Columnist Marty Nathan, Daily Hampshire Gazette
November 3, 2017
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists … the Jews … the Catholics … Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Many of you know those remorse-ridden words spoken by Protestant pastor Martin Niemoller who ultimately was imprisoned by the Nazis for seven years in a German concentration camp. They are a warning to future generations to heed and take responsibility for threats that may not yet be affecting us personally.
I recalled them while enjoying a walk with my husband on a balmy morning Saturday. He joked about the benefits of global warming for us in Northampton, and I couldn’t disagree. A summer-like October is pleasant. NASA has determined that mean global temperatures have risen at least 1 degree Celsius since record-keeping began, and 16 of the last 17 years have been the hottest in recorded history.
To quote Alfred E. Neuman: “What? Me worry?” My pepper plants keep producing because there has not yet been a severe frost. I still can read and answer email on my front porch.
Yet Niemoller keeps whispering in my ear. Global warming is a different kind of rolling crisis for sure. Though, like the German Nazi movement, it is human-created through our burning of fossil fuels, the intermediary force is not a storm-trooper’s midnight knock on the door. Instead it is 150 mph winds sweeping away one’s house; 50-inch rainfall filling the living room; fire raging over the hillcrest to consume loved ones; drought wiping out crops on the family farm.
For our survival, we humans have learned to shut out the unpleasant, particularly if it is not easily dealt with. If we can, we steer our minds away from things that make us afraid.
However, in the face of rolling climate catastrophe that eventually will affect us all, Niemoller hit the nail on the head. First Katrina came for New Orleans, and I did not speak out because I lived in the North. Then Sandy came for New York, but I lived in Northampton. Then drought ravaged California, but my food is sourced locally. Then Maria hit Puerto Rico, but I do not even speak Spanish … All far away and possible to ignore.
Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann says bluntly that this summer’s “natural” catastrophes are not the new norm. Instead, because of rising ocean temperatures, melting ice sheets, and methane emissions from dissolving tundra, we can expect more and worse and more widespread. There is now 410 million parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, adding to other more potent greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and methane.
We are facing a minefield of climate tipping points, each of which may devolve into an independent process that reinforces global warming We are very close to the amount that will in future give us 2 degrees Centigrade global warming that will affect all of us, and not in a pleasant, warm-October-day way.
The good thing is that global carbon emission rates have flattened, despite continuing industrial development. The bad thing is that Donald Trump is in the White House and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan run the Senate and House. They are doing their darnedest to ensure increased emissions to maintain profits for Exxon and Koch.
Nov. 6 marks the opening of the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany. This is a continuation of the historic agreement made in Paris two years ago among 195 countries, the same group and accord that Trump withdrew from this summer.
If you agree with the implications of the lessons from history, you will want to do anything and everything to make our nation stop burning fossil fuels. I still think it is worth demanding that Trump rejoin and strengthen the U.N. accords, fire Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke and abandon his “dirty power plan.” Worth it because it keeps our eyes on the prize of a federal government dedicated to saving us from climate catastrophe.
In the meantime, we have Charlie Baker, who says he has committed Massachusetts to the Paris climate agreement, but in fact is tepid in support of solar and wind power and energy efficiency development and has never met a gas pipeline he didn’t like. He also has not committed his administration to Deval Patrick’s climate justice executive order, to serve and protect those poor communities of color that have suffered the most in terms of bad air and gotten the least from our burning of fossil fuels.
On Sunday, Nov. 5 at 5:30 p.m., there will be a march from Northampton High School to City Hall for “Reclaiming our Future.” We will celebrate the Bonn climate conference, demand the federal government end Trump’s “dirty power plan” and rejoin the U.N. Conference of the Parties on climate change, and tell Gov. Baker to “Stand Up, Charlie!” by not acquiescing to fossil fuel companies and instead making Massachusetts the national leader in the race to zero greenhouse gas emissions. The following day at noon we will present our demands to Baker’s office in Springfield.
To answer Alfred E. Neuman: “Yes, I am horribly worried, for my future, my children and my world.”
And to answer Pastor Niemoller: “I will claim my historical responsibility. I will speak out before it is too late.”
Dr. Marty Nathan lives in Northampton and is a physician at BaystateBrightwood Health Center in Springfield. She is on the steering committee of Climate Action NOW. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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