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Takoma Voice: Air Freshener – Betsy Taylor Sees Blue Skies in Our Future

January 16, 2008

 

by Betsy Taylor

Global warming is happening, and it is happening much more quickly than scientists predicted even one year ago. NASA’s chief climate scientist, James Hansen, recently concluded that we are already past the safe limit for carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, and yet those concentrations are escalating at a very rapid pace. What does this mean for our future? And perhaps more importantly, what does it mean for each of us right now?

Imagine it is 2028 and you are sharing your personal story with a teenager in your life, perhaps to your nephew or a granddaughter. You are describing the role you played in redirecting your own life and our community away from fossil fuel consumption and catastrophic global warming.

Instead of feeling hopeless about a global economic machine built on coal and oil, you are feeling excited about the new ways we generate power, grow food, and live in community.
Try to picture it in some detail. What changes have you made to your home? What jobs provide good wages and security for local residents while reducing carbon emissions at the same time? Where do you buy your food, and who grows it? How do you travel?

Let’s look ahead and imagine that together with millions of other concerned citizens, we acted heroically in the face of the news on global warming. What will be different?

It will be very hip to be green. All of our schools and downtown office buildings will have been retrofitted with solar voltaic panels, solar hot water panels, rooftop gardens and rooftop windmills. (Think of the sunshine and wind currents hitting Takoma Middle School, Blair, the Discovery Channel building!)

Montgomery College students and Casa de Maryland will have received economic development grants through the County Council (with Marc Elrich’s help) to train and equip young workers to help homeowners upgrade their insulation, windows, lighting, and home-based power generation. Homebuilders will recruit workers with skills in green building design and construction.

PEPCO will provide wind and solar powered electricity and home heating/AC with new wind farms in western Maryland and solar collectors on every public building in the county, much like what is happening now in far more cloudy San Francisco. Many households will be off the grid entirely with rooftop and backyard windmills, passive solar water heating, and photo voltaic panels.

Our homes and offices will be far more efficient with programmable thermostats, geothermal heating, and lots of colorful clotheslines in every backyard. A local home-grown industry will emerge to plant cotton and hemp, create locally produced dyes, and produce these clothes lines for homes throughout the metropolitan area. High school graduates from Blair will be employed to harvest, design, manufacture and market these clothes lines and dozens of similar energy-saving products such as insulation made from old tee shirts that get reused or cabinets and flooring using reclaimed wood.

We will bike, hike, and take mass transit more often. Many residents will own affordable hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and vehicles powered by hydrogen and biofuels from agricultural waste or disposed restaurant cooking oils (not corn-based ethanol.) Old gas guzzling vehicles have been traded in with rebates to help subsidize purchase of fuel efficient vehicles. Zip cars are easily accessible. All conventional vehicles will have extremely high fuel efficiency in the range of 100 mpg. (These models are all in the works.) The Purple Line will be in place and we will have mass transit available to all airports.

Airline travel will be in transition and for a period of time, the high cost of global travel will probably make local adventures far more attractive. Think trips to the Cumberland Gap for biking or to the eastern shore via the new light rail “beach train” that will depart regularly from Union Station and return daily without any traffic to contend with. MARC trains and Metro buses & subway cars will include quiet-only cars, magazine and book racks, and sections with a coffee shop atmosphere with wireless access so that riding rail, metro and bus becomes more enjoyable.
Bicycles will proliferate and bike repair shops thrive. Some folks will own electric bikes and scooters for distance commuting while many will work from home-based offices.

People are thinner and healthier because they are exercising on the many new bike trails, walking paths and in the community gardens that are required features with all new development. Leaf blowers have been banned by our city council and sustainable bamboo rakes designed for healthy backs are all the rage. Community bikes are available and are shared.

The U.S. President, elected in 2008, calls us to action. People feel part of something important and vital. We are going to war again, but not against a foreign military power. Rather, we are going to war against carbon dioxide and doing it in a way that generates new jobs, sustainable economic growth, and a feeling of global community.

In 2009, our elected officials pass a carbon policy that puts a very high price on fossil fuel. The revenues from this carbon tax (or a cap & trade system) are used to invest in new technologies, energy conservation and renewable energy as well as to mitigate the rising cost of energy for low and moderate income households. (Imagine a debit card that all Americans who earn less than $60,000 receive. The card can be used to upgrade a vehicle, install insulation, buy compact fluorescent bulbs, or for any activity that will ultimately decrease carbon emissions and financial costs associated with household energy use. It is paid for by the tax on oil, gas and coal.)

Seventy-five percent of our food is grown locally so that the energy associated with production and shipping is greatly reduced. Vegetable gardens replace most lawns and the air is free of the noise and pollution caused by lawn mowers. We conserve the remaining farmland in outer Montgomery County and create farm/community alliances between Maryland farmers and our grocers, farmers markets, and schools. Every school has its own garden and greenhouse. Students tend these gardens and help provide fresh greens for the cafeteria.
Petroleum based plastic has been replaced entirely and it will be taboo to use plastic bottles or shopping bags.

Every public and private building has a rain catcher and a system for rerouting shower and laundry water for yard and garden application. Public water fountains will return. Native plants dominate the landscape and native birds, butterflies, turtles, and pollinators thrive. Baltimore Orioles once again sing in our backyards.

Children spend far more time outdoors in nature and less time preparing for tests, playing video games, and creating virtual realities. Their realities return to what humans have experienced for centuries – time to notice the wind and sun, timber to be of use to one another, to grow food, care for animals, play with others, sing, dance and have a larger purpose than mere material acquisition.

Am I idealistic? I admit I am. Is this vision an impossible dream? Not at all…if we move quickly. In 1968, observing the state of civil rights in America, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” News about the climate increasingly stirs images of an apocalyptic future. And frankly, it should.

If you’re not paying attention, wake up. Plug in some keywords like “global warming consequences” on Google or view YouTube homemade videos of melting Greenland. Every glacier is melting, sea ice at the Arctic may be gone within a decade or less, Greenland is thawing, species are going extinct faster than they can be counted, and yet our elected officials and most of us are going through life as if things are basically okay. Things are not okay but they can be, if we each do a lot more, starting now. We can’t think in terms of long-term modest progress. We must think in terms of a war-like mobilization.

Consider these next steps:

l. In your own home, do three more things this month to conserve energy. Check out the websites at the Center for a New American Dream, Sierra Club or any number of energy saving tip sites. Put a blanket over your hot water heater. Buy those funny looking light bulbs. Put up a clothes line. Skip a car trip. Think about this: you are what you drive.

2. Join the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 1Sky Campaign, and/or the Center for a New American Dream, all located in Takoma Park. CCAN will help you push for policy changes at the city, county, state and federal level. 1Sky will help you link up with millions of others to push our federal elected officials, including Chris Van Hollen and our U.S. Senators, to do much more to support bold rather than incremental climate policy in 2009. New American Dream will help you consume wisely and have more fun with less stuff. All of these organizations welcome volunteers, financial donations, and people willing to sign up for their activist lists.

3. Contact Councilmember Marc Elrich to ask what kind of support he needs for the Cool Counties initiative or for his efforts to challenge unsustainable development in the county (Councilmember.Elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov or by phone at 240-777-7966). Pressure our City Council to make this the greenest town in the state.

4. Go for a walk outside, perhaps in Rock Creek Park or at the National Arboretum. We need direct contact with the natural world to fully appreciate it. It is easy to lose this connection in our over-wired, over-worked world. Unplug and go outside with friends regularly. We won’t protect what we don’t love.

5. Register to vote and be sure to communicate to all candidates for federal office that modest policy changes are not acceptable. We need a policy package that is equivalent to the New Deal or the decision to place a man on the moon. Contact the 1Sky campaign to find out how you can get involved, with bold action in this arena.

A Hopi Elder once said this, “You have been telling people that this is the eleventh hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the hour, and there are things to be considered. Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships? Are you in right relationship? Where is your water? Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth, to create your communities, to be good to each other and to not look outside of yourself for a leader.”

Scientists are telling us that we are running out of time to reverse global warming. If we don’t act within the next few years, we won’t be able to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Let’s avoid the nightmare of a forever flooded Rehoboth and Annapolis and dream of what humans are actually capable of when they focus on what really matters. We can achieve a lot quickly but it will take an extraordinary effort from each of us. Don’t be seduced by the seeming normality of life or by temporal comforts. Our kids are depending on us to do the right thing. Godspeed.

Betsy Taylor is the President of the Board of the 1Sky Campaign (www.1sky.org) and past president of the Center for a New American Dream. She lives in Takoma Park. The 1Sky Campaign can be reached at 301-270-4550 or www.1sky.org

From "The Takoma Voice"

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