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Amherst to tackle climate change

During this past weekend, Massachusetts Power Shift (MAPS), a coalition of students, professionals and concerned citizens, held a regional climate leadership training at Amherst College. Along with MAPS, Amherst 350, a local subsidiary organization, is seeking to band together Amherst citizens in preparation for Saturday, October 24, which is described as an International Day of Climate Action.

The goal of both of these organizations and their activities is to highlight the need for the government to take legislative, regulative and judicial action on promoting renewable energy. These steps are proposed in response to heightened global climate change concerns.

According to the Amherst 350 website, the foundation of the Amherst 350 campaign is centered on a statement by Dr. James E. Hansen, a prominent climatologist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). His statement indicates that the current international consensus on stabilizing the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the atmosphere on 450 parts per million (ppm), and that a number of 350 ppm is urgently needed. The current atmospheric level of CO2 hovers at approximately 390 ppm. 

On October 24, there will be demonstrations around the world, including on the Amherst Common, to highlight this information along with proposed list of actions to help address the situation. The Amherst section will feature people dressed up as leaves in order to attract attention to this situation in a visual manner.

According to the MAPS Website, the proposed policies are similar to ideas that have been mentioned in the past. These ideas include retrofitting automobiles and buildings to be more energy efficient, as well as a redistribution program to tax high polluting fossil fuel sites and transfer these funds in the form of rebates to greener energy sources.

These actions are quite similar, and perhaps even less drastic, than other solutions that have been proposed to combat global climate change. The questions that come before informed citizens are the effectiveness of these actions in conjunction with the possible side effects on other policy positions, such as in the areas of personal liberty and private property.

The necessary data that will need to be publicly presented is the fact that these elevated levels of carbon dioxide are not able to be handled by the current atmospheric situation of the earth. There can be counterarguments made that even with acceptance that human activity is directly responsible for elevated levels of CO2, that the Earth has not been designed in such a manner that it cannot adjust its climate to accommodate this situation in a non-destructive manner.

The second objection to overcome is the necessary incursions on personal liberty that will inevitably occur as a result of legislative and regulative action. It may at first be assumed that the only people impacted are businesses that operate polluting industries. But in many cases these new regulations could have effects in other areas of life, such as the operation of small businesses, which could be impacted both in the paperwork needed and in higher costs for both energy, as well as certain materials that are priced in relation to energy prices. These policy changes can also have impacts on family farms and individual consumers.

There exists a certain degree of restrictions that will need to be placed on private property under some of these proposals. The traditional model was that private landowners hold stewardship over their own land, and that in general, even in the case of big businesses, it is a right that they retain and a foundational model of American liberty.

These concerns must be weighed against the need for action to be taken on CO2 and climate change. In previous times, through their elected representatives, Americans have accepted regulative action taken by the government in order that a desirable common good occurs as a result. The benefits and costs must be laid upon the table and reviewed by citizens and legislators in a thorough two-way conversation. It is therefore incumbent upon the organizers of campaigns such as Amherst 350 to effectively make this case.

Activists have brought down that the climate situation has reached critical levels and that emergency action is needed immediately, and they have quoted Dr. Hansen as saying, “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.”

This is obviously being treated as an urgent situation. Therefore it will be up to organizers such as Amherst 350 to present their evidence publicly. University of Massachusetts students and Amherst residents eagerly anticipate the demonstrations that will occur in just over two weeks on Saturday, October 24 on the Amherst Common.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at emagazu@student.umass.edu.

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