By guest writer: Ellen Weininger -Director, Educational Outreach, Grassroots Environmental Education www.grassrootsinfo.org
On a blistering hot day at the end of July, scores of diverse Westchester residents swelled the ranks of more than 10,000 people headed to Philadelphia to march for a Clean Energy Revolution, flooding the streets of Philadelphia on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. More than 900 endorsing organizations representing health, environmental, student, faith, labor, indigenous, justice and other groups nationwide sponsored the event, sending the urgent message that we must keep fossil fuels in the ground and make a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy if we are to avert further exacerbation of our climate crisis. Displaying colorful and creative props and banners bearing bold messages, marchers conveyed the imperative of aggressive climate action.
Powerful speakers called for consistent policies and leadership as they marched to Independence Hall Park and declared independence from fossil fuels. Messages highlighted that more fracking, mining and other fossil fuel extraction, along with increasing buildout of infrastructure to transport more and more fossil fuels further accelerates climate change and undermines climate action goals. Others implored decision makers to aggressively commit to achieving 100% renewable energy within the next twenty to thirty years.
One of the most inspiring speakers was the daughter of slain environmental leader, Berta Caceres. Berta was killed for defending the rivers that supported the life of the Lenca Indigenous People of Honduras. Marchers were reminded of her profound exhortations which continued to reverberate throughout the day in Philadelphia in the Earth’s hottest month on record, “ Wake up humanity, time is running out!” Indeed, time is running out. Last year, world leaders at COP21 recognized the imperative of limiting global warming to a 1.5 degrees Celsius cap instead of the 2 degree goal if we are to avert further catastrophic acceleration of climate change. The best science tells us we have the next 10 years to fully implement meaningful climate action and that we cannot continue to promote and perpetuate the burning of fossil fuels which fill the atmosphere with heat trapping gases that are destabilizing the climate, acidifying the oceans and significantly escalating air pollution and growing rates of chronic disease.
The proposed Clean Power Plan is a case in point of the shortcomings of federal initiatives to address the climate crisis. The Plan includes a buildout of over 300 natural gas power plants, a direct contradiction of its stated intent to create clean energy. Natural gas is methane, which is 86X more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Research by Dr. Robert Howarth at Cornell University and other leading scientists reveals significant methane leakage at every point in the supply chain from natural gas extraction and production sites, in transport along pipelines, at compressor stations and along distribution lines that deliver to our homes, schools, and businesses. Those studies have measured methane leak rates as much as 7.9%. Their findings demonstrate that the greenhouse gas footprint across the full life cycle of natural gas is about the same as or even worse than coal. Dr. Howarth warns that total greenhouse gas emissions, after dipping slightly in 2007, have been rising since at their most rapid rate ever, due to shale gas development and large methane emissions. Although carbon dioxide emissions must be significantly cut, reducing carbon dioxide alone will not slow global warming in the next few critical decades. The climate system responds much more quickly to reducing methane emissions.
The oil and gas industry is the single largest source of methane pollution in the U.S. and a recent EPA report indicates that methane pollution is 34% higher than previously reported.
Furthermore, the Public Service Commission’s recent approval of New York State’s Clean Energy Standard fails to address our climate crisis because of its continued support for and reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power. Steep nuclear power subsidies will draw precious resources away from critical funding for expeditious deployment of renewable energy.
On the home front, climate change and pollution issues are right at our own doorstep in Westchester. Time is running out as completion and operation of the massive Spectra Algonquin (AIM) pipeline expansion approaches in just over 2 months, on November 1st. The AIM project includes the construction of a new 42” wide, high-pressure gas pipeline 105 feet from critical safety structures at the Indian Point nuclear power plant located in a major seismic zone. The siting of the AIM pipeline at this location further endangers Indian Point and more than 20 million people who live and work within the 50 mile radius. According to safety experts, a pipeline rupture at that location could result in a nuclear catastrophe worse than the Fukushima nuclear disaster. A pipeline rupture would significantly impact millions of people even if Indian Point is permanently shut down with 40 years of highly radioactive spent fuel stored on site.
The AIM pipeline and its compressor stations and other components, many of which are in this immediate area, push the gas through and spew millions of tons of greenhouse gases and hazardous air pollutants each year accelerating climate change, polluting our air, water and soil and negatively impacting our health. Westchester is already classified as a non-attainment zone for air quality standards with excessive levels of particulate matter and ozone pollution that are linked to adverse health effects. In just the last few months alone, Westchester residents have been subjected to an unprecedented number of days with air quality health advisories for alarmingly high levels of ozone pollution. For more information about the Algonquin pipeline expansion, please visit www.sape2016.org
Locally, Westchester groups have been actively mobilizing deployment of solar installations and energy efficiency improvements. Much more still needs to be done to conserve energy altogether. Thankfully, advances in renewable energy technology are broadening and accelerating the scope of possibilities for our fossil fuel free energy future. To learn more about these timely solution tools, Grassroots Environmental Education is presenting the Sustainability and Renewable Energy Conference on Tuesday, September 27, 8:30 am – 12 noon at the Jacob Burns Film Center, which is co-sponsored by Federated Conservationists of Westchester County and New Yorkers for Clean Power. Save the date and stay tuned for more details. www.grassrootsinfo.org