Monday, December 18, 2006

Saturday's Climate Change Town Meeting

On Saturday, I attended a Town Meeting on Global Warming hosted by Congressman Marty Meehan (D-Lowell) at UMass Lowell. Around 1000 of us crammed ourselves into an auditorium with only one more Saturday left before Christmas to hear what Bay State leaders and experts had to say on the topic. You can read the Lowell Sun's description of the event, or the one from the Associated Press. Lynne from Left in Lowell was also there, though I don't think she's blogged about it yet.

Meehan told the crowd that a typical car emits about a pound of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per mile. That made me feel a little guilty for making the 25-mile trek each way from Watertown. It reminded me of when my wife and I went to see An Inconvenient Truth because our air conditioner was broken. Meehan's speech cribbed heavily from that film, and he not only played a scene from it, but he got Al Gore himself to shoot a five minute video welcoming us to the event.

One thing that Meehan kept repeating that I thought was interesting was that this should not be a political debate. What debate there is should be a scientific one, and that one has pretty much been decided. In Meehan's words, "the verdict is in." He expressed some optimism that climate change skeptics were no longer in charge of the House and the Senate, but he still expected resistance from the White House.

Following Meehan's remarks was Dr. Paul Epstein from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Ken Geiser and Dr. Amy Cannon from UMass Lowell and Lee Ketelsen from Clean Water Action. The doctors were all heavy on the science, with Epstein reciting a litany of dire consequences should we fail to act to combat global climate change. Geiser and Cannon spoke about the outstanding work on alternative energy that is currently going on at UMass Lowell, particularly in the new field of green chemistry, which I had never heard of before. Ketelsen -- an activist, not a scientist -- gave a political pitch. Rather than preach to the choir, she spoke of the importance of massive citizen pressure to get action from Washington. In order to do that, we need to convince our friends and neighbors that clean energy is not only good for the planet, but it's good for their pocketbook as well.

Deval Patrick spoke after the panel and those familiar with his alternative energy ideas would find his speech familiar. He repeated his desire for Massachusetts to become a center for development of renewable energy because, "if we get that right, the whole world is our customer." He also pledged that he would enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) which Governor Romney had opposed.

By the way, for anyone worried that Patrick has lost any support from activists over the past month, there was no evidence of this in the auditorium. I think he managed to get three standing ovations -- once when he entered the hall, once when he began his speech and once afterwards.

Meehan promised to use his web page as a portal for more information. As of now, the invitation to this event is all that's there. I'm not sure what they have in mind, but at the very least I hope they make the materials from Saturday available online. There was a lot of energy in that room for a Saturday morning, and it would be a shame if it could not be harnessed.