My Turn: A welcomed ‘shift’ on climate policy

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Published: 2/7/2021 2:54:08 PM

The shift has begun. Hallelujah. In 1988, NASA climate scientist James Hansen testified before Congress that human production of greenhouse gases had created a thickening blanket in our earth’s atmosphere that was beginning to warm and warp planetary processes.

That testimony and all the confirmation that followed should have immediately changed our manner of heating and cooling our buildings, producing our electricity, transporting ourselves and our goods and raising, processing and packaging our food.

It didn’t, in large part because of a fossil fuel industry that saw scientific truth as a threat to its very existence and funded decades of denial dispersed through media, government and academia. The lies were successful in staving off the massive and difficult changes that had to be made to cut carbon dioxide emissions. But not forever.

The roaring wind of hurricanes and the crackling of forest fires amplified the cries of young people demanding an end to the production and burning of fossil fuels. In November, the climate movement joined forces with all those fighting for human rights to elect a president and a Congress that give us an opportunity for a livable planet and social justice.

And the new administration is taking that opportunity. Beginning the very day of the inauguration. President Biden’s executive orders immediately shed the climate-destroying policies of the Trump-era by:

■Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement;

■Stopping construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline carrying tar sands from Canada;

■Cutting tailpipe emissions from new American automobiles;

■Restoring to original size several national monuments, including Bears’ Ears, whose land was to be sacrificed to drilling and mining;

■Enforcing a temporary moratorium on oil and natural gas leases in coastal waters and federal lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and

■Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.

Further, he committed to reshaping an executive branch so its very structure is dedicated to addressing the climate threat. His team is not just committed to rejoining Paris, but to leading the process internationally, developing a strong emissions reduction target for our country, appointing John Kerry as our first presidential envoy for climate and hosting a Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day 2021.

This embedding of emissions reduction into standard U.S. policy will be duplicated on the domestic side, where leaders from across the bureaucracy will meet regularly to enable a “whole-government approach” to the climate crisis. And that bureaucracy is committed to specific action, including:

■Buying clean, renewable electricity and zero-emission vehicles produced by unionized U.S. workers paid a living wage;

■Aggressively pursuing offshore wind construction;

■“Ensuring every federal infrastructure investment reduces climate pollution;”

■Committing to the goal that 30 percent of our lands and oceans are conserved by 2030;

■Establishing a Civilian Climate Corps creating jobs to restore public lands and waters, increase reforestation, protect biodiversity and address the changing climate;

■Re-establishing scientific measurement of the real social costs of greenhouse gases;

■Cutting toxic emissions from existing and abandoned mining and drilling sites; and

■Engaging in “climate-smart agriculture.”

The administration’s commitment to equity in the transition is plain-spoken. Former fossil fuel extraction and refining workers will receive new jobs and training. “Fence-line” and front-line communities — the “sacrifice zones” ravaged by the pollution of drilling and transport — will be subject to policies to address those negative impacts. A full 40 percent of all benefits of federal climate initiatives will go to disadvantaged communities.

It is a massive economic recovery effort designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and support suffering communities. It is a huge step in the right direction, a massive shift in economic priorities.

Of course, the devil is in the details, but we now have a bold plan to fill in the details. Hallelujah!

In a fitting salute to the national shift, the day after the inauguration the Northampton City Council unanimously passed a cutting-edge plastics reduction ordinance that will eliminate the local distribution of single-use plastics: polystyrene (including Styrofoam), polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

The council’s vote was consistent with the new direction from Washington. The ordinance is bold in its mandate to cut plastics production and use which contributes at every stage to climate change. And the law will eliminate plastic from our waste stream, waterways and soil.

We aren’t foolish enough to think that the work is done, either in Northampton or in Washington. There are untold obstacles and pitfalls to be met. But we will meet them because we must. Hallelujah!

Marty Nathan is a retired physician, mother and grandmother who writes about climate change.

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