Report: Climate Change–Local Solutions to a Global Crisis

Last week, I flew home to New England to spend the holidays with my family. It seems that while I’ve been hemmed in by the Los Angeles freeway system, my parents were overtaking me on the environmental superhighway.

“We’re going to a town meeting about global warming on Saturday [Dec. 16],” they told me on the way home from the airport. “Do you want to come?”

“Actually, no. I prefer to relax and think about things—like my fabulous new lips—other than the CO2 that was released into the atmosphere during my flight home.”

But of course I went because for the last several months, I’ve been deprived of eco-freaks. It reminds me a little of being nutrient-deprived while living in Africa. (Yes, yes, I know that not everyone in L.A. loves smog and hates trees, but I have yet to figure out a way to get to them without sitting in traffic for two hours.)

Anyway, the meeting, hosted by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, was organized by Representative Marty Meehan with incoming Governor Deval Patrick as the keynote speaker. The whole deal was interesting for a few reasons. First, organizers initially expected 200 attendees. Over 1000 people showed up. It kind of reminded me of the New York and Washington D.C. anti-war protests (that the mainstream media didn’t cover) back in 2003. Even though some people argue that a manifestation doesn’t really change anything—or change it quickly enough—I think that it’s important for people who care to see—literally, see—lots of other people who care. It keeps us from feeling like we’re alone in our concern. Moreover, it’s important for our public servants—in this case, Meehan and Patrick—to see that their constituents are showing up to a meeting about global warming on a Saturday morning with nine days left until Christmas.

Meehan, who has received a 100% approval rating from the League of Conservation Voters for his consistently pro-environmental voting record, plugged Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, but followed up with local message as well. According to Meehan, Massachusetts is responsible for releasing 123 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per year. If our state were a country, it would rank 15th worldwide in greenhouse gas emissions.

“Unfortunately,” Meehan said, “There are many climate change skeptics in Washington, but the verdict is in. There is a direct link between global warming and human activity.” He discussed how the Bush administration instructed government scientists to stay away from the press and “efforts to rewrite science by the administration.” (For a good book about this, check out The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney.)

Incoming Governor Deval Patrick got a standing ovation just for showing up. He has already agreed to join seven other northeastern states in enacting the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), to reduce emissions. Outgoing Governor Mitt Romney (and likely 2008 presidential contender) pulled out of RGGI in December 2005.

Other speakers included Dr. Amy Cannon, of the UMass Lowell Center for Green Chemistry, who offered a compelling case for the importance of green chemistry and Lee Ketelson, the New England Director for Clean Water Action.

While all of the speakers recognized the significance of the challenges we face, they also framed it as an economic opportunity. As Ketelson said, “Renewable energy: if we get that right the whole world is our customer. You don’t have to lie. There’s money in it.”