are sure to lose. I believe our goals are technically feasible, but the problem is one of political and social will. The challenge is one of encouraging this. We all must join in the educational effort, become politically involved, and support corrective measures. We must oppose the “heads in the sand” mentality that I fear could become literally rather than just figuratively true!



Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost                    John Berkowitz


Winter,  seductively mild into mid-February,

full moon rising over town,

a hundred geese wing off with soaring voices

from ice-less Paradise Pond.


Walking home from annual a cappella concert–

college kids in ebullient energy and voice–

such boundless potential, yet so up-in-the-air,

in jeopardy from changing climate,

unseen and unheeded by most,

as they and we walk our various busy paths

like the proverbial lemmings,

strolling along the river

toward a very unknown and roiling sea.

Vapor Trails

Vapor Trails                   John Berkowitz   ‘10

 Delicious early spring morning–forsythia, daffodils, grass

beaming, but blossoming so much earlier than usual. . .

record-breaking warmth

bringing record-breaking flooding,

and a very watered down maple sugaring season.


Two vapor trails streak the sky,

and my invisible tailpipe trail, with thousands of others,

melts into the air as I drive.


I wonder how many of my fellow travelers– sipping coffee

and strategizing whatever small success and security

the new day might bring–

also ponder whether our marvelous metal inventions,

leaving seemingly innocent and lovely long white

clouds in the sky,

are actually poisoning that sky

and fouling our whole nest below?


Two days later, a giant plume of volcanic ash

rises from deep within the earth in Iceland,

drifts to Europe, and grounds all flights for 4 days.

Two seasons later, on another crystalline morning,

I gaze at the distant white streak of another jet trail;

and closer, two flocks of geese Vee-ing and singing

before dropping into the beaver pond in the valley.


These combusting engines, defining our progress and prosperity,

have been roaring on ground, water, and air

for not much more than a hundred years;

the geese have been honking for millions.

When we learn to make our machines sing like geese,

and fertilize rather than desecrate the earth

with their droppings,

then we will discover the modern new world

of our belonging.

February Featured Climate Actions

Do you believe that Climate Change threatens our future? Then empower yourself and act on your convictions! We urgently need to act on many levels at once: personal, community, state/national/global, and keeping ourselves informed and inspired. Consider these monthly suggestions or do an action of your choice every month. These featured actions are brought to you by the Climate Action Group of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. To learn more contact Molly Hale at or 585-0791.

1. Personal: Downsize the space you heat in the winter. This winter’s bitter cold has certainly spiked your heating bill. Consider a change in lifestyle where winter is a time of contraction and pulling in to a smaller, cozier area in your home. Are there areas you don’t need to heat, such as bedrooms, and under-used living spaces that you could close off with doors or curtains? As a longer term fix, consider building in a permanent way to seal off un-needed areas in the winter.

2. Community: Host a games night, music night, or movie night with your nearby neighbors. Building connections with neighbors breaks down isolation and lays the groundwork for future projects involving neighborhood cooperation.

3. State/National/Global: On Feb. 8,join a rally in Salem, MA to stand in solidarity with community leaders there who do not want a new natural gas plant to replace the retiring coal plant that has plagued the Salem community with pollution and disease for six decades. More info here (scroll down to “Only the Best for Salem”)

4. Inform yourself: If you are still unconvinced that climate change is real, human-caused, and urgent, this site of the Natural Resources Defense Council (click here) provides a comprehensive overview. If you question whether your actions can make a difference, click here to read the New York Times editorial by Michael Pollan titled, “Why Bother?”  

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