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We can't save the planet, unless we also save our communities

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  • Eric Britton
    This is not normally the place to take your valuable time with poached materials from the press that many of you may run across anyway. However today, these
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2008
      This is not normally the place to take your valuable time with poached
      materials from the press that many of you may run across anyway. However
      today, these two articles from the same journal (www.iht.com) are important
      because of the way in which they frame our shared interests. Namely that we
      can't save the planet unless we also save our communities. Let's you and me
      keep working at it, eh? Eric Britton

      Paul Krugman: Can the planet be saved?

      By Paul Krugman

      Friday, August 1, 2008

      PRINCETON, New Jersey: Recently the Web site The Politico asked Nancy
      Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, why she was
      blocking attempts to tack offshore drilling amendments onto appropriations
      bills. "I'm trying to save the planet; I'm trying to save the planet," she

      I'm glad to hear it. But I'm still worried about the planet's prospects.

      True, Pelosi's remark was a happy reminder that environmental policy is no
      longer in the hands of crazy people. Remember, less than two years ago
      Senator James Inhofe - a conspiracy theorist who insists that global warming
      is a "gigantic hoax" perpetrated by the scientific community - was the
      chairman of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee.

      Beyond that, Pelosi's response shows that she understands the deeper issues
      behind the current energy debate.

      Most criticism of John McCain's decision to follow the Bush administration's
      lead and embrace offshore drilling as the answer to high gas prices has
      focused on the accusation that it's junk economics - which it is.

      A McCain campaign ad says that gas prices are high right now because "some
      in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America." That's just plain
      dishonest: the U.S. government's own Energy Information Administration says
      that removing restrictions on offshore drilling wouldn't lead to any
      additional domestic oil production until 2017, and that even at its peak the
      extra production would have an "insignificant" impact on oil prices.

      What's even more important than McCain's bad economics, however, is what his
      reversal on this issue - he was against offshore drilling before he was for
      it - says about his priorities.

      Back when he was cultivating a maverick image, McCain portrayed himself as
      more environmentally aware than the rest of his party. He even cosponsored a
      bill calling for a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse-gas emissions
      (although his remarks on several recent occasions suggest that he doesn't
      understand his own proposal). But the lure of a bit of political gain, it
      turns out, was all it took to transform him back into a standard
      drill-and-burn Republican.

      And the planet can't afford that kind of cynicism.

      In themselves, limits on offshore drilling are only a modest-sized issue.
      But the skirmish over drilling is the opening stage of a much bigger fight
      over environmental policy. What's at stake in that fight, above all, is the
      question of whether we Americans will take action against climate change
      before it's utterly too late.

      It's true that scientists don't know exactly how much world temperatures
      will rise if we persist with business as usual. But that uncertainty is
      actually what makes action so urgent. While there's a chance that we'll act
      against global warming only to find that the danger was overstated, there's
      also a chance that we'll fail to act only to find that the results of
      inaction were catastrophic. Which risk would you rather run?

      Martin Weitzman, a Harvard economist who has been driving much of the recent
      high-level debate, offers some sobering numbers. Surveying a wide range of
      climate models, he argues that, overall, they suggest about a 5 percent
      chance that world temperatures will eventually rise by more than 10 degrees
      Celsius (that is, world temperatures will rise by 18 degrees Fahrenheit). As
      Weitzman points out, that's enough to "effectively destroy planet Earth as
      we know it." It's sheer irresponsibility not to do whatever we can to
      eliminate that threat.

      Now for the bad news: Sheer irresponsibility may be a winning political

      McCain's claim that opponents of offshore drilling are responsible for high
      gas prices is ridiculous - and to their credit, major news organizations
      have pointed this out. Yet McCain's gambit seems nonetheless to be working:
      Public support for ending restrictions on drilling has risen sharply, with
      roughly half of voters saying that increased offshore drilling would reduce
      gas prices within a year.

      Hence my concern: If a completely bogus claim that environmental protection
      is raising energy prices can get this much political traction, what are the
      chances of getting serious action against global warming? After all, a
      cap-and-trade system would in effect be a tax on carbon (though McCain
      apparently doesn't know that), and really would raise energy prices.

      The only way we're going to get action, I'd suggest, is if those who stand
      in the way of action come to be perceived as not just wrong but immoral.
      Incidentally, that's why I was disappointed with Barack Obama's response to
      McCain's energy posturing - that it was "the same old politics." Obama was
      dismissive when he should have been outraged.

      So as I said, I'm very glad to know that Nancy Pelosi is trying to save the
      planet. I just wish I had more confidence that she's going to succeed.

      Breaking a town from the center

      By Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern

      Friday, August 1, 2008

      RIPTON, Vermont: Robert Frost wrote once that "good fences make good
      neighbors." We love Frost - we live on land he once owned in this small
      Green Mountain town - but that's the poet being cynical. What really makes
      for good neighbors, as the 562 residents have learned over the years, is a
      post office like the one this town has enjoyed since the 1800s. Tucked into
      a tiny corner of the general store, the post office is our town commons, a
      place where neighbor has no choice but to rub shoulders with neighbor.

      But suddenly, out of nowhere, a sign went up a few weeks ago saying that the
      U.S. Postal Service was closing our post office. If we wanted our mail, the
      sign said, we'd have to drive to the next town, which is at the bottom of a
      winding gorge, on a road that is only marginally passable. It's a 10-mile
      round trip, for some, and 18 miles for others, which is not an
      inconsiderable distance in these days of $4 a gallon gas. And talk about
      carbon footprint. But these are merely the obvious, measurable costs.

      As soon as the closure sign went up on the post office door, people began to
      mobilize. And they weren't just the usual suspects - the ones who serve on
      the town board or run the recycling program. They were fifth-generation
      Vermonters, they were carpenters, they were teachers, retirees and gardeners
      - they were a representative sampling of us all.

      Some said they'd hang around the store in case the postal service made good
      on its threat to remove the bank of mail boxes, the old kind, with a glass
      window and a combination lock. (After two days, the Postal Service backed

      Scores of calls were made - to the postmaster general, to various regional
      USPS offices, to customer service. (We would have sent letters, but there
      was no place to buy stamps in town.) Scores more calls were made to the
      Vermont congressional delegation. A meeting was called, and 124 residents
      crowded into town hall to voice their concern. The media came, drawn less by
      what was happening to our mail than what was happening in our town - our
      passion, commitment and solidarity. How quaint!

      These days, the average American has half as many close friends as his
      predecessor half a century ago, and shares meals with neighbors and family
      half as often. But in our little town, there are community suppers, a
      monthly coffee house, family soccer games, a farmers' market. As Vermont
      Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders and Representative Peter Welch
      wrote to the postmaster general, Jack Potter, "The town of Ripton is a
      small, close-knit community. The Ripton General Store and the post office
      are a center and a primary gathering place for residents."

      The fact is, as almost everyone who packed town hall pointed out, the reason
      we're so close-knit is because of the post office - and because, especially,
      it's in the one retail business in town.

      This is how towns get broken, someone pointed out at the meeting: Send
      people away from the center and it cannot hold; make them drive to the
      bottom of the mountain to get their mail, and they'll shop there, too. Soon
      enough the ancient red building, which stocks the bread and milk and eggs
      that lets us stay close to home on a snowy day, will become history, too.

      Not long after the congressional delegation wrote to Postmaster Potter, we
      all received letters of apology from the regional headquarters. Sorry, it
      said, for shutting down your post office without giving you proper notice.
      As to whether anyone was sorry for shutting to begin with, or what plans
      they had for the future, it didn't say.

      So the people in town kept asking, kept sending e-mails, did more research.
      We learned, for instance, how the postal service strategic plan calls for
      more "streamlined" operations and how we weren't the only rural community
      fighting to hold on to this vital public service.

      And then, suddenly, the mail came back to Ripton. Though it's too early to
      say it's for good - we still don't have a postmaster, and the window is open
      just a few hours a day, staffed by townspeople - it was a defining moment
      for our community: Getting our mail was sweet, but having our post office
      was even sweeter.

      Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern are writers. McKibben's most recent book is
      "The Bill McKibben Reader," and Halpern's is "Can't Remember What I Forgot."

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