My husband is rightfully proud of himself. He is an anthropologist in the process of retiring from Smith College after a distinguished career of research, writing and teaching about African pastoral nomads, people in the dryland north of Kenya who move from place to place herding their goats, cattle and camels.
He has presented his material and led discussions in conferences all around the world, from Dubrovnik to Ulaanbaatar.
With the climate crisis, we increasingly have felt the need to cut down on traveling, particularly that requiring airplane flight. We made the hard choice not to visit our daughter and her first child born in Bangkok four years ago and got some flak from friends and family about it.
But world travel was recently underlined as a threat to the environment for belching greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Tourism has been found to produce around four times the emissions previously estimated, due both to an explosion in world travel and inclusion in the calculations of the overspending, overeating and hotel use of travelers. Not unexpectedly, the United States is number one in tourism emissions, but the Chinese are competing as their population becomes richer.
Air flight is so voraciously fossil-fuel consumptive that a single person’s round-trip flight from San Francisco to New York can create almost one-fifth of that average individual’s annual carbon footprint.
There need to be systemic fixes to halt the damage. Carbon should be priced for jet fuels to raise prices to capture the externalized costs of flight (think asthma, cardiovascular disease and climate change) with which the burning of fossil fuels burdens our society. We should fight for it.
However, that would be a federal action and — just as we must figure out ways to sidestep all the other crimes of commission and omission of the present regime — we are forced to act directly here. To fly should not be automatic but should be a well-considered choice after reviewing all the options.
My husband decided that, rather than flying to Brazil to give a 15-minute presentation, Skyping was a better option, despite the lure of the rain forest and Latin culture. There is a website for folks like him — climate scientists, activists and regular people — who won’t fly or fly less at https://noflyclimatesci.org/.
Beyond individual efforts, municipalities are increasingly taking on the load of effecting carbon-emissions cuts. We in the upper Valley have witnessed the visionary actions of the Northampton City Council’s 100 percent renewable energy resolution and Amherst Town Meeting’s zero net energy building ordinance. The former commits all energy-related decisions made by Northampton to weighing the goal of achieving our power from renewable generation. It allows us to pursue community choice energy in a coalition with Amherst and Pelham that can select our electricity supply from cleaner sources.
The Amherst ordinance has the force of law, requiring all new municipal structures to create as much energy as they consume, a huge but not impossible task.
Some may give this a ho-hum: The northern Valley is always doing these outlandishly moral things. But on Friday, Mayor DomenicSarno of Springfield made a welcome announcement long sought by residents and concerned neighbors unified in the Springfield Climate Justice.
Almost four years ago, letter-writing, marching and council-meeting speakouts had brought forth a climate justice resolution voted into effect unanimously by the City Council. It authorized a sustainability plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the city, develop the green economy and provide resiliency to climate change particularly for the most vulnerable poor neighborhoods. The plan was written with a goal of an 80 percent emissions reduction in the city by 2050. But no interim guidelines were adopted that would truly allow that goal to be reached and the mayor did not budget staff to implement it. It looked to most observers like one more study destined to gather dust on the shelves of City Hall archives. (Or to crinkle in the heat of the coming decades.)
Then, on Friday, the mayor announced that a full-time sustainability officer would be hired, and reasonable and ambitious interim goals would be adopted. This affects all of us. Springfield is the largest city and thus the largest polluter in western Massachusetts. This will make our children healthier while fighting climate change.
Going up a government level, the news is not so good. Despite Charlie Baker’s ad naming him a “clean energy champion for Massachusetts” who is “leading the charge to reduce carbon emissions,” neither Baker nor House leadership have done what should have been done this legislative session to advance full funding of public transit, adequately lift the net metering cap to incentivize rooftop solar generation, sufficiently raise the renewable portfolio standard to rapidly increase the percentage of electricity generated from clean sources, or pass a fair price on carbon in Massachusetts.
All were possible this legislative session, but Baker did nothing to make them happen. The ad is simply a lie. Baker is timid and protective of the status quo, not the governor we need in a time of climate crisis.
Hopefully, Scott Pruitt will drown in the corrupt swamp that he has created at the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, and a new Congress will take on the necessary tasks in Washington in January. Until then, and until the end of this legislative session, keep those calls to House leadership coming in.
Demand a just climate agenda for the state while we work to implement the progressive municipal plans of western Massachusetts. And rethink that next trip.
Dr. Marty Nathan lives in Northampton and is a physician at BaystateBrightwood Health Center in Springfield. She is on the steering committee of Climate Action NOW and drinks coffee with 2degreesatgreenneighbors.earth. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.