We can address the climate crisis — with a culture shift

BRATTLEBORO — I am sitting on my back porch in the 95-plus degree weather, having just read headlines stating that Spain has put a restriction on air conditioning, and I feel like I am seeing a near future where heat becomes inescapable and more deadly.

And I imagine hearing people say, “Why didn't anyone tell us? Why didn't anyone do anything to stop this?”

A huge portion of our emissions - 27 percent nationwide, up to 40 percent in Massachusetts and Vermont - comes from transportation, and much of that is due to our reliance on private automobiles.

We can make cars unnecessary for most people by weaving together accessible walk/bike infrastructure, responsive electric buses and trains, and centralized village growth that includes affordable, equitable housing.

And we could launch this change fairly quickly were the federal government to commit to funding a national integrated electric bus system.

The current plan to address climate change that relies primarily on shifting from fossil fuel burning to electric cars is too slow and too expensive, and it relies too much on individuals. In short, it is not the committed all-hands-on-deck response we need to the climate crisis.

Furthermore, the present plan does not address the many ways our car-centric system is not accessible to so many people (the old, the young, the disabled/other-abled, those who do not want to drive). It neither accounts for the carbon emissions and resources required to build new cars, nor does it account for the many issues around battery toxicity, battery life, and the fossil fuels we now burn to generate electricity.

The scientific modeling that so grimly predicts continued global temperature increases does so based on the idea that what is necessary for us to save ourselves is not possible for us to implement. I just don't agree with that fatalistic attitude. What we need is commitment from our elected officials, yes, but even more we need a culture shift.

I think of two important pivots that occurred in my lifetime: marriage equality, and the banning of public smoking. In both cases, what seemed impossible became essential, and it started with citizens becoming intolerant of the status quo.

Our present infrastructure relies on 1950s and 1970s parameters and thinking - cheap gas, infinite growth, the American dream of a house in the suburbs. But we know now that fossil fuels carry an enormous price, that infinite growth is an impossibility, and that suburbia has its roots in racism and inequality.

Let's bring our voices together to demand real commitment to addressing the climate crisis and climate justice from our government, from each other, and from ourselves.

We can do this.

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