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In Close Proximity: All hands on deck for the environment

The devastating climate change that scientists have warned about and that we’re seeing in really odd weather events hasn’t transformed the thinking of our national politicians committed to the corporate agenda — even as the nations at the United Nations Doha Conference beseeched them to do so. In the staged melodrama over our “fiscal cliff,” they’re ignoring our climate cliff: the collapse of our civilization by trying to sustain (without examination) the too large built environment and the extreme waste built into our production and consumption

We are killing the planet, making our communities and ourselves unhealthy and our economic system is unjust for tens of millions of us.

Due to our unbalanced way of life our scientists say we are in a climate emergency. We must immediately change how we live to level carbon in five years. This is a lot to say in a local newspaper column, but it is the truth.

Our vision is that locals can lead culturally to demand action from higher government levels via excitement over relocalization — the reconfiguring of towns and regions via regional production of food, energy and goods, and the densification of population to shorten commuting distances to lower carbon and save money. European towns feature walkable, livable centers with bikes and convenient mass transportation — a much cheaper, happier and healthier lifestyle.

We need all hands on deck locally, so in this season of renewal we list some of the volunteer opportunities in Amherst. Similar ones exist in neighboring towns. Please bring your ideas to any person or group below. Ask how you can participate. Everybody is listening and democracy requires many hands on deck.

AMHERST GOVERNMENT: The town manager plans to make Amherst “a green leader regionally.” He coordinates the staff and sustainability boards/committees toward this end. The director of Conservation and Development protects land and guides judicious development.

We see them as the relocalizers-in-chief. The Planning Board applies and updates the master plan and zoning bylaw by reviewing development projects and drafting zoning amendments. The Agricultural Commission advocates for farming and farmers.

The Community Preservation Act Committee recommends spending on open space acquisition, among other things. The Public Shade Tree Committee and tree warden maintain and expand the tree canopy. The Public Transportation and Bicycle Committee oversees the bus policy with UMass Transit, and may advocate for alternative transportation.

NON-GOVERNMENT: Kestrel Land Trust and others help landowners in our Valley put land under protection in perpetuity. The Hitchcock Center educates children and adults in the appreciation of nature. Transition groups (Amherst, Pelham, Hampshire College) motivate green lifestyles, and grow the numbers of relocalization supporters. Church green committees send people to larger groups. directs area people to the local groups working on national email campaigns against things like tar sands, fracking and nuclear power. is developing a compost additive that sequesters carbon and increases crop yield. advances selling excess home PV-electricity to the grid at retail.

COMMUNITY-BUILDING: The Daily Hampshire Gazette and Amherst Bulletin allow community builders to organize like-minded people via their editorial pages. Amherst Media broadcasts citizen-created programs over cable TV and the net. The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce organizes civic functions.

ACADEMIC GROUPS: Academics conduct research in environmental technologies and policies. We list here groups reaching out to the public, who can help implement ideas. The Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts directs a nascent cross-campus sustainability group that also engages the public.

The UMass Stockbridge School has developed low- carbon farming (permaculture) and also animal grazing and photovoltaics on the same land. The new president of Hampshire College is possibly interested in mobilizing area transportation. Amherst College students initiated a campaign to beseech Amherst College to join other institutions in divesting fossil fuel companies from its portfolio.

In this season of renewal, we hope you will join hands with those changing how we live by contributing to community thinking.

Larry Ely, Rob Crowner and Steve Randall explore relocalization for the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project in their monthly Bulletin column.

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