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Spencer Rendahl: Taking Local Action

My state representative Lee Oxenham recently asked me to sign a petition calling on the town select board to commit to the goals of the Paris Climate Accords. I gave it a quick look. “NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED” it stated, “that the Select Board of the Town of Plainfield is committed to taking such local actions as are within its purview to limit global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.”

This was the target set forth in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, signed by 195 countries.

In the “Whereas” declarations so common in town government, the petition noted that climate change is a threat to the health of New England communities, that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that 2015 was the warmest year since record-keeping began, and that all of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.

It stated that cities and towns have a major impact on carbon emissions through land use planning, transportation systems, building codes, and services.

On June first, the Trump administration formally backed out of the climate accord, with the president saying he serves Pittsburgh, not Paris. But almost immediately, many states and cities including Pittsburgh opted back in on their own.

To date, more than 350 city mayors, including those from Burlington, Montpelier, and Dover and Nashua, New Hampshire, have vowed to commit to the accord’s goals. Fourteen state governments have followed, including Vermont and Massachusetts, even though they’re headed by Republican governors.

New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu has not – calling such a commitment “Quasi-meaningless” and suggesting that there would be no effective action behind it. In a recent interview he’s quoted as saying, “Would signing a piece of paper prevent the storms from coming? No.”

But many New England towns, steeped in centuries of Town Meeting democracy, beg to differ. Voters approve budgets and can call for more investments in energy efficient buildings, transportation options, and renewable energy sources.

In March, even before the president backed out of the Paris Accord, the Peterborough select board voted to commit to its goals. Then in early July Keene, New Hampshire’s City council passed its own resolution.

Representative Oxenham’s Plainfield petition received more than 100 signatures. She presented it to the select board a day later, and they’ll consider it at their next meeting.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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