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Our carbon problem; Local citizens work to address climate change

February 19, 2014

Even if we acted today and turned off all the greenhouse gases (GHG)—especially the two most abundant that we pour into the atmosphere daily because of our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels, carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4)—the earth would continue to warm for the next 60 years. NASA research scientist Elaine Matthews shared this and other information with several dozen Upper Delaware River Valley residents at the Climate Change Symposium in Eldred, NY last Saturday. Global warming is certain, she said, and the earth has reached its warmest temperatures in 800,000 years.

The symposium was produced by Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development in partnership with the NACL Theater’s The Weather Project, and it was hosted by the Town of Highland, with sponsorship by several other individuals and organizations.

Matthews was just one of 20 speakers who discussed many aspects of climate change, as themes emerged throughout the symposium: (1) the need to mitigate the flood of carbon entering the atmosphere, (2) the need to adapt to the impacts of a warming world—impacts on weather; on agriculture, i.e. our food supply; on public health; on the economy and on society (because those least able to adapt will suffer harsher consequences); (3) the need to relocalize our region’s economies to produce food, energy, fiber, building materials and goods close to home, and (4) the need to build sustainable and resilient local communities.

“We have a planet in crisis,” said Ulster County Legislator Manna Jo Green, who attended as the environmental director for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. “We need to act now,” she said, an assessment on which all of the day’s speakers concurred, including Stu Starkweather, a character created by NACL for its Weather Project to communicate messages about climate change through theatre.

One of the day’s speakers, farmer Greg Swartz of Willow Wisp Farm in Abrahamsville, PA, explained how organic farming helps sequester 3,500 pounds of carbon per acre, whereas conventional farming sequesters only about 200 pounds per acre.

Peter Pinchot, senior research fellow at Milford, PA’s the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, which works to conserve forests and clean water, talked about the need for everyone to work together, even with people we disagree. He further called for a tax on carbon or cap and trade legislation.