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In Close Proximity: A new normal for climate?

Last year we saw daily horrific tornadoes obliterating whole towns in the South and Ohio Valley and a freakish Oct. 29 snowstorm in the Northeast downing power lines for two weeks. This year, a massive conflagration in the Rockies incinerated hundreds of homes and acres of prime forest, while a “hundred-year” drought wasted the mid- and south-west.

On the anniversary of the October snowstorm, Frankenstorm Sandy — supercharged by warming Atlantic waters and predicted by computer models — flooded New York City subways, destroying 100,000 homes and downing power lines for three weeks. Many officials now say Sandy and these weather events reflect a new climate normal — consistent with what 97 percent of climate scientists are predicting. (The 3 percent naysaying “scientists” are hacks more sensitive to corporate money than scientific research.)

Climatologists urge leveling carbon emissions by 2017, or the Sandy normal will prefigure a much worse normal. We need all hands on deck and coordinated in a hurry beginning with local towns across America — because more Frankenstorms are on the way.

And we need to push Obama, whom columnist Maureen Dowd called “listless and ruminating” (New York Times, Nov. 11), to put climate change on the agenda. In his victory speech he said America is “about what can be done by us together, through … self-government.” However, corporate interests disproportionately influence our statehouses, which fund our towns. Furthermore, state campaigns, like national political campaigns, are funded partly or largely by corporations, distorting creative thinking.

With such stumbling blocks, how will Amherst abandon carbon-profligate autos with mass transit such as minibuses and carpooling? Such transformations would reduce profits for the oil and car companies and lessen their influence over the political process.

Some climate activists, such as us, are endeavoring to fortify local self-government by encouraging town and regional officials to move beyond the traditional administration of schools, libraries, public works, fire and police by taking on new responsibilities: providing public transit, preserving lands, sponsoring local farming and exhorting the public to make changes at home.

Yet grassroots initiatives resemble pushing a wet noodle from below — bulging at the center — unless government pulls from above. If local government doesn’t lead in sustainability, then some players, perhaps without sufficient expertise, will initiate ill-coordinated, friction-causing proposals. There is a dire need for town governments to coordinate financial and human resources and to work with the grassroots.

Planning projects traditionally take decades, as Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, noted in Business West last year, but now need to be hastened. Uncoordinated groups and techno-fixes must yield to the social-fix of a New Deal-like coordination between grassroots, local and national.

Fortunately we have many local institutions promoting environmental stewardship: town governments, players at the Five Colleges, the Gazette/Bulletin and Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce. We have the Kestrel and Rattlesnake Gutter Land Trusts, among others, and the Trustees of Reservations. We have educational initiatives such as the Hitchcock Center, Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project, Transition groups, and church committees. We have techno-initiatives such as PV Biochar. We will elaborate on these next month.

Humanity never thought much about stewardship until 20th-century industrialization with oil. Then, seemingly overnight, the 1969 moon shot resulted in a flush of ecological and justice concerns, illustrated, for example, by “Diet for a Small Planet” (1971) and “Small is Beautiful” (1973), underscoring “small.” In 1979 a conclave of nations ascertained that climate change was caused by our oil-fueled economies. The grassroots solution in seed form, Bill McKibben’s “The End of Nature” (1989), eventuated in the Post Carbon Institute’s Relocalization Network (2003). The Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project (PVRP) became a network member in 2007, and brought the institute’s main speaker, Richard Heinberg, to Amherst in 2008 to address officials and the public. The institute partnered in 2009 with Transition US (a group from Ireland), and ceased building its network, leaving that to Transition US, while promoting the key relocalization concept. Members of the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project write columns on relocalization, but encourage people to join Transition groups in the Valley to implement local changes.

Larry Ely and Steve Randall write for the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project.

Climatologists urge leveling carbon emissions by 2017, or the Superstorm Sandy ‘normal’ will prefigure a much worse normal.

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