[Updated: June 19, 2017]
Tonight, the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors will vote on a truly ambitious climate resolution. We are voting to “develop a strategy to achieve net zero GHG emissions as quickly as feasible, but no later than 2050. Doing so will make us lead by example and engage our peer governments and act “to reduce the impacts and embrace the opportunities created by human-induced warming to Pennsylvania and places around the world.”
Why now? The short answer is that people and the lives of our earthly cohabitants are at risk. But with great risks come great rewards when we do the right thing. Why here? Because while we are part of the problem, we also our greatest hope.
We know that by burning fossil fuels, people have warmed the planet by wrapping it in a thicker blanket of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We have already warmed the planet over 1 degree Celsius and it’s rising. We are facing serious human rights challenges and ecological instability issues as we transgress the planetary boundary of the greenhouse effect. People and ecosystems the world over–particularly the world’s poor and indigenous people as well as fragile ecosystems in the Arctic and ocean reefs–are under threat. About 200 million people are at risk from sea level rise of a couple of meters, not to mention additional problems caused by more intense heat, increased storm intensity, floods, droughts, and changing disease patterns as pests migrate. Lest you think those effects are far away in space and time, they are already impacting Pennsylvania’s agriculture, health, recreation, and water sectors.
So these aren’t environmental and social ethical issues alone. They are also economic and geopolitical. The World Economic Forum rates climate change as one of the top threats to the global economy. The Center for Climate and Security have urged Secretary of Defense James Mattis to recognize that the U.S. should take action to prevent cascading climate-related and climate-caused security risks. And of course, 97% of scientists have stated in no uncertain terms that humans are warming the planet. The more we force the climate by burning fossil fuels and managing land poorly, the harder it is for we the people to realize a “safe and just space” to thrive in.
Donald Trump has said that he’d “cancel” the Paris Agreement. We won’t know until June if he’s going to carry out his promise, whatever it means. But let’s be clear. This is a colossally foolish idea. There’s too much at risk. It’s also impossible. China, India, the EU, and a host of developing nations are taking climate change seriously and are working to follow through on their commitments. How? Primarily by investing in clean and renewable energy.
And you know what? We can do the same. We in local government can live up to the obligations we have to ourselves, to our children and grandchildren, to Pennsylvanians and the nation, and to people and other creatures across the world. We the people have power to take bold climate action. It is time to make strategies while our so-called leaders founder in bickering and manufactured controversies.
As you may know, I’m a supervisor in Ferguson Township, Pennsylvania. In the last year, we adopted a strategic plan that came about from extensive community input. We prioritized smart economic development, environmental stewardship, and the fostering of clean and renewable energy. Given that our community has prioritized these things and our board placed them into a guiding document for the township, it is time that we adopt a resolution that more explicitly recognizes the need for us to act on climate change.
On Monday, we will vote to do just that. I’ve proposed a Ferguson Township Climate Action Resolution that calls for us to make a plan that sets a goal that meets our fair share of commitments to limit warming under the Paris Agreement in a way that is fair, transparent, and economically prudent.
Will you come out and support the resolution at the township meeting? The meeting starts at 7 pm on Monday May 15th in the Ferguson Township Municipal Building.
We are the hope we have been waiting for, and hope lives in action.
A RESOLUTION OF THE TOWNSHIP OF FERGUSON, CENTRE COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA COMMITTING THE TOWNSHIP TO DEVELOPING AND IMPLEMENTING A STRATEGY TO ACHIEVE NET ZERO GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS NO LATER THAN 2050; TO BECOME A LEADER IN THE REGION AND COMMONWEALTH IN PURSUING GOALS ESTABLISHED BY SAID STRATEGY; AND TO ENGAGE OTHER STAKEHOLDERS IN A DIALOGUE TO DEVELOP COURSES OF ACTION TO REDUCE THE IMPACT OF HUMAN-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE TO PENNSYLVANIA AND PEOPLE AND PLACES AROUND THE WORLD.
Whereas, the international community agreed in Paris to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in order to prevent catastrophic harm to people and ecological systems on which life depends; and
Whereas, the United Nations Environment Program’s 2016 “Bridge the Gap Reports” concluded that, in order to have a 50% change of limiting warming to 1.5°C, global carbon dioxide emissions from all nations must be net zero between 2045 and 2050, and to have a 66% chance of limiting warming to 2°C, carbon dioxide emissions from all sources must be net zero between 2060 and 2075. Moreover, to achieve these warming limits, many of the scenarios in the relevant literature that successfully limit warming to below 2°C assume that the use of negative emissions technologies is necessary; and
Whereas, both the magnitude and speed needed to achieve these reductions necessary to prevent dangerous human-induced warming urgently requires all local government entities to cooperate with other levels of government, the private sector, educational institutions, agriculture, and others to rapidly develop strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero to achieve the Paris Agreement’s warming limit goals; and
Whereas, any delay in reducing GHG emissions makes the Paris Agreement’s warming limit goals much more difficult, if not impossible to achieve, as existing GHG emissions levels are rapidly reducing the shrinking carbon budgets that must constrain total global GHG emissions to achieve said goals; and
Whereas, a growing number of local government entities and private and public sector organizations around the world have committed to begin planning to reduce their GHG emissions to net zero as quickly as possible but no later than 2050 or, at minimum, achieve 100% non-fossil fuel generated electricity by that date; and
Whereas, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27 guarantees that, “The people have a right to the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of the all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustees of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people;” and
Whereas, Pennsylvania contributes approximately 1% of global GHG emissions, which, according to the Commonwealth’s Third Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Report, is affecting agriculture, energy, human health, infrastructure, recreation, water quality, forests, and other ecosystems in Pennsylvania, and human health and ecological systems around the world. Despite this, neither the Pennsylvania state government nor the clear majority of Pennsylvania local governments have established a GHG emissions strategy designed to achieve a GHG reduction target consistent with the urgent need to prevent very dangerous climate change; and
Whereas, green building practices and standards, and the cost of non-fossil fuel generated energy including solar and wind power have reduced to the point that the replacement of fossil-fuel generated energy with renewable energy is reaching price parity with non-renewable energy; and
Whereas, green building and renewable energy industries employ thousands of Pennsylvanians; and
Whereas, agriculture and forestry have played important roles in Ferguson Township’s economy and culture for generations, and are integral in sinking carbon, providing additional ecosystem services, beauty, and recreation, as well as afford a high quality of life for people and our environment; and
Whereas, universities in Pennsylvania, including Penn State University provide jobs that research, support, and educate Pennsylvania’s renewable energy industry and conduct international, national, state-level, and local climate assessments and planning assistance; and
Whereas, Ferguson Township is a Home Rule Municipality whose governing Charter includes a Community and Environmental Bill of Rights guaranteeing a sustainable energy future.
Now, therefore, be it here resolved:
- a) Immediately begin to develop a strategy to achieve net zero GHG emissions as quickly as feasible, but no later than 2050, and b) to commit to achieving the GHG emissions reductions target determined by said strategy and by the date identified therein;
- Lead by example to rapidly pursue these goals in a manner that is transparent, fair, and economically responsible; and
- Engage peer governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and Penn State University to raise awareness and identify courses of action to reduce the impacts and embrace the opportunities created by human-induced warming to Pennsylvania and places around the world.
RESOLVED this ___ day of ______, 2017.
I’d like to thank one my mentors, Donald Brown of Widener University and author of Climate Change Ethics: Navigating a Perfect Moral Storm for his leadership in authoring much of the language in the resolution. I’d also like to thank members of the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium, the Center for Ethics and Environmental Law, PennFuture, PennEnvironment, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club Pennsylvania, Interfaith Power and Light, FrackTracker, and other individuals for their assistance in crafting and revising some of the language with us and for agreeing to provide assistance to municipalities going forward. Ferguson Township staff revised and formatted the Resolution as it is written.