Land Matters: There is No Planet B

May 3, 2017Rebecca

There Is No Planet B

“There is no Planet B.”

So read the signs at the March for Science on Washington D.C. a week ago and again just last weekend at the Peoples Climate March in D.C., right here in Hudson and in cities all over the country. It is a memorable line because it is a catchy play on words, and because it rings searingly true. The planet we inhabit is undergoing rapid and profound changes due to alterations to the atmosphere caused by the effluent of the industrial age. The changes are many, and they are complex. Much about them we understand; much we still don’t know. One thing we do know is that it is probably too late to prevent significant long-term impacts from a warming climate and a rise in sea level, which have the potential to cause massive disruption, geopolitical turmoil and profound damage to the economy and to ecosystems. The only remaining question is how bad will it be? In the best case, there will be an even more significant increase in severe storm damage and flooding and attendant displacement of people and communities, dramatic changes in regional climate zones (In the Hudson Valley we already experience a temperature level typical of Washington D.C. ten years ago) and species extinction. In the very worst case, life as we know it is threatened.

The reality of climate change is no longer a matter of debate, and the impacts have become plain for all to see. In the past 15 years temperatures worldwide have risen steadily, accompanied by a dramatic increase in droughts, floods, severe storms and erratic weather. Sea level has risen. Ocean waters have become more acidic. Coral reefs have died on a massive scale. The Arctic ice cap is melting. According to NASA, 2016 was the hottest year on record; before that it was 2015; before that, 2014.

It is bizarre that at a time when virtually the entire world seems finally to have arrived at a consensus on the magnitude of the challenge and the importance of addressing it, the United States government’s official position is to aggressively dismiss the urgency – even the reality – of the problem and disclaim any need or intention to join in the effort to deal with it. We can only hope that the administration’s approach to these issues will prove to be an aberrational historical blip and that before too many years, in one way or another, things at the federal level will resume on a rational course.

In the meantime, what is one to do?  It’s easy to be cynical or fatalistic, and to conclude there is nothing we can do about such a monumental problem in our own small daily lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. The well-known injunction to “think globally, act locally” has no more fitting application than with regard to the challenge of climate change.

Last Saturday hundreds of Columbia County residents, in solidarity with hundreds of thousands of other Americans in cities around the country, gathered together at the 7th Street Park in Hudson to demonstrate their deep concern about our warming climate and commitment to work together to address the challenge. Speaker after speaker pointed out that despite the fact our newly installed federal government has chosen to take a head-in-the-sand approach, the arc of history is moving in the other direction. Many if not most substantial U.S. corporations have accepted the reality of climate change, have recognized the overwhelming consumer demand for sustainable products and practices and have been revising their business and contingency plans accordingly. State governments are pursuing active climate change initiatives. New York has been a leader in this. Many of the state-sponsored initiatives include opportunities and incentives for local governments and private citizens to get involved.  There are dozens of non-profit and grass-roots organizations that focus their energies in myriad ways on the problem.

All of this activity gives rise to many opportunities for individuals to get involved. We can do this by exercising our power as consumers, as citizens and as individuals. It is imperative that everyone who shares a deep concern about these issues do so.

Consumer power is significant. Michael Bloomberg has predicted that despite the current administration’s adoption of retrograde energy policies, the United States can still meet its commitment under the Paris Climate Accords to reduce carbon emissions to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, in large part because companies are responding to consumer demand for sustainable energy. It’s extremely important to keep up the pressure. Buy energy efficient cars and appliances; contract to purchase your power from renewable sources of supply; shop for locally produced food and other products. (Lest anyone take too much comfort from Bloomberg’s prediction, bear in mind that many knowledgeable people say the goals established by the Paris Climate Accords are only a start and, alone, are inadequate to stave off the potential for calamitous changes.)

Your voice as a citizen is just as important. Everyone who harbors a deep concern about these issues must make sure that your political leaders and representatives are aware of it. Support political initiatives such as Assemblywoman Didi Barrett’s recently proposed legislation to incentivize farmers to employ practices that sequester carbon in the ground. If you live in one of the seven Columbia County Towns and Villages that have adopted a Climate Smart Communities resolution, get involved with one of the volunteer committees that have been formed to implement sustainable policies and practices. If your Town hasn’t adopted such a resolution, urge your Supervisor and Town Board members to do so. At the same time, be sure your elected representatives at every level know that you expect them to do everything they can to support sustainable energy production and minimize our continuing dependence on fossil fuels. Vote accordingly.

Some of the most effective work to combat climate change is being done by non-profit and grass roots organizations and as individuals, we should do what we can to support them. There are plenty of choices to suit all tastes and inclinations – those that litigate, those that demonstrate, those that advocate for particular policies, those that raise awareness, those that work to conserve and protect properties that will maintain ecological health in the face of warming temperatures, and all combinations of the above.

And each of us as individuals must make choices. We recognize that the crisis is real and commit to change our habits accordingly. Turn out the lights when we leave the room; use less gas; employ sustainable practices in the care and maintenance of our property. Talk to our friends and neighbors and local government leaders about it and encourage them all to do the same. Show up at public demonstrations of concern like the ones that were organized around Earth Day last month. Vote.

Here at the Columbia Land Conservancy, in connection with a hard look we have been taking at our county’s ecological resources and the strategies available to protect them, we have been thinking a lot about climate change. Relatively recent scientific research has enabled us to identify parcels of land that are especially important to conserve because they will be resilient to the impact of a warming climate. The learnings from this work will be incorporated into our revised conservation strategies, and we will be aiming to ensure that climate-resilient properties are among our conservation priorities. We have also been studying up on the complex issues surrounding the siting of photovoltaic solar arrays, and hope to participate constructively in the important discussions already underway regarding the complex trade-offs that can be involved in siting these vitally important facilities.

The signs are surely correct: there is no Planet B. We simply have to get this right. If all of us commit to doing everything we can to keep this issue on the front burner in our personal lives and our communities and to support constructive action at every level, we can continue to make real progress.

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