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My Turn: Local governments play a vital role in tackling climate change



Friday, May 12, 2017

Why am I taking a stand in the Otis State Forest in Sandisfield? My reasons are actually pretty simple. I am a Select Board member in the town of Ashfield and have come to realize that the time is fully upon our local town governance to take an active leadership role in the fight against global warming.

We need a grassroots rise in activity by locally-elected officials because they represent the purest form of democracy. They are the ones closest to the people that they represent. They are the ones that actually know the faces and recognize the names. Unlike their federal compatriots, they face the reality and urgency of the dire situation on the ground.

Too slow to move are our state and federally-elected politicians. They are well-versed at flooding the media with tiny, almost insignificant steps that make for great sound bites but do little when it comes to solving the looming climate problem. In the background, behind the proverbial curtain, stand the utility and fossil fuel companies with their hands on the controls. They are confident in their “place” and well know the true measure of their individual and collective strength.

Literally and figuratively speaking, our earthly home is on fire and our federal and state governance is fully asleep at the wheel. They seem to listen more closely to their lobbyists than to the future well-being of their constituency and very own grandchildren. Here at the municipal level of governance we can wait no longer, and, simply stated, it is time to cross the line. Because of their lack of serious commitment and much-needed leadership to the real threat of global warming, I feel compelled to answer the call myself, alongside my Sugar Shack Alliance family, and engage in this grassroots, nonviolent, direct action here today.

The recently-acquired Otis State Forest is threatened by yet another Kinder Morgan methane expansion project. This property, is supposed to be protected by Article 97 of our state constitution for the future generations of Massachusetts residents. Why is it that our own state Legislature show absolutely no fortitude in uniting to protect this property as requested by their constitutional mandate, the Earth and its inhabitants, let alone the state’s citizens, their very charge? They could have and should have mustered the courage required of their leadership positions and voted “no” to the “Connecticut Expansion Project” and its destructive path over our recently acquired and protected property. But instead, they buried the matter.

So here I take a small but personally meaningful stand, in the midst of all these government leaders who refuse to do their job and truly lead us out of this climate mess. By waiting for them to act in a meaningful way, my own political legacy would certainly be judged by future generations as having been in line with our government’s overall ineptitude. I would be part and parcel of the “establishment’s” failure to properly govern and safeguard the future of my constituency and my family.

I am a second-term Select Board member, and when I took the oath of office, I pledged my support of the Massachusetts Constitution. So, here I will take a stand for that constitution’s Article 97 not only with my words, but with the backing of this specific action.

I extend my hand to all those in a similar municipal/town position of governance and invite you to step across the line when it comes to protecting the welfare of your constituency, and safeguarding the future of your friends, and family. You don’t have to “take arrest” to demonstrate your resolve. Let our actions demonstrate true leadership and serve as an example to the “higher” governing forces. Otherwise, you remain on the opposite side of the line.

Your silence and lack of action may be wrongly interpreted in a way that makes you seem complicit with those who put short-term profit before human welfare and a sustainable environment. These are the same arrogant entities who take constitutionally protected land in the wink of an eye and keep coming back for more.

I repeat as gently and respectfully as I can: your continued silence may place you on the other side of the line in the company of the climate deniers and the companies that poison the Earth with the toxic fracking fields and leaking methane pipelines. As town leaders, we are grounded in the reality of the day. We hear our people’s voices loudest and need to take a local stand and awaken our state and federal politicians to the urgent nature of what we face today. Please help me and stand firmly behind Article 97. Say “no more” to fossil fuel expansion.

Ron Coler is an Ashfield selectman.