Earth Month was Busy for Both Good and Bad Climate News


From an environmental standpoint, April was a busy month. Maybe Earth Day got us to pay more attention. Or maybe it’s the stress that many of us feel because of that 2018 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that gives us until 2030 to get our environmental act together … or else.

Whatever the cause, a lot’s been going on.

Environmental heroes
To start with, there were people whose accomplishments made headlines, such as Ellen Culton, a senior at the Greene School in West Greenwich, R.I., who was among nine students nationally to receive a National Student Leadership Award from the Green Schools Network.

And there’s Bea Johnson, whose San Francisco Bay Area family’s commitment to a zero-waste household has caught the nation’s attention. Don’t forget Clean Ocean Access, which helped make Providence the only state capital to launch a trash-collecting skimmer that’s expected to remove 30 pounds of trash a day from the Providence River.

Environmental politics
Green issues have been front and center in the political arena, of course, including Rhode Island’s bill to regulate geoengineering — to make sure nobody comes up with a sure-fire way to save the planet that does the opposite — and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s proposed American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act that would charge carbon producers for emissions.

Democratic presidential hopefuls, following Elizabeth Warren’s call for a moratorium on drilling for fossil fuels on public lands, are speaking out on that issue.

In the strange-bedfellows department, the governors of the Bank of England and the Banque de France publicly urged other financial regulators and financial firms to pay attention, warning in an article in The Guardian that “if some companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist.”

In the streets
Meanwhile, the Extinction Rebellion blocked bridges and roads to bring London’s traffic to a standstill, hoping to convince governments to declare a “climate and ecological emergency.”

Locally, the Climate Disobedience Center sent out an e-mail inviting people to celebrate the demolition of the Brayton Point coal-fired power plant’s cooling towers.

The good news
On other positive notes, the University of Rhode Island held a number of climate-related events, the Sierra Club published an article about how contact with nature reduces stress, and National Public Radio released poll results showing that 80 percent of parents and 86 percent of teachers support teaching about climate change in the classroom. In response to English teachers’ concern that they feel unprepared, the National Council of Teachers of English provided a list of resources.

The high point for me was Publick Occurences’ mid-month sponsorship of Climate Change: The Search for Solutions at Rhode Island College’s Sapinsley Hall, where a nearly packed house listened to a variety of speakers from government, academia, the media, the private sector, and climate-focused nonprofits, who also took questions and comments from the audience.

There was the standard fare about the decade we have left to deal with the issue and defunding the fossil-fuel industry. But the mostly white, mostly older crowd was reminded that it’s the poor and people of color — in Rhode Island as elsewhere — who, like canaries in a coal mine, bear the brunt of the impact of climate change.

Perhaps the high point of the evening was when five young people stood up holding their “We Demand a Green New Deal” banner. Demanding specific solutions, these young people brought a passion for radical, immediate change to the discussion.

But don’t get your hopes up
April’s news, of course, wasn’t all good.

The Christian Science Monitor article about the impact of recent flooding in Nebraska cited one farmer’s reticence to put the catastrophe into a wider perspective as he surveyed the erosion a cornfield had suffered: “I don’t know about climate change. But I think the weather is going to be more extreme going forward.”

And then there was the article in The Guardian about similar circumstances along the banks of the Mississippi River. It began, “Climate change, I was told when buying a coffee, is not a ‘polite’ topic of conversation in Natchez, Mississippi.’”

Such ambivalence, however, doesn’t exist only in fly-over states.

While 37 percent of those who had felt “pessimistic” about climate change at the beginning of RIC’s climate-change forum left feeling “optimistic” or “highly optimistic,” only one-third of those who had arrived feeling “highly optimistic” remained so at the end of the evening. And of those who had arrived feeling “optimistic,” one-quarter had become “pessimistic.”

You win some, you lose some, right? In this case, however, we can’t afford to lose any more.

Nicholas Boke is a freelance writer and international education consultant who lives in Providence.