The ongoing pandemic has triggered all the so-called stages of grief in us (denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance). Then came the United Nations climate change report on Aug. 9. Secretary-General António Guterres described it as a “code red for humanity,” saying “The alarm bells are deafening.”
Today, I’m at acceptance of the pandemic while wearing double masks and a face shield on an airplane, and at full-on anger in my grief about the climate catastrophe. Yes, I get the irony of writing about climate change while traveling. It also demonstrates part of the reason why we are here. It’s such a massive cause-and-effect problem that it often seems our solitary actions won’t mean much, and we resign ourselves to working for, or waiting for, the “big change” at the national and global levels.
On the Outer Cape, we know we are the canaries on the coastline and have everything at stake in the success or failure of the major policy and practical shifts confronting us. Many efforts thus far to make meaningful change at the upper levels of government have been thwarted by systemic inertia and the power of money in politics.
This is the critical moment. We must all go back to our environmentalist roots, heed the United Nations’ global call, and urgently resolve to take responsibility and act locally.
At town meeting this past spring, Provincetown passed Article 18 to provide a “true north” policy directive on climate change and natural resource protection. The General Bylaw amendment, which has now been approved by the attorney general and taken effect, states that “all considerations within Town governance shall include an evaluation of the effect that climate change, coastal resiliency and natural resource protection will have on those decisions, policies and projects.”
In practical terms, Article 18 was intended not only to speak to our collective values and guide the town’s work but also to provide an umbrella under which specific policies may be enacted. For example, at the 2020 annual town meeting, Provincetown voters agreed to “the objective of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions from human activity within and by the Town to zero.”
Secretary-General Guterres was clear: “This [U.N.] report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”
There are many ways that we can respond to the U.N.’s alarm and take local collective action.
While serving as the select board’s liaison to the Other Post-Employment Benefits Committee, I proposed that we direct the state to divest our contributions to state employment trust funds from companies that don’t align with our community’s values, including industries contributing to climate change. I was informed that these investment decisions are managed at the state level and are done so with an eye toward making a profit, not making change.
Two bills have been introduced in the state legislature this session to “direct independent retirement systems to divest from fossil fuel companies” (see malegislature.gov/Bills/192/H2640; malegislature.gov/Bills/192/S722). We can take action at the town level and pass a resolution supporting these bills.
This most critical moment in human history requires us to get creative, build coalitions, and put aside all other competing priorities to produce results for climate protection. It’s time to move from grief to action, together.
Lise King served on the Provincetown Select Board from 2018 to 2021.