Category: Writings

No Need for N.E.D, No Need for Any

By Dineen O’Rourke

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Taking Steps to a Renewable Future, a four-day walk along the route of the pipeline this March, planned by the Sugar Shack Alliance and Climate Action Now. Exactly a month after we completed the walk, Kinder Morgan announced the suspension of the pipeline. Photo Courtesy of Aly Johnson-Kurts.

Throughout the bitter months of winter in 2014, veiled representatives of the billion-dollar energy company Kinder Morgan knocked on the doors of residents in the small hill-towns of Massachusetts. Their company emblems were covered and their smiles were wide. “Do we have permission to survey your property? We’re collecting data for a regional environmental study.” Clipboards and cameras in hand, they were shown to the backyards of dozens of properties, quietly collecting and recording information. It was weeks later when homeowners learned what they had actually granted permission for, when Kinder Morgan-marked letters were received in mailboxes across the state outlining the plan to build a fracked gas pipeline in those very backyards. Naturally, this didn’t favor well in the birthplace of Shay’s Rebellion; a movement quickly spread like wildfire, with resolutions and ordinances banning the project in over seventy towns, tens of thousands of petition signatures, legal cases, multiple marches across the state, and opposition declared by dozens of public officials.

Now, after a dedicated two-year-long grassroots movement, Kinder Morgan suspended the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline on April 26, 2016 and then officially withdrew their application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on May 23. Our grassroots movement defeated one of the largest energy companies in the country.

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Photo courtesy of No Fracked Gas in Mass

This following research was originally conducted and written in December of 2015, when Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas had just significantly changed the proposed path of the pipeline, brining the eastern section of the route into New Hampshire. Publishing this research now is a way to portray a capsule in time of a successful social movement and reflect on the strategies that brought on a major victory in the fight against the fossil fuel industry. What did our movement do particularly well? Where could we have improved? The threat and consequences of this pipeline are shared with all the other proposed fracked gas projects in our region. Fighting one helps us fight others; we must not back down because we’ve won just one battle. Reflecting on this recent victory can help strengthen our understanding of this industry and inform us on how to defeat Spectra Energy’s AIM Pipeline, the West Roxbury Lateral, the compressor stations in Burrillville, Rhode Island and North Weymouth, and inspire us to continue organizing for a just and sustainable world.

In this light, I hope you will join us in escalating this summer against Spectra and acting in solidarity with our neighbors in Eastern Massachusetts. On Tuesday, June 28th, the Sugar Shack Alliance will be bringing a contingent of Kinder Morgan pipeline fighters to risk arrest in West Roxbury. Then from July 14-18, we will march along the route of the proposed Spectra Access Northeast route, back to West Roxbury, and end at the Boston Statehouse to send the message: Stop the Pipelines or the People Will! 
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Stopping A Pipeline: The Power of the Grassroots

Protesters walk in rain

By Susan Theberge,  Editor of CAN newsletter

Neighbors, students, farmers, conservationists, children, elders, affected land owners, small business owners, politicians, artists, faith leaders, musicians, lawyers, climate activists, builders, poets, climate justice organizers and hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals came together united around one common goal: The Kinder Morgan NED fracked gas pipeline will never be built! From day one our community in Western Mass knew something that Kinder Morgan could not see: our long and storied history of successful resistance to injustice and exploitation by corporate outsiders.

United by a love of the land and a passion for a livable future and in powerful collaboration with others across the state and region, people organized on every front: legal, political, educational, and regulatory; at the local, state and federal level; through direct actions including walking the proposed pathway, organizing rallies, overflowing the halls of numerous hearings, building a Thoreau Cabin in the pathway of the pipeline, ongoing vigils and active preparation for massive non-violent civil disobedience with the support of a brilliant legal team.

While remaining mindful of new twists and turns, we know that for now one toxic and completely unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure project has been blocked. While celebrating our success, we need to continue to focus our energies on the bigger picture: the need to stop the many other proposed fossil fuel projects that remain. This includes our fight to protect public lands threatened by the CT Expansion pipeline in Sandisfield, to block the Spectra pipeline in the eastern part of Massachusetts, and to stand together with those in New York who are resisting the Constitution Pipeline.

Preventing climate catastrophe binds us together as never before in human history. It is only by working together on a global scale that we will prevent the extinction of life on earth. This, the call of our times, contains a paradoxical gift: to prevent climate catastrophe we must find new ways of occupying planet earth that are grounded in equity, justice, respect and love.

photo credit: Rene Theberge

Lessons from California gas disaster; Bring them Home to Western MA

Marty Nathan, MD: Lessons from California gas disaster

By MARTY NATHAN, MD

A year and a half ago I wrote about the gas leak at my house that caused the fire department to evacuate the neighborhood. While on vacation, mice chewed through the line connecting a propane tank to our backyard grill. Luckily, our smart 13-year-old neighbor who was caring for our backyard chickens in our absence smelled the gas and told her mom, who called the alarm.

And even more fortunately, the leak was small, no one lit a match and the crisis passed within an hour.

Not so lucky for the folks of Porter Ranch, California, an upscale suburb of Los Angeles. A little over two weeks ago the California Secretary of State joined his neighbors in leaving his home there in order to protect himself, his wife and three small children from the toxic effects of the methane leak from the nearby huge Aliso Canyon underground storage facility. Massive emissions of methane were pouring into the air from where it is stored under high pressure in an old well 3,000 feet underground. The methane (the major component of natural gas) was delivered by pipeline mostly from West Texas.

It created a plume a mile high and several miles long from Oct. 23, 2015, until it was “temporarily” plugged Friday. It continued for three and a half months because of the depth of the storage, the pressure and complexity of the storage system and, well, because neither Southern Cal Gas nor any other fossil fuel company has bothered to make a plan for such a disaster. Sound familiar?

It does to quite a few environmental experts. Famed lawyer Erin Brockovich has joined others in comparing it to the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil blowout and spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Boston University Prof. Nathan Phillips says, “This is a contamination of atmosphere rather than ocean waters. It is more of a respiratory version of (Deepwater Horizon).”

Aliso Canyon spewed over 90,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere. The mercaptan in it has made people sick, forcing the evacuation of over 2,000 people from the area and closing two local schools. Of course the gas is volatile, and devastating fires and explosions have been possible. Since our atmosphere has no boundaries, of course this is not just a local disaster. Methane is a greenhouse gas, 80 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. What was emitted is equal to eight million tons of carbon dioxide, a quarter of the greenhouse gas cuts that California’s ambitious global warming mitigation plan is set to eliminate.

It is a big hit to the climate, something to be mourned on behalf of the future of those living on our planet.

But let us learn the Aliso Canyon lesson here, in Massachusetts.

Natural gas, methane, is not a safe or appropriate “bridge fuel” to a future of renewable energy. Though burning the final product is less polluting than burning coal, the leaks all the way along the production and delivery system — the worst example being Aliso Canyon — wipe out any benefit that the “cleaner burning” bestows.

And leaks are everywhere. There will be planned releases at the compressor stations along the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline in western Massachusetts. In Boston, the Environmental Defense Fund earlier found a leak approximately every mile traversed by National Grid’s often 50-year-old pipes. Aliso Canyon calls us to do a few things:

  • Stop the gas leaks at wells, storage tanks and pipes. In Massachusetts the Natural Gas Leak law must be implemented throughout the state.
  • Prevent the building of any new natural gas infrastructure. Yes, I mean the Northeast Energy Direct and the West Roxbury Lateral Pipelines, which are needed not for Massachusetts consumers but instead for natural gas profit through export. Join the march “Taking Steps to a Renewable Future” from March 17 to 20 from Windsor to Northfield between proposed NED stations.
  • Use due diligence to conserve and make the transition to renewable energy. Call your legislators and ask them toensure the elimination of the cap on net metering of solar energy to support that transition from dangerous, climate-killing fossil fuels.

Marty Nathan, MD, lives in Northampton and is a physician at Baystate Brightwood and a member of Climate Action NOW.   This op-ed was published in the Hampshire daily Gazette Thursday, February 18, 2016

Marty Nathan: Why “Capitalism can stop climate change” plan is bogus and immoral

Recently I awoke to scientist Sue Natali of the Woods Hole Research Center discussing the rapid melting of the Northern Hemisphere permafrost on NEPR’s Living on Earth.

I was alarmed. Hence, I am compelled to be alarmist.
The earth is a very complicated place. When changes are made in one area, like warming the atmosphere and oceans through pumping massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the air, that small rise in temperature can trigger other changes that release much more carbon independent of the original trigger. These carbon feedback loops have long been predicted by climate scientists, and now it seems they are happening.

The air temperatures in the Arctic are warming twice as fast as in the rest of the world, as Alaskans can tell you. The permafrost – by definition all of the ground frozen through two straight years (and much of it for tens of thousands of years) – is beginning to melt. The melting allows for bacterial degradation of the organic – previously living – matter. That breakdown process emits carbon dioxide and methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide. The thawing also causes drying of the ground which encourages fires, which then generate more rapid emissions release and faster thawing.

Permafrost covers 25% of the Northern Hemisphere land area. There are 1.5 trillion tons of carbon stored there, about as much as remains in our fossil fuel reserves and three times as much as is stored in the world’s forests and ocean plants.

If the world’s carbon emissions continue at the present rate, we can expect the permafrost melt to release 130 to 150 billion tons by the end of the century. That is equivalent to what our own country will spew during the same period, so the permafrost will double our country’s climate impact.
And, let me repeat: once it starts, we cannot stop it, because it proceeds on the basis of the effects of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.

If we cut emissions drastically now, we can rein in its contribution to only 60 billion tons of carbon by the end of the century. But that means acting now.

Pope Francis obviously gets it. His recent encyclical reaches out to all of us, not just Catholics, to immediately change our lifestyles and policies away from the profit-and-consumption frenzy that has put us in the position of threatening our very life support systems.

It seems that segments of corporate America now get it, too, in a perverse way, and are shifting their tactics from outright denial of climate change to promoting ways to profit from our desperate straits. Bill Eacho’s column “Capitalism can stop climate change” bluntly lays out a plan to further enrich those that for the last century or so have used our atmosphere as a free garbage dump for their pollution, and now want to subvert the movement for change. http://www.gazettenet.com/home/17451039-95/bill-eacho-capitalism-can-stop-climate-change

One of the few effective methods of enacting large-scale emissions cuts quickly has been a carbon fee and rebate or carbon tax. http://www.gazettenet.com/home/16628306-95/marty-nathan-it-ought-to-be-a-law-and-can-carbon-fee-and-rebate . It has been effectively imposed in several countries and in Canada’s British Columbia province. Environmentalists have long demanded it in the US, but up till now it has been fought tooth and nail by corporate financial influence in Congress and the White House.

Eacho seems to be the mouthpiece for the wealthy who now see the writing on the wall in favor of putting a fair price on carbon. His article supports the popular measure with this crucial change: instead of the rebate going equally to all (with some invested in infrastructure), half of it would go cut corporate taxes. He says the change is necessary in order to protect the “job-creators” from the “decreased competitiveness” supposedly inherent in the measure.

This excuse is at once bogus, immoral and counters the aim of the carbon fee.

Bogus, because where carbon fee-and–rebate has been implemented, as in BC, the economy has grown.

Immoral, because he is talking about paying back the culprits who have been obscenely enriched by the profligate fossil fuel consumption era.

Contrary to the goal of reducing emissions, as amply demonstrated this week with the passage of the deeply unpopular Trans-Pacific Partnership that was bought-and-paid-for by major corporate lobbyists. The TPP has the potential to undermine every environmental law in twelve countries around the Pacific rim, including the US, if that legislation “threatens future profit”. Putting more money in corporate hands, history assures us, will only increase their power to destroy the sustainable economy we are trying to build.

We are facing disaster as never seen before by humanity. We must be alarmed. We must right now begin to change our lifestyles and our economy, and a carbon tax or fee and rebate is one tool to do both. But using it as a ploy to strengthen Exxon-Mobil and its ilk is not a path we can afford to take.

Marty Nathan: The $5.5 billion pipeline dinosaur that should never come to life

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Hampshire Daily Gazette: Submitted photo “Climate Summer Bicycle Riders,” are taking to the roads in western Massachusetts in opposition to Kinder Morgan’s proposed natural gas pipeline

By MARTY NATHAN in the Hampshire Daily Gazette

Every day for months I have been seeing Berkshire Gas ads explaining its policy of preventing new gas hookups, citing “pipeline capacity constraints” limiting gas availability. My understanding of gas supply is fuzzy, though I suspected from the first that any time pipelines are being mentioned by energy companies in western Massachusetts, Kinder Morgan is probably behind the curtain.

Then a couple of weeks ago I heard mention by a Northampton official that barriers to new gas hookups are hindering development of key projects in the town.

The moratorium strategy is being adopted not just by Berkshire Gas in Franklin County and in Amherst, Hadley and Hatfield, but as well by Columbia Gas in Easthampton and Northampton. The Hampshire County towns for both companies are all fed by the Northampton Lateral of another Tennessee Gas pipeline in southern Massachusetts.

Thus the new Pleasant Street affordable housing project in Northampton, much needed by our community to serve low income people, is being stalled, as is the opening and expansion of small businesses in this lurching recovery from the Great Recession.

To what purpose?

These two LDCs have applied to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to bless contracts (whose details and pricing are secret) to acquire natural gas from the Northeast Direct which, if built, will pass from Wright, New York, to Dracut. Columbia Gas has said that it needs 114,000 dekatherms/day to replace existing contracts that it plans to get out of and to cover projected growth.

It says that without the new NED gas delivery, its customers will suffer from shortages.

The problem is that the only consumer demand that Columbia is looking at is that occurring on “design” or peak demand days — in the middle of the winter, when the furnace in every house is chugging and electrical output, much based now on the burning of natural gas, is high.

Though never explicitly stated in their filings or press releases, yearly peak days can be counted on the fingers of one hand. On all other days, supply well-surpasses demand.

On design days there are alternatives — either shipped in or locally stored liquefied natural gas or gas bought on the open market, which can and should be a part of any distributer’s plan. In Amherst, specific temporary stopgap measures have been proposed for the design days, till long-term answers have been implemented.

A similar analysis could be done for all the other affected towns.

Yet Columbia, Berkshire and Cape Gas companies have ignored those options and thrown their lot in with Kinder Morgan, stating that the building of the pipeline is necessary for energy security for the Commonwealth. This is convenient for Kinder Morgan, which must make a case for such need: the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to whom it has applied for permission to build the pipeline requires that there be local (i.e. Massachusetts) service provision in order to OK the project.

The truth is, though, that the main market for the NED fracked gas is overseas. From Dracut it will be sent to Nova Scotia and then across the Atlantic. There simply is not enough demand in the U.S. to absorb the enormous amount of frackable gas in the Marcellus Shale and prices (and therefore profits) have plummeted.

Critics in the know say the LDCs projections of local demand are phony, that Columbia Gas is choosing to break other contracts to substitute the NED and overstating the growth in regional demand. They hold that companies are vastly understating the amount of gas that could be saved by truly aggressive energy efficiency methods and conversion to renewables.

Just plugging the leaks in Boston’s old gas pipes alone could save 41,000 dekatherms a day. No one has yet studied Springfield or Holyoke, both cities served by Columbia Gas.

The distributors then back up their narrative of unmet local need with the moratorium, creating a crisis that threatens community development and punishes towns, many of whom have taken a stand against the environmentally destructive NED. The moratorium is being implemented unilaterally and without oversight. It verges on extortion of the communities Columbia and Berkshire Gas are by law dedicated to serve.

It is very important that we do not submit, but that we soberly assess the benefits and harms of new carbon infrastructure like the NED in a time when there must be a profound energy shift to conservation and renewables.

No matter what Columbia and Berkshire Gas say, the $5.5 billion to build this destructive dinosaur would be better spent in effecting that shift.

Marty Nathan, M.D., is a physician at Baystate Brightwood Health Center and a member of Climate Action NOW. She lives in Northampton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article featuring CAN work

The year 2014 was the warmest ever recorded. Every region of the United States except Hawaii has seen more extreme precipitation episodes in the last 10 years, led by the Northeast with a stunning 71 percent increase.

This past winter’s snowfall records in Boston and elsewhere are consistent with climate predictions that warmer ocean temperatures feed storms with moisture, causing the blizzards and heavy rains we’ve been experiencing

Whether it’s flooding in the Northeast or drought in the Southwest, climate change is affecting all of us. This is the “new normal.” Although the science has been clear, world leaders have spent the last quarter-century doing little to address the crisis. We now have a small window of time left to prevent climate catastrophe. The U.N. Environment Program says we need to reach “net zero carbon” by century’s end — this will probably require stopping almost all fossil fuel usage worldwide by around 2050. To succeed, we need to start cutting back right now.

One heartening development is the rise of grassroots groups of people across the country and around the world discovering ways to prevent climate chaos and create positive and equitable solutions. The Valley is home to Climate Action NOW (CAN), a diverse grassroots community of people connected by our passion to preserve a livable world and create a more just society. We work to build coalitions that inspire, educate and organize individuals and groups working on climate change issues.

CAN serves as the Pioneer Valley branch of 350 Massachusetts for a Better Future (350Mass), a volunteer-led statewide climate action network. Central to this movement is a call for a drastic and immediate reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  [edit: we have since changed our status to working in collaboration with 350 Massachusetts for a Better Future instead of functioning as as “node”.]

This requires a fundamental global shift in how we produce and use energy. We have our work cut out for us, because we are contending with powerful and wealthy interests, including multinational energy corporations whose profits depend on continuing the extraction and use of fossil fuels.

There’s a place for everyone in this global surge to create meaningful change in the window of time we have left. To be successful, we need as many people as possible to step up.

Here in the Valley there are many vehicles for getting involved:

Building a sustainable energy future for Massachusetts.

We are organizing for a clean, renewable energy future while we join with others to stop fossil fuel infrastructure expansion in Massachusetts and beyond through the ReNEWable Massachusetts project. We are working to promote local control of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and conservation in order to reduce or eliminate the need for fossil fuel-based energy.

We’ve also organized opposition, including non-violent civil disobedience, to the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will greatly increase global CO2 emissions from dirty tar sands oil. Tar sands exploitation also threatens indigenous communities in Canada and the United States.

CAN/350Mass helps organize community efforts for a climate action plan in your town or city to oppose new fossil fuel infrastructure (pipelines or power plants) and to shift town and faith communities’ energy sources to 100% renewable.

Demanding divestment from fossil fuels.

From students calling for their universities to divest endowments, to faith communities and state workers calling for cutting institutional ties to corporations profiting from fossil fuels, the divestment movement is a global and growing force with institutions committing to remove these investments from their stock portfolios. CAN/350Mass will help you develop and promote resolutions in your town or faith group to divest from fossil fuels. We’re also supporting state legislation to divest the state pension fund from fossil fuels.

The Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

CAN is a founding member of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, which brings together diverse groups to fight for climate justice in Springfield. Our current focus is ensuring that the city fully implements its Climate Action Plan. We’re working to ensure that the plan reflects the needs of those most affected by pollution and the impacts of climate change.

A fair price for carbon.

Most economists agree that putting a price on carbon is the best way to reduce the emissions that cause global warming. One path toward this goal is to end fossil fuel subsidies by having our state legislature approve a fair and equitable fee and rebate program. The state legislature is considering two bills to put a price on carbon. The Massachusetts Campaign for a Clean Energy Future — a broad coalition including business, labor, civic and environmental groups — is currently facilitating a statewide dialogue so the best legislation will emerge; CAN is an active participant.

Arts and media.

CAN is looking for people to work on street theater, giant puppets, music and art so we can bring our passion to the streets and public art to our actions. We also need people with media skills to help with our weekly online newsletter, and our presence on the web, in print and on social media.

Climate change is happening, but together we can prevent catastrophe. If you’re ready to get involved, together we CAN make a difference.

Marty Nathan: It ought to be a law, and can: carbon fee and rebate

Marty Nathan, a member of  Climate Action Now,  is a regular contributor to the Gazette opinion pages. Here is her most recent column:

By MARTY NATHAN in the Hampshire Daily Gazette  Thursday, April 23, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — Most of the climate news from the oceans and the Arctic and California has been grim, with changes occurring around the world even faster than climate scientists had predicted.

But this month, as my mixed-religious family prepared to celebrate Passover and Easter, the two holidays of hope, there was a glimmer of optimism that we might be able to transform our society into a sustainable one. The first was President Obama’s vow, made in the lead-up to the coming Paris conference on climate change, that the United States would cut carbon emissions by 28 percent over the next decade. This was not new news: It had first been uttered following negotiations with China last year. The fact that the Administration has stuck with it, though, shows a spine that has way-too-often been lacking in Washington. And 28 percent is not enough, but it is a portal to deeper cuts, to the 80 percent needed by 2050 to prevent the worst-case climate scenario — global warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius with its companion sea level rise, droughts (of which California’s is only a preview) and tipping points to exponentially increasing carbon release.

The second event to be celebrated was the completion of the Iran nuclear agreement, limiting the chance of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and decreasing world tensions. What has that to do with the environment or climate change? A lot. Nuclear energy, weapons and waste are a huge threat regionally, but this agreement encourages a negotiated settlement in the Middle East and throughout the world. And absolutely nothing is more damaging to the environment (let alone humans) than war.

Hope means little in the long run if it does not inspire further commitment to the hard work awaiting us. We must build the institutional structures that will cut carbon emissions quickly. One of the most important climate tasks we in Massachusetts can tackle to propel us to and beyond that 28 percent emissions reduction will be to create a carbon fee and rebate system in the state. What is it and why do we need it?

A carbon fee and rebate system puts a price on oil, natural gas and coal coming into our state. That price is based on the pollution cost of burning it and is paid by the limited number of distributors that send the fuel to the places where it is resold or burned. That added fee is then passed on to consumers at the pump, the electric and gas meter, our oil company bill and products made using this energy.

Why do it? Because increased cost decreases use. To stop climate change (and health-destructive air pollution) we must burn less fossil fuel. People find alternatives — they turn the thermostat down in winter and up in summer. They walk or take the bus, invest in solar if they can, hang out the wash and insulate the house, even when there are not programs to support such energy-conserving choices, much more so when those choices are offered, promoted and subsidized.

It works. It has been adopted in scores of countries around the world and, in one of the best-studied examples, Canada’s British Columbia province, its adoption was associated with a 16 percent drop in emissions over seven years when Canada’s overall emissions rose by 3 percent.

But isn’t it an economy-destroying tax? Well, you can call it a tax if you want but it is more like a user’s fee. At present, big polluters are using our atmosphere as a free dump for a toxic product, in a manner that is destroying our future. Perhaps they should pay for that, which is jeopardizing our health and ecosystem. It is our collective responsibility to stop the abuse of something that belongs to all of us.

Doesn’t it hit those most financially at risk: poor homeowners, renters and low-wage workers having to pay more to travel to their jobs, those for whom transportation, heat and electricity costs are a greater proportion of their budgets?

No. In fact, low- and middle-income people come out ahead in the plan adopted in British Columbia and proposed for Massachusetts. That is because there is an upfront rebate, an equal amount to each adult that, unless you make more than $70,000 a year, more than compensates for the loss in fees. Those who burn the least fuel make out best.

What about the “economy-destroying” business? In the years since the institution of the fee and rebate, British Columbia’s economy has grown faster than that of the rest of Canada. In part that is because a fraction of the fee has been used to offer those sustainable choices — building mass transit, expanding solar, hydro and wind energy and conservation.

Two bills are before the Massachusetts Legislature to establish a carbon fee and rebate system, filed by Sens. Marc R. Pacheco and Michael J. Barrett. Forty-three lawmakers have signed on, including state Reps. Peter Kocot and Ellen Story. That gives us more hope. Let’s build on it.

Marty Nathan, M.D., is a physician at Baystate Brightwood Health Center and a member of Climate Action NOW. She lives in Northampton.

Marty Nathan: Why must shifts to avoid climate change be ‘palatable’ when so much is at stake?

By MARTY NATHAN

The Hampshire Gazette
Thursday, January 15, 2015
(Published in print: Friday, January 16, 2015)

NORTHAMPTON — Caught out of the corner of my ear while sweeping the kitchen floor: “The program for change to prevent climate disaster needs to be inexpensive and palatable enough to be acceptable.” Thus stated a fundamentalist Christian environmentalist to a National Public Radio reporter regarding her work in the church to create a movement to reduce carbon emissions.

It was the word “palatable” that grabbed my attention. Whose palate, and who is formulating what we are being asked to swallow?

I ask because what is “palatable” to most people — clean air, a beautiful and safe environment where children can play, healthy food on the table, safe drinking water, heat and light for our homes, friendship and family, meaningful work — is not enough and sometimes is antithetical to the palates of CEOs of some major industries.

Case in point, the stunning defeat of the expanded bottle bill ballot initiative in November, when more than three-quarters of voters rejected extending the 5-cent bottle deposit to cover non-carbonated beverages, water, iced tea, juice and sports drinks.

The present bottle bill is the most successful recycling and litter-prevention program in Massachusetts, causing more than 80 percent of covered items to be returned versus 23 percent for uncovered bottles, including those that were the subject of the November ballot initiative.

Our open spaces are littered with these eyesores and municipalities must pay to clean them up. Our seas are scattered with huge flotillas composed of plastic pellets from their breakdown, a toxic soup lethal to hapless sea creatures.

As several friends have said to me, the expanded bottle bill seemed like a no-brainer. Palatable if not downright delightful socially and economically.

But corporations spent massively on an ad campaign to refashion the issue. A redeemable deposit became a “tax.” The overall economic benefit ($7 million per year predicted in savings from litter cleanup) was advertised as a burden to taxpayers. “Costs to beverage consumers will go up!” In fact New Hampshire, the only state in New England without a bottle bill, boasts higher beverage costs than Maine, which has New England’s most extensive law.

Who shaped the public discourse? Of the $9.1 million spent on opposition to the bottle bill, $8.7 million came from the American Beverage Association and Nestle’s. (Local shoppers please note: $300,000 was spent by Stop & Shop.) Until the last minute this was 10 times that spent by environmental groups.

The corporate interest was to profit from their beverages. Seems that they figured that the added cost of deposits might prevent some from buying something that in the case of bottled water comes out of the tap. They successfully set about reshaping our palate, or at least how we perceived what we were biting off. It was a successful hornswoggle — and an important lesson for those of us, who are most of us, about who cares about the future of our planet.

Last week, the Republican-led House passed a bill to permit construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline to carry tar sands from Alberta to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, where it will be shipped to consumers in Asia and Europe. The mining of the tar sands has despoiled vast areas of wild Alberta, and carrying the diluted bitumen through the pipeline will endanger groundwater, farmlands, aquifers and endangered species along its route with spills that may be impossible ever to clean up.

Those are the local impacts. It is the climate effect that makes it unpalatable to us all. Tar sands oil requires four times more energy than oil to produce, is much dirtier to burn and the vast quantities that would be released led NASA scientist James Hansen to call it “game over for the climate.” Yet it is being presented as a “job creator” (actually fewer than 50 permanent positions) and a vehicle for U.S. energy independence (though the oil will be shipped overseas). We are again being sold a lemon dressed as a piece of cake.

What is the price of that transformation? In 2013 major corporations (led by the Chamber of Commerce at $95 million and Shell, Marathon, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips together at over $23 million) spent $178 million in lobbying for the pipeline, dwarfing the less than $5 million scraped together by such high flyers as the League of Women Voters and the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

The destruction of our planet’s future for corporate profit should suit no one’s palate. Let’s spit it out and look for alternatives that nourish us and our environment.

Marty Nathan, M.D., is a physician at Baystate Brightwood Health Center and a member of Climate Action NOW. She lives in Northampton.

Marty Nathan: Climate Change and War

I was digging compost yesterday and wheel-barrowing it past my backyard chickens to the front yard vegetable garden and found myself thinking essentially the same thoughts that I put down on these pages in 2011. Then I had openly pondered the tremendous destruction wreaked by war and militarism – at that time in Iraq and Afghanistan – and how its climate effects dwarfed any paltry action to mitigate climate change I might take.

Fast forward three years: Last month in the same week that 400,000 people marched in New York City to demand that President Obama take leadership in international negotiations on climate change by implementing carbon reduction by this country, jets began roaring over northern Syria and Iraq in the official opening of a new bombing war against the Islamic State.

The Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State in Syria) is easy to hate – their beheading of journalists and mass killing of local people are detestable. It must be noted, though, that the bombing only began seriously after the Islamic State had gained control over the oil wells in Northern Syria and Kurdistan. It is a persistent irony.  The US is again waging war burning oil to maintain control over oil.

The US military is the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world and the largest institutional greenhouse gas producer. Estimates are that it spews 100 million tons of greenhouse gases a year from tankers, jets, aircraft carriers and bases around the world, though the numbers are hard to pin down.

But the most destructive activity in a climate analysis is war, and the worst form is air war. Jet fuel is a much more potent greenhouse-gas producer, at least twice as powerful as gasoline. Each F-15 fighter jet uses 1500 gallons of jet fuel per hour (and, with afterburners, 14,400 gallons per hour.) Thus one 8-hour sortie puts somewhere in the neighborhood of 600,000 pounds or 300 tons of climate-changing gases in the air.

By the end of September, the United States had conducted 240 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, as well as 1300 tanker refueling missions, totaling 3800 sorties. It is likely that those numbers have more than doubled since the beginning of October. Bomb explosions themselves are greenhouse gas producers as well as destroyers of people, buildings and nature. The amount of climate destruction from this “limited war” is almost inestimable.

Who cares about composting, chickens and organic front-yard gardens?

Yet as I thought about writing this piece, I found myself hesitating. In 2011 we knew that war was bad. Barack Obama had been elected in great part to stop the war in Iraq, started by a Bush Administration whose commitment to preserving the interests of Big Oil eclipsed any regard for war’s impact on humanity or the environment.

But many of the policies of the Obama administration do have redeeming value, and because of that and the ruthlessness of the Islamic State, there has been little outcry against the bombing. When polled in late September, a majority of Americans supported it, though a majority also believed that it would not work. Reality seems to fulfill that belief: the Islamic State is by no means retreating.

I am a doctor. A clinical evaluation means weighing therapeutic effects vs side effects. Every day I make those comparisons when offering medicine to my patients. What are the chances that it will do more harm than good?

Applying a similar analysis to the air war on Syria and Iraq goes as follows:

  1. Is the bombing effective in turning back the territorial gains of the Islamic State with precision bombing “decapitating the enemy” and making the area safe for Kurdish and non-Islamic State Syrian resistance to advance? Or does it follow the historical course of most air wars with minimal strategic effect on its own if ground intelligence and forces are not adequate? http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/59714/robert-a-pape/the-true-worth-of-air-power
  2. Are the “side effects” worth it?
  3. Untold numbers of civilians have been killed, their deaths tragedies in themselves, but very likely also fueling the Islamic State insurgency.
  4. All of those billions of dollars being spent could have been put to use in education, green housing, energy, agriculture and transportation, and redirecting our economy to the sustainable path it must pursue.
  5. The environment has been the silent victim, at a time when we are becoming acutely aware of its importance and its vulnerability. We can no longer evaluate our actions without considering these effects.

Journalist Thomas Friedman has pointed out that the Syrian Civil War was in part provoked by the economic suffering precipitated by a severe drought in that country, a drought that is most likely – like the one in California – an early effect of global warming. Our burning of oil to control oil in a conflict at least in part created by the effects of burning fossil fuels stretches the irony beyond tolerability.

Other ways can and must be found in the Middle East and elsewhere to deal with conflict. The world depends on it.

Marty Nathan: Recap of Springfield Climate March

On Monday, October 20, Climate Action NOW, Arise for Social Justice, the North End Organizing Network and our 27 other ally organizations in the 2014 Springfield Climate Justice March made history.With our dual-origin march from the Latino North End and Mason Square, we brought over 200 people together on the steps of City Hall for a rally as diverse in its age, ethnicity, race, religion and language as were its speakers. All were there to support the passage by the City Council of the Springfield Climate Action Plan, to mitigate global warming by cutting the city’s carbon emissions.

The rally featured the newly-minted movement anthem “This Changes Everything” performed by songwriter Ben Grosscup, inspiration by Episcopal Bishop Doug Fisher, Mason Square Health Task Force leader Wanda Givens, and Michaelann Bewsee of Arise, and students and activists from throughout the City. Michaelann, Armando Perez of NEON, and Ernesto Cruz spoke of the need to see the resolution for a climate action plan being considered by the Council as the beginning of a process to clean the City’s air leading to lower asthma and emphysema rates, while providing jobs, lower electricity and heating costs, fresh food and safer communities, while   at the same time stopping climate change on the local level. Armando Perez referred to the ideas for the climate change plan that had flowed from community organizing  meetings: increased insulation, gardens, LED lights and solar panels for public housing; more recycling and composting to cut garbage burning; making industry cut its emissions and take responsibility for its pollution; providing usable sidewalks and bike paths particularly in areas like the North End polluted by traffic though their residents own fewer cars per capita than most New Englanders. These are some of the measures that the community will be calling for in our efforts to make the Springfield Climate Action Plan truly a Springfield Climate Justice Action Plan.

The Raging Grannies ushered us into the building with song. In the foyer the group spontaneously began the civil rights theme song “We Shall Overcome” and continued it as we filed into chambers. There Dr. Doug Barnshaw of Arise, Sarita Hudson of Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition and students from the Springfield Central High School Enviroteam exhorted the council to pass the resolution. Wilfredo Pastrana spoke through an interpreter about the need for serving public transportation needs of the city and Milta Franco read the Springfield Public Health Council’s resolution in support of the Climate Action Plan.

Historic? As the City Councilors one by one declared the necessity of the Climate Action Plan and funding for an office to implement it, it was a major step forward by the second largest city in Massachusetts to recognize and combat the source of climate change. But historic also in the character of the coalition that produced it: African-American, white, Latino, young, old, upper and lower valley all brought together by common cause. Organizers admit the power of that coalition was crucial to the momentum to take this first step.

All recognize, though, that this is only a first step. Mayor Sarno must approve funding for the creation of the plan and its administrator. Further, the plan must reflect the needs of those most affected by the city’s pollution who just happen to be the city’s poor and working poor. The historic coalition must gain strength in order to carry the task to fruition: a healthier Springfield with reduced carbon emissions.

Marty Nathan MD, Climate Action NOW and Baystate Brightwood Health Center, both march sponsors.

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