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Grace Ross: Is Climate an Inconvenience or an Issue?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Grace Ross, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

In spring 2004 then Governor Romney released the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan. As he said “…among the strongest in our nation...” In summer 2012, Mitt Romney – now self-defined as a climate skeptic promoting oil, coal, and nuclear energy – is party to the postponement of the beginning of the National Republican Convention due to a hurricane. This hurricane is not looking like a weather anomaly but can we all acknowledge that the trepidation around it is based on a really extreme climate event, hurricane Katrina, the destruction it created and the extreme hurricane season of that year? As bad and long term as the effects of our world climate and economic climate are going to be, our present political climate may have greater harm for decades to come.

Climate Change Predicted

Turn the clock back to the late 1990s. Climate scientists were already beginning to sound the alarm about the dangers of increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the ways they trap heat around the earth and will increase the average temperature not in any one location, but across the world. They predicted the unmistakable changes: what they call extreme weather events and rising sea levels as the polar ice caps melt. A lot of that felt to folks almost like science fiction. I do have to say that for many of the low income women that I knew then whose children played outside and whose lives were often dependent on the day to day weather, they were already beginning to sense a shift in what we have historically considered New England weather.

One of the big predictions was as sea levels rose, not even by very large amounts, that in the United States, New Orleans was likely to be the first direct causality as the community closest to those water levels and with the least protections. Now, you could look at ravaging fires across huge segments of our country as also being sensitive to extreme weather events, but fire seems to be harder for folks to connect than flooding.

Hurricane Isaac is not necessarily going to be important. The Republican National Convention maybe could have gone forward as planned, but it’s the trauma caused by the horrific experience of Katrina on local communities, our national economy, the production of Gulf oil, that had people terrified by even the possibility of a repeat experience. The damage was done by levies not being kept up; as the Bush Administration themselves admitted, U.S. leaders were diverting critical resources to attacking Iraq and using our National Guards – since they didn’t institute a draft to provide the troops – so New Orleans was way more vulnerable and the impacts way worse because of those bad priorities.

There’s no Romney coming forward as the leader who signed and commissioned a report that stated in 2004: “the world’s dramatically shifting weather patterns are in part attributable to the often heedless development patterns of the past; our houses, schools, shops, industry, cars and transit vehicles all consume energy and generate emissions which too often have taken a disturbing cumulative toll on our fragile and finite natural...”

Gov. Patrick's Actions

On the other hand, while Romney is out there clearly standing against his own awareness, honesty, and policy savvy about necessary critical shifting of our economy, Patrick ran supposedly on a strong climate change platform. He still has not even incorporated all the pieces of Romney’s now disavowed plan. Unlike Romney, he did, however, include in the concept of renewable energy and green environmental tax credits and his huge green promotions: the burning of wood to create electricity.

Western Mass, starting with Russell, has been the target of new investment plans by dirty energy producers to build biofuel plants; focused on large, cheap sources: that means let’s cut down trees and let’s use often chemically treated and now carcinogenic post construction materials to burn in new power plants. The proposed plants are not built to protect the local climate by being, for instance, air cooled instead of taking water out of local tributaries and put it back in hot and killing the local fish.

While many resourceful Western Mass activists have been organizing like crazy to inform the public and build a power base of folks who understand and will therefore oppose biofuel plants, some of us went and spoke at hearings. The stone face of the government panelists responsible for deciding biofuel policy was a little bit disturbing – even in the face of clear scientific evidence and heart-rending stories of the impact on asthma from these energy plants.

New Definition of Green Energy

The good news? As of August 17, our state Administration admitted that burning wood for energy no longer fits their definition of alternative green energy for large power plants. It should have been obvious: pollution, putting chemicals that are dangerous to human health in the air, and burning down our forests might not be considered green energy. New rules no longer treat biomass plants as greener than plants burning fossil fuels. Massachusetts has stepped out like it tried to under Romney to be a leader in addressing the impacts of climate change and the need for climate protections.

The excitement here is the demonstration of the power of grassroots folks who are willing to face the science and organize for something healthy to have an impact on political administrations of every persuasion that seem these days to follow the political winds of our political climate rather than what is obviously endangering our future. As 2004-Romney pointed out, endangering our future not just in terms of greenhouse gases and global warming, but lack of commitment to the concomitant health and smart growth policies that will require more human friendly development in terms of time, energy, wages. Just because somebody did a poll, 2012 candidates and top electeds would rather catch the winds of media-driven public opinion or catch the money bags of corporate supporters than face the science and the reality of the lives of regular people who they’re supposed to work for.

Hats off to the folks in Greenfield, Springfield, and elsewhere who have been fighting to get the Massachusetts government to recognize that market-driven biofuel is not green energy.

The big question has to become: what do we do about not just an environment poisoned by previous so-called development, but a political climate so poisoned that no matter the party or political persuasion, top candidates shift their positions and stop standing for the policies they know work because some pollster, political operative and wealthy corporate contributor told them they have to change their positions to win?

Imagine a political environment where 2012-Romney actually stood up and acknowledged to all of the Gulf states the travesty of having ignored the totally predictable climate impact that Katrina embodied, the ill-gotten decision to redirect resources targeted to rebuild the levies and redirect the National Guard from helping our country’s people when some great travesty happens? And instead of playing to the most right wing of his party, he explained about energy and put forward a bold plan like his 2004 one that represents the close to 100% international scientific consensus and rebuilds our economy in ways that improve all our lives going forward?


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