Russ Vernon-Jones: Urges Town Council to enact climate change goals

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Urges Town Council to enact climate change goals

Dear members of the Amherst Town Council, I applaud you for creating the Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee as one of your first actions. I know that on Monday you received proposed goals for the town from that committee.

I know that you are all aware that climate change is a problem of immense importance. While I don’t doubt your commitment to stopping climate change, I know that you can’t all be experts in everything.

My considerable study of climate change leads me to believe that as you consider the new goal proposals, it will be important and useful for you to view things from the perspective of what many scientists refer to as the “carbon budget.”

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in October 2018 made it clear that limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 ° C is essential to preventing truly dire worldwide consequences. Scientists have been able to calculate how much more carbon (mostly in the form of carbon dioxide and methane) humans can put into the atmosphere without exceeding the 1.5° limit. As Greta Thunberg recently explained to the UN, that amount was 420 gigatons on Jan. 1, 2018. Now, less than 350 gigatons of that amount remains. That’s the total allowance (not yearly, but the sum total) for the next many centuries, if not for all of the years of remaining human history. At current rates of use, it will be completely used up by 2030.

Every burning of fossil fuels and every emission of greenhouse gases depletes that allowance. We in the United States have already emitted far more than our share of this global carbon budget. People of color in less-developed nations are already suffering disproportionate harm from the climate change that is resulting from our emissions. They also desperately need their fair share of the world’s carbon budget to provide even a minimal standard of living for their poor people while they join with the developed nations in shifting completely to renewable energy.

If we in Amherst, and in the United States generally, were to be equitable and just about this with regard to the developing world, we would stop all use of fossil fuels and all emissions immediately. We know that our current society could not manage such an immediate end to all greenhouse gas emissions. However, we should be making an all-out effort to dramatically reduce our emissions beginning now. The time to stop doing “business as usual” is now.

While we may want to wait for national or statewide action, that action, if and when it comes, will not take out of the air the emissions we pour into the atmosphere in the meantime. Our town must act now – both as a town, via your bold leadership, and as individuals taking conscientious action. Please lead us to respond in ways that acknowledge that we are in a climate emergency.

Russ Vernon-Jones


The writer was principal of Fort River Elementary School from 1990-2008.