Editor’s note: Charlotte resident Rebecca Foster is a member of the town’s energy committee and writes a column for The Citizen, a weekly newspaper for Charlotte and Hinesburg.
“Imagine a giant asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth,” scientist James Hansen famously said almost two years ago. “That is the equivalent of what we face now [with climate change], yet we dither.” The asteroid, evidently, has grown larger. Hansen et al.’s paper a couple of weeks ago in the journal PLOS ONE concludes that the rise of 2 degrees C in global temperatures once thought manageable would in fact spur feedback “warming of 3-4° C with disastrous consequences.”
I wonder, do we dither?
Members of town energy committees from all over Vermont convened at the annual Community Energy and Climate Action Conference on Dec. 7 to talk about food and business, poverty and politics, new technologies and energy, faith and youth. In short, all that they have been doing, and all that they hope to do in their towns to solve the climate crisis. If the dynamism and commitment of everyone at the conference were transformed like the sun into kWh, we could power a large city. Easy.
We’ve all heard of climate feedback loops. Good sense has a feedback loop as well and, with any luck, it’s equally and oppositely strong: Farmers, businesses, students, professors, landowners, religious leaders, moms, dads, and kids are becoming irreversibly enlightened about the false promise of natural gas.
It wasn’t exclusively energy and efficiency. At the conference I learned that it’s easier to motivate people by asking for a big, exciting change rather than something small that’s just ho-hum. I heard the most succinct argument for organic food: It’s the cheapest because you pay for it only once. And it seems sliced bread is fated to be replaced any day now for the expression, “The best thing since air-source-heat-pumps.”
We had a surprise visit from Bernie Sanders, who has introduced a climate bill with a carbon tax. Anybody knowledgeable in the field knows that we need a carbon tax to wrest control of the climate change horses charging down the icy slope of a melting glacier. “Responsible policymaking,” continues Hansen, “requires a rising price on carbon emissions that would preclude emissions from most remaining coal and unconventional fossil fuels and phase down emissions from conventional fossil fuels.” Sanders is one of the few responsible policymakers.
So…individuals are acting. Communities are organizing. Our senator, almost singlehandedly, is on the case.
Sanders, who received a standing ovation from Vermont’s energy troops, called out several times from the podium: We need to transform our energy. We need to get off of fossil fuels. Hansen agrees, all credible scientists agree, and, so, yes, I agree, too! For these reasons, first and foremost, laying down one more foot of new fossil fuel pipeline anywhere is illogical, regressive, and puts a livable future ever more out of reach. Sanders has tried to tax natural gas and other fossil fuels in general, but he has not declared a position on Vermont Gas Systems’ proposal to add 70 miles of transmission pipeline to Vermont. It’s not his decision to make.
But it does raise the question of why so many people are quiet, especially when an increasing number of Vermonters are realizing the foolishness of the pipeline enterprise. We’ve all heard of climate feedback loops. Hansen predicts in PLOS ONE that a 2 degree C rise will lead to an “ocean heat uptake that would practically guarantee irreversible effects.” Good sense has a feedback loop as well and, with any luck, it’s equally and oppositely strong: Farmers, businesses, students, professors, landowners, religious leaders, moms, dads, and kids are becoming irreversibly enlightened about the false promise of natural gas.
The problem with natural gas is not merely that it is a fossil fuel, but that it emits a greenhouse gas — methane — of the highest order. The gas that comes to Vermont is fracked in someone else’s backyard, leaving devastation in its poisonous wastewater wake. Not only is our conscience thereby polluted, but you can’t build a pipeline long enough to escape its dirty legacy, unless you build it clear off the planet. And for those who think they’re going to save a bundle using gas, use caution and look at independent financial reports. My dad warned me never to challenge the guy with quick hands and shiny shoes playing a shell game. It’s rigged.
After the shiny-shoed multinational corporations based in Canada and New York, Gov. Peter Shumlin is the biggest champion of the new fracked gas pipeline. As long as he embraces the pipeline, he dithers on climate change. “Continuation of high fossil fuel emissions, given current knowledge of the consequences,” explains Hansen patiently, “would be an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice.” The work many of us are doing, even the extraordinary Bernie Sanders, is probably not enough, but at least we don’t wittingly dither. To rephrase Jim Hansen, Mr. Governor, dithering is inexcusable — and unconscionable.
 See, e.g., http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-big-fracking-bubble-the-scam-behind-the-gas-boom-20120301; http://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/Natural-Gas-Struggles-to-Rise-from-the-Ashes-of-its-Last-Bubble.html; http://www.wealthdaily.com/articles/why-natural-gas-prices-will-head-much-higher/4264; http://ecowatch.com/2013/08/23/fracking-false-promise-of-plenty-imperils-future/.