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Facing the real threat

Local ways to act on climate change

The fiscal cliff has ruled in Washington and in the media, to the extent that even more crucial issues — such as climate change — wait in the shadows for action. Yet, the fiscal cliff is self-imposed and has no consensus among economists.

The real cliff we face is the climate cliff. Ninety-eight percent of climate scientists concur that global temperatures are rising and that the consequences include more frequent and more devastating weather events.

The Recorder reported recently that a draft National Climate Assessment warns that as a result of global warming “the health and livelihood of many Americans and the ecosystems that sustain the country face some frightening impacts.” In  2012, the warmest year on record in the contiguous United States, we experienced a historic drought, massive wildfires, crop failure, shutdowns of power plants from low flow rivers and overheated seawater, Hurricane Sandy and immense losses in the Arctic sea ice and Greenland ice sheets. 

Even so, climate change is not on Washington’s radar screen, did not feature in presidential debates, and is rarely covered by the media. Further, the solar industry’s business success, record job creation and its cost-competitiveness is the most under-reported business success in the United States.

In short, we need an energy revolution to stem climate change with its extremes of temperatures, rain, drought and storms, critical losses in marine life and threats to human habitats, including coastal cities an energy revolution that also creates abundant new manufacturing and service jobs.

Massachusetts is an energy leader in the nation. The state has an ambitious goal of cutting climate change emissions 80 percent by 2050, and a detailed plan, laid out in Clean Energy and Climate Plan 2020, on how to get started by cutting climate change emissions 25 percent by 2020. In order to achieve these goals, Massachusetts offers programs, grants and other opportunities at the level of towns and cities. Many western Massachusetts towns have achieved Green Communities designation and some Franklin County towns have proactive energy committees and programs, among them Solarize Montague, Greenfield’s Energy Smart Homes Program, and Deerfield’s 12-12 program to reduce energy use and climate change emissions.  

But much more needs to be done.  Here are five suggestions for action:

1. Residents can take advantage of the MassSave and Community Action programs to get a free energy assessment, free caulking air leaks, free or low-cost insulation and new appliances and heating systems for your home or apartment (www.MassSave.org or call 800-944-3212).

2. WMECO and Berkshire Gas need to market the MassSave program more widely and effectively, using ads on local cable, billboards and local buses, a full-page ad in newspapers, through schools where children can inform parents, etc. Local town energy committees can sponsor model energy-conserving home demonstrations so that neighbors learn from neighbors.

3. Local schools should teach about climate change, energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy in the classroom. Many curricular and teacher training resources are available; and we have a valuable local resource in Greenfield Community College’s Energy Efficiency/Renewable Energy program, students and faculty.

4. Towns that do not have Green Community designation can seek assistance from the state’s regional coordinator to achieve it and then be eligible for state grants to help with reducing climate change emissions from municipal buildings or building renewable energy projects, such as solar farms on capped landfills.  Google Massachusetts Green Communities, or contact Jim Barry, regional coordinator at 413-755-2232 or james.barry@state.ma.us

5. Towns that are Green Communities can apply to be selected by Solarize Massachusetts as a town that the state assists to set up a program for homeowners to have photovoltaic panels installed at a discount determined by the number of homeowners. See www.solarizemass.com for more information on the program.

On Jan. 7, a broad coalition of 70 labor, health, civil rights and environmental groups sent a letter to President Obama demanding that he take action on climate change during his second term. It’s equally important that local towns, utility companies like WMECO and Berkshire Gas, schools and citizens take on responsibility for stemming the climate change upon us. 

Many resources are at our fingertips in the MassSave program, the financing and rebates/tax credits for photovoltaic panels, GCC’s Energy Efficiency/Renewable Energy program, and dozens of community energy initiatives. Every step in energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables is a step toward economic and environmental resilience and job creation and a step away from fossil fuels, nuclear power, the threat of fracking in western Massachusetts, and climate change. We owe it to each other and the next generation.

Pat Hynes is a retired professor of Environmental Health and directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice. She lives in Montague.

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