Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Brown University professor J. Timmons Roberts recalled when the United States decided not to partake in the previous major climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol.
“There was no effective response. The environmental movement, social-justice movements did not get mobilized,” Roberts said during an impromptu rally June 1 to draw attention to President Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Agreement.
President Bush and the Senate, Roberts recalled, weren't challenged for failing to approve the Kyoto treaty. But this latest reversal from a global climate agreement will have consequences, he said.
“It’s not going to happen this time. It’s quite different. But it’s all up to us,” he said outside a National Grid natural-gas terminal on Allens Avenue.
Since 2010 the Brown University professor has traveled with his students to the annual U.N. climate negotiations. He's been going himself since 2003. His group was in Paris last October when the treaty was formed.
The Paris Agreement, Roberts said, is inadequate and won’t likely stop global temperature increases. Nevertheless, he believes the treaty is a promising start to more meaningful actions. The agreement's pollution-reduction targets are all voluntary. The only binding part is that the actions are transparent and that wealthy countries will give money to poor ones to fight climate change.
“That’s why it just doesn't make any sense for the U.S. to pull out. It’s a voluntary treaty,” Roberts said.
The site of the modest protest was chosen to draw attention to the city’s vulnerable and highly polluting industrial waterfront. National Grid is proposing a controversial natural gas-liquefaction facility that is seen a threat to safety, health and the climate. Pollution from heavy industry on the waterfront is to blame for health problems in the low-income South Providence neighborhood.
The pollution is indicative of the lopsided damage low-income communities in Rhode Island and around the world “that are suffering worst and first from climate change,” Roberts said.
Dave Gerraughty of the environmental advocacy group Energize Rhode Island, said the local response to the Paris Agreement is to embrace a fee on all carbon fuel in Rhode Island. Two bills advocating for a carbon tax and dividend are stalled in committee in the General Assembly. Three other New England states have similar bills.
“If we go first, maybe they will follow and maybe we will start making an impact in this country,” Gerraughty said.
Pulling out of the Paris Agreement is akin to letting the oligarchs run the country, he said.
Greg Gerritt of the Environment Council of Rhode Island reminded politicians to pay attention to recent history in Syria and the Middle East. When people go hungry from climate change, they take down the government, he said.
“We’re saying to the world, ‘We don’t care. We don’t care if your kids die. We don’t care if the sea floods your homes. We don’t care if the hurricanes eat you.' And that’s stupid,” Gerritt said. “We have to stand up for facts. And facts are climate change is going to hurt us."
Now that the federal government is ignoring the problem, he said. “We are all in the resistance.”