Federal climate stance sparks local activism, part one

President Donald Trump’s June 1 announcement that the United States is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord has spawned reactions from environmental activists on local, state and national levels.

The resounding message locally is that work to combat climate change and threats to the environment is stronger than ever in Easton and other communities.

Verne Gay, president of Citizens for Easton (CFE), terms Trump’s decision “a spectacular disappointment. It’s frustrating for people like me, people who are community activists interested in environmental issues,” he said,

CFE’s goal is to preserve the town’s rural and natural character.

The federal government is “ceding moral leadership,” Gay said, and local communities “have to be the one to take the lead. It means everyone has to double down and be more dedicated. If the country is going to cede that position, it’s more incumbent on communities and individuals to step into the breach. You lead from the bottom up.”

Gay referred to the familiar phrase, “Think globally, act locally” to sum up his feelings.

The aim of the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, aims to hold the global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius in order to limit global warming.

The pact was signed by 195 nations, and the United States and China vie as the largest polluters on the planet, according to Internet sources.

Scientists agree that the climate is changing as a result of global warming caused by human beings operating power plants, cars or airplanes that release greenhouse or heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The result has been a warming atmosphere that will continue to produce severe storms, rising sea levels, melting ice caps, drought and mosquito-borne disease.

Trump argued that the Paris pact was a threat to the U.S. economy and imposed unfair environmental standards on American businesses and workers.

Since the president’s announcement, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said the state would join the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition of states committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement.

Cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have indicated they’ll abide by the guidelines of the pact.

Local reaction

Cathy Alfandre, chairman of Easton’s Energy Task Force, voiced her opinion about President Trump’s announcement.

“I think Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord was an embarrassment,” Alfandre said. “Climate change is real, and our economy has helped to create the problem. Our country should be a leader in the global effort to tackle the enormous challenges we face. It is actually in our self-interest to participate!  

“I can’t really understand the president’s narrow thinking. Thank goodness other world leaders — and other U.S. state and city leaders — are showing continued commitment and vision.

Alfandre said the Easton Energy Task Force would stay focused on its mission to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy, just as it has always been doing.

“There's no time to waste,” she said. ”I’m confident that countless local, state, and national groups will keep moving forward, even if the U.S. government seems to be moving backward.”

Easton First Selectman Adam Dunsby, who also serves as a Connecticut state Representative (R-135), credited the Energy Task Force for the town’s focus on energy efficiency.

The town has installed a large solar array that supplies much of the power to Samuel Staples Elementary School and plans to expand the project.

Easton has installed a charging station and has boosted its recycling program.

“We think we’re taking steps in the right direction here in Easton,” Dunsby said. “It’s done independently of what’s happening on the federal level.”

In 2012, Easton signed a Clean Energy Communities Municipal Pledge, which includes a commitment to reduce town building energy consumption by 20% and to buy 20% of municipal energy from renewable sources by 2018.

David Brant is executive director of the Aspetuck Land Trust, which maintains 45 trailed preserves in Easton, Weston, Fairfield and Westport.

Trump’s announcement to pull out of the climate accord “reinforces the importance of people taking individual action to make positive change to support local organizations like Aspetuck Land Trust and to counteract decisions being made in Washington,” Brant said “There’s strength in numbers. It’s important for individuals to be active to support things to support the environment.

“We’re seeing the climate change before our eyes,” he said. “We see the direct effect of climate change on our properties. It’s happening all around us.”

There are more invasive plants, drier streams and extreme rain events, Brant said, and he cited information from climate activist Bill McKibben’s book End of Nature, which claims that as the earth warms up, vegetation changes and pine forests move north.

McKibben, a founder of the climate change group 350.org, spoke to Aspetuck Land Trust members in August 2013 at the Pequot Library in Fairfield.

He wrote an editorial in the New York Times on the heels of Trump’s announcement, saying the decision repudiates diplomacy and science and “undercuts civilization’s change of surviving global warming.

“The hope of Paris was that it would send such a strong signal to the world’s governments and its capital markets, that the targets would become a floor and not a ceiling,” McKibben wrote.

The accord would also have led to countries moving faster toward renewable energy, and in fact this has been happening.

India has forgone planned expansion of coal plants in favor of more solar panel arrays, and China is shutting coal mines and building wind turbines, McKibben said.

“We will resist,” he wrote.