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Getting serious … a modest proposal

  • Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, center in blue, joins other young climate activists in September for a climate strike outside the White House. AP PHOTO/SUSAN WALSH

Published: 3/4/2020 8:30:26 AM

A few years ago we read a news story about an older woman, a mother of a large extended family, who was suddenly facing a life-threatening and rapidly advancing illness. Unfortunately, the cost of the medicines and hospital procedures that could possibly save her life was almost astronomical — far more than she and her husband could afford.

However, her large extended family was not about to let her die. All her children and many cousins, in-laws, and close friends pitched in as much money as each one could. Some even took out second mortgages on their homes. Together, they were able to cover the cost of the treatment. The treatment worked and she lived for many more years.

We’d like to think that we’d do the same thing if our mother were similarly threatened. Unfortunately, ours is: Mother Earth.

“Time is running out,” warned UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at a recent climate summit in Madrid. “Without drastic and immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions,” he said, “the impact on all life on the planet — including ours— will be catastrophic.”

And he added, “Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?”

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who single-handedly initiated the ongoing “climate strike” actions by students all over the world, agrees with Guterres. She chastised the delegates in Madrid, saying, “How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business as usual and some technical solutions?”

In effect, both Guterres and Thunberg maintain that countries and their leaders are not yet serious about taking the kind of immediate and drastic actions that are needed to address the growing crisis.

For us, this begs the question: how serious are we? Are we willing to do things, to give up things, that would show that we take this crisis seriously? Are we willing to take “drastic and immediate” actions to help save Mother Earth — and ourselves?

To be sure, many people here in Franklin County (and beyond) have already taken steps to mitigate the climate crisis. Many have weatherized their homes, mounted solar arrays on their rooftops, implemented other energy-saving measures, and lobbied state and federal officials to support greenhouse gas-cutting legislation such as the “Green New Deal” in Congress.

But is this enough? Clearly not.

So here is our modest proposal — based on the premise that an unprecedented danger requires an unprecedented response.

What if those of us who have “excess wealth” — that is, financial resources beyond what we really need — pitched in to create a dedicated “Green Fund” here in Franklin County? What if we really treated the current situation as the life-or-death emergency that it is and decided to forego expensive vacations, give up our second homes, and/or liquidate various financial investments? What if we decided that instead of holding back money for our kids, giving them a livable planet would be the best inheritance of all?

What might our Green Fund pay for? We could start with projects that employ renewable-energy technologies to heat and cool our businesses, municipal buildings, and homes — and make these affordable for everyone. We could also make electric vehicles more affordable. We could finance green jobs for people to install, service, or repair these technologies. Such jobs are desperately needed, especially by young people, under-employed people, those recovering from opioid addiction or just getting out of jail — anyone who needs decent work, work worth doing, work that pays a genuinely living wage.

Is this proposal unrealistic? We think not. 1) We know that even here in Franklin County there is excess wealth. 2) Those of us who’ve enjoyed higher-end lifestyles, made possible by greater fossil fuel consumption have a moral responsibility to take the climate crisis seriously. 3) While what we might accomplish here will have very little effect on the bigger picture, history is full of examples of small, local actions that have inspired others to do something similar (think of Greta Thunberg), eventually forcing governments to do the right thing. And 4), we know from our own experience and that of others that unburdening ourselves of excess wealth to do something that is truly good and necessary can be deeply satisfying.

Former Greenfield resident Chuck Collins (now director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good in Washington, DC), who has himself given away a fortune, claims that “privilege is a disconnection drug.” And our dear friend Juanita Nelson once said, “No one is secure unless we are all secure together.”

If nothing else, by treating our Green Fund not as private wealth donated by well-to-do individuals but as a common wealth belonging to everyone, we would be helping to create a more connected, cohesive, and compassionate Franklin County community.

Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner are longtime residents of Colrain.



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