Category: Op-Ed

Column: Marty Nathan: Our planet has a fever

Published in the Hampshire Daily Gazette August 02, 2018

I really want to write good news. Honestly and personally, I hate heat and I hate suffering. And I hate rants. I want to write joyously about how what we are doing in cutting greenhouse gas emissions is decreasing CO2 and methane levels and fulfilling the biospheric need for a stable climate.

No such luck. The reality is that the planet itself is hot and suffering and beginning to rant, if we will listen. Last month, a Washington Post weather story began with the sentence, “From the normally mild summer climes of Ireland, Scotland and Canada to the scorching Middle East to Southern California, numerous locations in the Northern Hemisphere have witnessed their hottest weather ever recorded.” Fifty-four people died in the heat wave in Canada, and the thermometer hit 90 degrees in Northern Siberia on July 5, 40 degrees above normal. That same day, temperatures seem to have risen to the highest ever recorded on the African continent, at 124 degrees in Ouargla, Algeria. The heat surpassed or tied all-time records across North America and in Europe: from Los Angeles to Denver, Burlington and Montreal, and across the Atlantic to cities in Scotland and Ireland. Quriyat, Oman, posted the highest daily low temperature ever recorded on June 28: 109 degrees.

Our planet has a fever. The inconvenient truth is that global warming and climate chaos are happening. Heat and drought have resulted in fire seasons throughout the American West that now start three months earlier than in the past. But again, it is a world-wide phenomenon: flames are incinerating towns and forests from Redding, Calif., to Athens to northern Sweden above the Arctic Circle, each fire producing more emissions and more heat to compound the problem.

Probably our ancestors’ greatest accomplishment, the one that contributed most uniquely to the survival and dominance of our species, was control of fire. Now the effort to stop the burning of carbon to carbon dioxide poses the greatest challenge to the sustainability of life.

In the face of the crisis, leaders continue to sort themselves. There are the “climate change-makers” (ironic, since they are also the deniers). Donald Trump and his administration just last week announced a full-mouth tooth extraction from the Endangered Species Act, paving the way for more deforestation, mining, building and drilling while he ushers threatened animals and plants into extinction. For the first time since the Act’s adoption in 1973, economic impact (read profit) is to be weighed in decisions to protect species at risk, and states, who have closer ties to eager developers and drillers, will have a say in the process. Local author Elizabeth Kolbert wrote The Sixth Extinction, which reviews humanity’s startlingly rapid destruction of the planet’s flora and fauna, equivalent to only five previous known episodes of species collapse in all of Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history. Responding to Trump’s plan, she quoted Congressman Raul Grijalva, who described it as “part of the endless special favors the White House and Department of the Interior are willing to do for their industry friends.”

Grijalva is right of course. The announcement and coordinated acts by Congressional Republicans augmented the news that the administration overall has drastically cut penalties for corporate wrongdoing compared to the Obama Administration. The worst decrease in fines not surprisingly came from the Environmental Protection Agency, which lowered them by a stunning 94 percent, from $29 billion in 2016 to a measly $1.9 billion in 2017. So even if regulations are broken under the new, hobbled Endangered Species Act, violators have little to fear.

The opposition to Trump’s plundering sports an admirable lineup, though. Recently Massachusetts’ Maura Healey joined six other state attorneys general demanding that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the first time consider the environmental costs, including climate change, of building new gas pipelines. FERC is responsible for licensing new fossil fuel infrastructure, and to call it a pushover is to be kind. Since 1999, FERC has approved around 400 natural gas pipeline projects and rejected only two. In that time enough pipeline has been built to deliver nearly twice the average daily consumption of natural gas in the U.S., 40 billion cubic feet greater even than the peak demand per day during the 2014 “Polar Vortex” cold snap. “By determining public benefit without regard to adverse environmental impacts and without consideration of the climate harm caused by a project, the Commission is failing to meet its obligations…,” AG Healey stated in her comments.

So, Trump wants corporations to have control over saving species and the AGs want those who breathe air and desire a livable climate to have a say in building fossil fuel infrastructure of questionable value.

Then there is the case of Massachusetts House Democratic leadership and Speaker Robert Deleo. They had the opportunity this session to join the Senate in legislating crucial greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Yet so far, they have refused to step up to the plate. The Senate passed a clean energy bill that would: rapidly increase the renewable energy portion of our state’s electricity supply (the Renewable Portfolio Standard or RPS) sufficient to reach 100 percent by 2050; remove the net metering caps that are halting solar projects and killing our solar industry; provide the full benefits of solar energy to low income and renting families; increase offshore wind production by 5,000 MW and establish environmental justice principles in law. In return, the House offered up… a northingburger. What finally came out of the Conference Committee was a pitiful compromise: only a 2 percent rise per year in the RPS for 10 years starting in 2020; the possibility of 1600 MW more offshore wind power; and no action on the caps to net metering or the barriers to low-income people needing solar energy. Moreover, final bill incentivized the burning of trash as an energy source, allowing it to continue polluting Massachusetts air, usually in the poorest neighborhoods.

A group of us spent quite a bit of volunteer time last week calling voters to ask that they urge their state representatives to demand action in the Conference Committee. More than once, I heard comments like, “You mean my progressive state doesn’t have these things already?! What’s going on?”

What’s going on is a fight to the death, literally, to protect vested interests and their status quo against the survival needs of future generations.

There are a lot more of us than there are of them. How do we sort out?

Marty Nathan MD is a mostly-retired Family Practitioner at Baystate Brightwood Health Center, a mother and a grandmother. She is a steering committee member of Climate Action Now and the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. She offers many thanks to Adele Franks for her information and editing.

Climate change, Hurricane Maria and neglect in Puerto Rico

Published on MassLive.com  Posted Aug 8

Click here for story with photos https://www.masslive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2018/08/climate_change_maria_and_negle.html

By Marty Nathan and Jomarie Ramirez

For two years we have known that the world is hotter than it has been for the last 115,000 years. The planet’s mean temperature has risen by 0.9 degrees Centigrade (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit) almost half way to the two-degree C upper limit that triggers geological feedback loops on a grand scale – melting of the Arctic tundra and sea ice, forest destruction and death of microscopic marine life – processes that will by themselves spew huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

This summer we have seen and felt the heat. We in Springfield were scorched by near-100-degree temperatures early in the summer. The south-central US – Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana – saw heat indices approaching 115 degrees this week and nearly 35 million Americans carried out their lives under excessive heat warnings. Most alarming, there were fires in Sweden, where temperatures went above 90 degrees north of the Arctic Circle.

There are no reputable scientists today that dispute either climate change or its human cause. The drilling and burning of fossil fuels have been putting unprecedented amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air and creating a blanket over the Earth that prevents heat escape into space.

Now the results are rolling in, faster than was earlier predicted, and those left “holding the bag”, suffering for fossil fuel company profits, are the people who can least afford it and are least responsible.

Rising temperatures are breeding more powerful storms. Before 2017, New Orleans was the poster child for climate injustice. After Hurricane Katrina hit the City in 2004 it was the inhabitants of the Lower Ninth Ward, mostly black, very poor and unprotected, who died when the levies broke. Prevention of the flooding, evacuation of the victims and then cleanup and rebuilding were all neglected because these were the people with the least political and economic clout in the region. Over 1,800 people died and tens of thousands were scattered across the country, our first internal climate refugees.

There should never be competition for misery, but the story of Katrina has now been replaced in extent of devastation and neglect by that of the people of Puerto Rico battered and killed by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

When Donald Trump met with Governor Ricardo Rossello in San Juan after the storm, he threw paper towels at men and women without shelter, and congratulated FEMA and his own administration for a death toll reported at that time as “only sixteen”.

But as the months went on and on and tarps were not delivered, floods were not drained, electricity, roads and buildings were not repaired, people continued to die from the effects of the storm. Climate change gave Maria its force but neglect by the United States government caused the deaths from heat, unclean water and lack of phone service, oxygen, refrigeration, medicines, transportation, and adequate food. A Harvard study in June estimated that there were 4,645 deaths attributable to the damage caused by the storm unrepaired by a disaster relief effort that was too little too late.

The blatant inadequacy of federal response was documented by other investigators from Politico who compared the efforts in Texas after the 2017 Hurricane Harvey with those that met Maria. They found that “the Trump administration — and the president himself — responded far more aggressively to Texas than to Puerto Rico. FEMA and the Trump administration exerted a faster, and initially greater, effort in Texas, even though the damage in Puerto Rico exceeded that in Houston.”

* It took six days from Hurricane Harvey to get more than 70 helicopters above the Texas coast delivering emergency supplies and saving lives, but over three weeks to fly the same number of helicopters over Puerto Rico.

* Nine days after each hurricane FEMA had approved $142 million for Harvey victims but only $6.2 million for Maria victims. Three times as many FEMA personnel had arrived, and they had delivered three times as many meals, twice as much water, and four times as many tarps in Houston as in Puerto Rico.

* It took just ten days for FEMA to approve permanent disaster aid for Texas compared with forty-three days for the Island.

There are arguments that the relief efforts in Puerto Rico were hampered by its geography as an island and its already-impoverished infrastructure crumbling further because of the austerity imposed by financial crisis. But we are talking about a country, the United States, that could deliver “Shock and Awe” half-way around the world if it wants to engage in war. And most Puerto Ricans would argue that the financial crisis was largely a product of unfair deals made with US banks by corrupt officials, leaving the Island deeply in debt and having to sacrifice its educational, medical and power infrastructure to its colonial financiers on the mainland to pay the debt.

The results? The Island has suffered mass out-migration, with more than 135,000 having left the Island by March and a half million expected to have moved to the mainland by 2019 due to the effects of the storm. Those who arrived in the US impoverished and desperate are now facing eviction from the motels and hotels where they were sheltered without jobs, family or other options.

On the other hand, rich speculators working with local officials are exploiting the financial desperation of those left whose businesses, farms and jobs have been disrupted by the storm. They are closing schools and medical facilities, privatizing electricity for corporate profit, and buying up land dirt cheap to create, as one journalist dubbed it, “A Playground for the Privileged”. In June there were 55,000 homes in foreclosure and developers are replacing them with luxury homes and hotels for tourists.

This is the new face of climate injustice: lives lost and families made refugees while their homes are replaced by golf courses and pools for the rich. Climate change brings moral challenges. Are we up to them?

Marty Nathan, MD, is an almost-retired family physician at Baystate Brightwood Health Center and a member of Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.
Jomarie Ramirez is a long-time resident and activist in Springfield who recently returned from visiting her family in Puerto Rico.

Marty Nathan: Climate crisis has greatest impact on poor people

 

We are entering a time of climate emergency, when murderous mega-storms, droughts, and heat waves are happening with increasing frequency and intensity. We are getting a preview of things to come in this mounting crisis, caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.

The climate change process is occurring in a human society divided not just by geography, but deeply cleaved by class, race and gender. We are not all equally capable of withstanding the onslaught of high winds and rising seas.

What are the climate change lessons so far? The recent Hurricane Matthew follows Katrina, Rita and Sandy in making one very clear statement: Poor people and poor communities, predominantly those of color, have and will increasingly suffer the most from the climate crisis, unless we consciously intervene on several fronts.

Matthew first pummeled western Haiti, destroying thousands of homes and killing hundreds of people, the number not yet settled because assessment and aid provision is still not complete.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Its hillsides are deforested, decreasing barriers to wind and flood damage. Dwellings are poorly made to withstand the power of hurricanes. Lack of roads and transport vehicles prevents evacuation in the face of disaster. Clean water is at a premium, meaning that the cholera bacteria introduced there after the earthquake six years ago could dig in and prosper, killing hundreds and lying in wait for opportunities for new human hosts. Health care resources are extremely limited. And those same nonexistent roads and vehicles bar relief and recovery efforts. The destruction wrought and still ongoing is appalling.

Matthew was the product of climate change. The atmospheric greenhouse gas blanket has warmed the ocean’s surface and has increased evaporation over tropical waters, filling the air with rain that is then dumped in torrents in tropical storms, typhoons and hurricanes. There have been more Level 4 and 5 hurricanes around the world in the last three decades than ever in recorded history. Climatologists and honest observers call them the new normal, the result of the human-heated world.

Coastal and island communities are more vulnerable because of their geography. However, some seaside dwellers, because of wealth and political power, are capable of escaping, withstanding and rebuilding after hurricane winds and flooding. As was so vividly demonstrated in Haiti, the criminal irony is that climate change created by the fossil fuel emissions of the wealthy in the global North disproportionately destroys the lives, livelihoods and communities of the poor and the powerless.

On the U.S. coast, the message was the same. I lived for many years in North Carolina, visiting the eastern part of the state for vacations at the beach. Impressions remain with me of deep poverty in isolated rural communities where lived the descendants of plantation slaves. Lumberton, named the poorest town in the country, is home to an officially unrecognized Lumbee tribe who share the community with African Americans, mostly poor whites and more recently-arrived Latino farmworker families.

When Matthew dumped nine inches of rain on Lumberton’s Robeson County, many were unable to leave, most were unable to take essential belongings, virtually none had flood insurance, and the region has become a human disaster area. Fortunately, no one was killed, but thousands lost homes and work.

Poor rural areas are a haven for environmentally toxic industry, and eastern North Carolina has been a poster child for pollution by hog agribusiness. In general, climate change-derived storms cause breakdown of the barriers between industrial poisons and the water, land and air of the surrounding community. In eastern North Carolina, for the second time in history, flooding produced overflow and breaching of the hog manure pools. No one knows how much or for how long local surface water and wells will be affected.

As Haiti and Lumberton demonstrate, the unequal victimization of the poor by climate disaster in return reinforces the injustice of the economic system. Poor people lose the little they have and may become homeless and displaced, forced to migrate to far-away cities without social support.

It is clear to me from a moral perspective that A) To prevent disaster like we have not imagined, we must address the climate emergency and cut fossil fuel emissions; B) We must protect the socially targeted victims of climate chaos by specifically focusing our resilience efforts on poor nations, communities and individuals; and C) Creating resilience necessarily must involve redistribution of wealth, providing adequate housing, work, income and education to those who are more and more shut out by our stratified social system. This is called climate justice.

I am glad to say we in Massachusetts are taking on the challenge. There is an important effort to cut emissions, the Carbon Pollution Fee and Rebate Plan, afoot in the Legislature. It will place a fee on all fossil fuels entering the state, making them more expensive to burn. All the fees collected will be returned to state residents, so that those who use less gas, oil and coal will come out ahead.

The scheme has been successfully applied to lower greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia and in several countries around the world. We need to pass and implement it.

However, we must also make sure that it is a progressive measure that benefits working people and the poor just as disproportionately as the climate crisis targets them.

I, as a doctor who has contributed way more than my share of car, airplane and home heat emissions to the atmosphere compared to my impoverished patients in the North End of Springfield, neither need nor deserve a rebate.

We who have benefited the most from the fossil fuel orgy of the last several decades can afford to give back to create a more just and climate change-resilient society.

Let’s learn from the last disaster while we do our best to prevent the next one.

Dr. Marty Nathan lives in Northampton and is a physician at Baystate Brightwood Health Center in Springfield. She is on the steering committee of Climate Action NOW.

Published in the Gazette Oct 10, 2016

Marty Nathan: Responding to climate change emergency we face

 

Recently the Massachusetts legislature passed the long-awaited Omnibus Energy Bill. As a climate change activist, I joined hundreds of others making calls to our legislators to request a bill that would decrease the state’s investment in the acquisition and burning of fossil fuels.

We won some things. There is a good plan to identify and plug methane leaks from our cities’ natural gas pipes. The state is set to acquire 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power and the bill encourages onshore wind development as well.

In another victory, it did not institute a measure to require electric ratepayers to fund new gas pipelines in the state.

But the bill was emblematic of the gradualism adopted by our political leadership that simply cannot meet the challenge of the climate emergency we are facing.

Our house is on fire, and we are using a teacup to douse the flames.

I do not blame our legislators too much. Meeting the climate crisis, the task that should be the focal point of our thinking and action, requires not responding to all the appeals to continue the status quo. When lobbyists or reporters accuse one of being an alarmist or destroying jobs, charges that could mean defeat at the next election, it is difficult to stand one’s ground.

However, our task now will require throwing off convention and adopting wisdom and courage seldom seen in politics. It means fully understanding the implications of the emergency we face.

In his recent article featured on the cover of the New Republic, climate activist Bill McKibben compares our plight to a new world war waging all around us that we have yet to engage. This time, however, the enemy is not a Hitler or Hirohito plotting to steal resources and land, destroy towns and dominate nations.

Instead, the enemy is climate catastrophe, the physical and chemical product of industrialization and its rapacious mining and burning of fossil fuels. The lethal opponent was created by us humans, usually from the best of intentions, to improve our lives and society.

However, the buildup of greenhouse gasses that resulted has heated our Earth beyond levels seen since long before civilization began, with the rate of warming unprecedented in the last thousand years. “Carbon and methane now represent the deadliest enemy of all time, the first force fully capable of harrying, scattering, and impoverishing our entire civilization,” McKibben writes.

He states bluntly that the war has already begun with heat waves and megastorms, out-of-control forest fires resulting from massive droughts, quickly melting polar ice raising sea levels, decimation of species and new tropically based infectious diseases appearing far out of their traditional range.

As usual with most wars, many of the first victims are those not responsible for the conflict: Those of the global South are most vulnerable and first to be ravaged by such disasters as the Philippines Typhoon Haiyan and the massive Pakistani floods.

McKibben spins the metaphor of the war against climate change, describing scientists clamoring for decades for a massive offensive against the enemy, only to be ignored and abused by this country’s “Fifth Column” – the fossil fuel industry and those in its financial thrall.

The call to mobilizeNow, though, in 2016 we as a nation must realize that all of the isolated climate change-related disasters we have faced add up to our new Pearl Harbor. Consequently, our task is to mobilize for the clean energy and conservation offensive needed to drop the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases. We cannot rely on the gradualism of the present system whose apex agreement – the Paris Climate Agreement – will inevitably heat up the world by 3.5 degrees centigrade by 2100.

We must and can enter emergency mode and implement the plans that scientists such as Mark Jacobson of Stanford University have been forming to power 80 percent of the U.S. economy with renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

To do so requires massive investment in solar and wind energy, about 300 huge factories to produce each in this country. There must be unprecedented growth of public transportation, realistic pricing on fossil fuels (including jet fuels) that reflects their actual social cost, a fracking ban, a prohibition against drilling or mining fossil fuels on public lands (which contain half of the untapped carbon left in America), a climate litmus test for new development projects and an end to World Bank financing of fossil fuel plants.

As a start.

A national conversion of this magnitude was successfully undertaken 75 years ago. What is needed parallels the efforts of 1941 to 1945, when our government invested in building and transforming factories all over the country to turn out the bombers, tanks, guns, uniforms and all the equipment necessary to fight the Nazis and Japanese. War bonds, Victory gardens, gasoline and food rationing cards, Rosie the Riveter and the draft affected all of society as it converted to wage the war.

Though McKibben does not say so, much of the investment necessary for today’s gargantuan undertaking can and should come from the $600 billion yearly military budget. It would make ironic sense, since the military is the most carbon-intensive institution in the country.

Despite what the deniers and gradualists say, such a publicly funded conversion would not mean loss of jobs. To the contrary, the fossil-fuel-based economy is less job-rich than a green one, by about two million workers, and in general those green jobs would pay more and be less dangerous than those in gas, oil and coal.

As a society we simply cannot afford to pursue the present course. The damages already wrought in the U.S. by the western drought, superstorms Katrina and Sandy, the recent Louisiana floods and all the lesser climate change-based disasters are costing tens of billions of dollars, with much more inevitable in the near future. If we are afraid of losing money and jobs, the present approach is a debacle.

It is time for each of us, individually, to respond to the climate emergency, assess our lives and become engaged in fighting the greatest threat of our times.

As a start, we have a unique opportunity to involve ourselves with the elections taking place this fall. We need to campaign and to demand that our politicians submit neither to the denial nor the gradualism that will mean climate defeat. We must engage our political leaders and persistently show them we support only bold action and comprehensive approaches that will swiftly convert us to clean energy.

We have to impress upon them that piecemeal approaches are no longer acceptable in this historic struggle.

Marty Nathan, MD, lives in Northampton and writes regularly on environmental issues. The first part of her essay appeared Wednesday and can be found on GazetteNET.com.

Marty Nathan: US mobilized for WWII, why not now for climate?

Tuesday, September 06, 2016
First of two parts

My husband’s grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Europe. He told me the other day, “Thinking about what is coming I feel like I am in Berlin in 1938.”

Visionary environmentalist Bill McKibben refers to the same era when he compares our situation in the summer of 2016 to the danger faced by our country in 1940 as Germany invaded country after country and Japan expanded menacingly in the Pacific.

They are both using World War II to refer to present-day peril. The arrival of the consequences of climate change in the last year has become agonizingly obvious to anyone who both understands science and is not financially or politically bound to the fossil fuel industry.

No surprise to us in the Pioneer Valley: July 2016 was the globe’s hottest month on records kept since 1880. According to climate change experts, three out of four extreme heat days can be tied to global warming.

Fifteen of the 16 highest monthly temperature elevations have all occurred since February 2015.

California’s Blue Cut Fire joined other extreme wildfires to destroy tens of thousands of acres in California, “with an intensity that we haven’t seen before,” according to local officials. Most experts attribute their fury to the five years of severe drought caused by climate change.

The waters are finally receding in Louisiana after one of the most deadly floods in history. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has classified this disaster as a “once in every 500 years event.” Astoundingly, though, it is the eighth such never-in-a lifetime storm to have occurred in a little more than 12 months.

Summer Arctic sea ice is at its lowest since records began over 125 years ago, 22,000 square miles of ice disappearing each week.

This summer unprecedented coral bleaching – the damage to coral reefs caused by elevated ocean temperatures – is stretching across the Indian and Pacific oceans, meaning death to ocean species upon which we depend. A quarter of the Great Barrier Reef has been affected.

In the last decade we have witnessed an accelerating tempo of climate change-caused natural crises occurring around the globe. The buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly carbon dioxide and methane, has warmed our world so rapidly that the resulting disasters no longer surprise us or even hold our attention for very long. They have become, if not the new normal, at least not such a big deal, unless it is our house or our family that is lost.

It is an unfolding climate emergency. Recent events are telling us, if we are paying attention, that the lives of billions of people, millions of species, and perhaps civilization as we know it, may be lost in the coming decades to ascending global temperatures and the droughts, megastorms, sea-level rise and social disruption and warfare that are already beginning to accompany it.

We have known about the threat of climate change for decades, yet many things have prevented us from taking the steps necessary to stop its inexorable progress. The most deliberate and criminal culpability belongs to the fossil fuel and automobile industries which, with their representative politicians and media mouthpieces, knowingly suppressed and defamed research on climate change that, if acted upon 40 years ago, would have translated to a much better chance of salvaging a livable planet.

However, a culture of combustion-based ease and material surplus has affected all of us in the global North, and that has in turn affected the possibility of survival not just for our grandkids, as we used to think, or for our kids, but for ourselves, sober scientists would now tell us.

We really do not have much time left, much less than we used to like to think as we climbed into jets for a week’s holiday in Los Angeles or Miami.

What does it mean to face a climate emergency? It is a question that I challenge you, if you have managed to read this far, to ask yourself.

It absolutely does not mean panic. Panic does not accomplish carefully considered policy and lifestyle change. Panic leads to desperation and despair and chaos, worse than useless in such a crisis.

Climate emergency requires focus, eliminating a whole lot of the extraneous details of our lives and our society and convincing and working with everyone available to change very quickly the political and economic policies of our country so as to drastically cut our carbon emissions. This reorientation must occur at every level, from the personal to the national.

How far must emissions be cut? The agreements of the Paris Conference last year are not sufficient to prevent our global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Centigrade in the next few decades. We must go beyond them and as soon as possible reduce our country’s emissions to zero. Research shows that that can be done, that we have the technology and the resources. What we have not had before now was the will.

Back to re World War II analogy: on the national level we have historical precedent in this country’s emergency response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Seven decades ago, as the United States entered the war that had been raging in Europe and the Pacific, it faced formidable, seemingly undefeatable enemies. The nation was completely unprepared for the military effort that was necessary to fight Fascism. Yet remarkably, within months the economy was transforming to produce the materials necessary to fight on two fronts. It required the alteration of all sectors of the economy and society, accomplished with a political singlemindedness that has not been seen since. It is that same type of laser-like focus and dedication that will be required to implement a rapid redirection of industry to renewables and conservation in order to meet the climate emergency.

Without that approach, we will be party to the commission of an unforgivable crime towards our planet and its occupants.

On Thursday: How to respond to the climate emergency.

Marty Nathan, MD, lives in Northampton and is a regular contributor on environmental issues. 

 

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

gazpipeMay2015

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.

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