Saving ourselves from ourselves

When born in 1952, how was I to know that in a country I never heard of thousands of miles away there was a vicious war going on? The tanks and soldiers I played with were just make-believe. For me, reality was my play world, not the world blowing itself up outside of it. I was born in the midst of the “boom years” in America where peace and prosperity was all around us after World War II, “the war to end all wars” was over. So they said.

That country was Korea, and that war was the Korean War which started in June 1950 when North Korea (aided by China and the Soviet Union) invaded South Korea (aided by the United States) killing and wounding millions. It concluded three years later on July 27, 1953. Elsewhere, fallout shelters were first constructed as early as 1952 (though more common a decade later). This was an enclosed space typically below ground and specially designed to protect citizens from radioactive debris or fallout from a nuclear explosion. Nuclear war was possible even back then. Also in 1952, polio was raging, peaking at 58,000 cases; the Salk vaccine would not be available until 1954. In other news the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) started up committing nefarious covert operations in hot spots in Europe. Most of these operations were not well conceived resulting in many unnecessary and tragic deaths according to Scott Anderson in his new book “http://publishers The Quiet Americans”. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and United States was upon us.

Today, nearly seventy years later a divided nation is at war with itself economically, racially and environmentally. Even with effective vaccinations on hand many people aren’t getting vaccinated to the detriment of all. If people won’t get vaccinated in the present times to help themselves, how will they make adjustments in their behavior, in their actions to prevent permanent alteration of the climate and the world as we know it?

Unlike 1952 we have a climate emergency upon us. It’s the news that no one wants to hear. After the pandemic, I hear that we just want to live, get back to normal. So they say.

Worldwide we’re learning that carbon dioxide isn’t just approaching dangerous levels; it is already here. Unless immediate actions are taken – including shutting down coal plants as coal is the dirtiest of energy sources – the planet will be committed to change on a scale society WON’T BE ABLE TO COPE WITH (caps mine) so says James Hansen, NASA’s climate expert.

Can we save ourselves from ourselves? From our own self-interests, from greed, ignorance, vanity and denial? The health, safety and well-being of our communities hang in the balance.

More specifically, can Americans do what’s acknowledged to require dramatic changes in our society and rally the rest of the world to do its part as well?

To collaborate on climate issues with our enemies China and Russia ?

Can we act out of concern for the unborn and the disadvantaged?

To act based on empathy and concern for the welfare of other peoples who don’t look like us, dress like us, speak like us, work like us …. but are citizens of the world too?

Have domestic and global affairs ever been this bad?

We know some of the things needed to do: decarbonize, expand public transportation, accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, improve building energy efficiency, reduce manufacturing emissions. But some politicians only want to avoid or ignore policy issues, undermine our democracy, live in an alternate reality and dismiss the facts of science, of life itself staring us in our face!

As bad as things were nearly seventy years ago, today I believe with the climate emergency upon us, life is more perilous; this time the state of affairs is much worse.

The Paris Agreement called for “holding” warming below two degrees, while “pursuing efforts” to limit it to 1.5 degrees. At the current rate of emissions we have until 2030 to hit the goal, yet some believe catastrophic irreversible climate changes may occur as early as 2024. An Australian study predicts we’ll hit 1.5 in the early 2030s.

While there’s a constant stream of promising intentions, investments, green funds and technologies, there’s no “global war” on the climate emergency underway. China claims it intends to collaborate with the US but still has hundreds of coal plants in operation! Putin is testing US and European nerves while the Siberian permafrost is thawing ready to spew twice the amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. Meanwhile the the Arctic ice shield which is the centerpiece of our planetary cooling system is “wobbly” says Bill McKibben writing in the April 21 issue of the New Yorker. That’s what caused deep freezes in Texas last February, and is effecting wildfires in California.

There are well-funded industries that don’t want to change, and they don’t want to safeguard people’s health. Natural gas-powered plants cause asthma, cancers, respiratory problems and early death to those living near them.

Consider the Peabody Peaker Plant coming to Peabody, MA. (A peaker plant is only run on occasion when demand peaks and extra electricity needs to be supplied). The Peabody Peaker will be 68 MW of gas and oil and is slated to be constructed this year within 1/2 mile of two schools, near two environmental justice communities. It features a new 200,000 gallon oil tank, 90 foot smokestack and a minimum 2500 gallon tank to hold aqueous urea or hazardous gas, aqueous ammonia. (It can leak in an accident.) It will be situated within feet of the Waters River, and will send climate warming emissions of 51,000 tons of CO2/year. The plant will cost $170,000,000 and paid by Massachusetts tax payers over 30 years. The plant will be obsolete before then (given the cheaper cost of renewables or battery storage technologies) but taxpayers will still be on the hook paying for its construction. That’s crazy!

So where are we at? What can one do?

We the people can join our neighbors in grassroots and town-wide activities to support renewables, energy efficiency, sustainable living. One can vote locally, state wide and nationally based on one issue: the environment. Be an environmentalist in the way you feel comfortable: Align investments with socially responsible investments. Protect air or water from toxic emissions or lead paint in the walls. Donate to non profits and governments that protect the glaciers and oceans that regulate local climates. Eat less meat. Read Bill McKibben and other climate activists. Get educated about the problem. Listen to The Climate Minute podcast. https://mass climate-minute/Boycott retailers who don’t care about the climate. Talk with family, friends, colleagues as well as your kids and grandkids about the problem – and opportunity. Write, protest, attend public hearings, state your opposition to business as usual. Donate to the climate action group of your choice.

I believe there is no other choice than to be involved and to act as if your life and those you care about depended on it. As it does.

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

5 thoughts on “Saving ourselves from ourselves

  1. 1980. Northeast Solar Center (Boston). DOE goal 20% solar by the year 2000.

    Climate experts predict a short time to the tipping point.

    We work hard. Promote Fed and state rebates for solar hot water systems; passive building design, insulation.

    Photovoltaics still too expensive.

    We create solar curricula and materials for community colleges. We train plumners to install. We do energy shows in malls, state events, county fairs. We go on TV and radio. Talk to newspapers and magazines. We stage a solar event at winter Olympics. We write technical papers, consult, reach out, go anywhere and talk to anyone willing to listen.

    We and the other three regional solar centers do everything we can think of to get solar hot water, wind, wood and passive design going.

    Then, the plug gets pulled. The Fed commitment evaporates.

    Solar centers close. We all move on. Do what we can as individuals.

    We were about 40 years too early.

    Seems the tipping point has always been a moving target: 2000, 2030, 2050.

    Sure hope it’s not too late.


    My memory of that time is rapidly fading. Dates may be off, but what stands out in my mind is the fierce commitment of the solar center front line workers.

    It was an honor to work along side them.


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