For Montclair Local

The Earth has hit a milestone: the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the gas that is overheating our planet, hit 420 ppm in early April — the highest level in millions of years. Just for comparison, scientists tell us that we should limit it to 350 ppm. Humanity blew through that long ago, and then just kept going. 

What will this mean for our future, if we keep going?  Declining food production. Climate refugees. Longer heatwaves. And in New Jersey: Sea levels some six feet higher. More powerful hurricanes and more serious downpours. New Jersey as hot in 2100 as Georgia is today. 

Actually, I slightly misspoke: that's not just what we can expect. It is, in fact, what we already have. Millions of climate refugees — already. Summers are hotter — already. Sea levels are higher — already. Severe rainfall and powerful hurricanes are more common — already. 

I’m guessing you’ve heard this already, so I won’t belabor the point. Instead, I’ll just state the obvious. Climate change is real. It’s bad. And it’s on us to stop it.

Unfortunately, the path we are currently on is not enough to save us. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 — in just nine years! — and completely eliminate them by 2050. It is a tall order, and we are nowhere near to doing that.

But it’s not too late to act. We can do this, if we try. Some changes will have to be national — a clean energy standard, new Green infrastructure or a price on carbon pollution. Some will be at the state level — support for wind power or solar energy, money for retrofitting buildings to reduce energy use, and to electrify them to eliminate fossil-fuel powered heat.

But that still leaves the local level. Montclair Climate Action wants us to ask: What can we, the citizens of Montclair, do as individuals to help reduce climate change? And what can we do as a town and as a community?

Both are necessary. As individuals, we shouldn’t just wait for policy change. We should do what we can, whether it’s small things like installing LED bulbs or recycling, or big things, like installing rooftop solar (or signing up for community solar), buying an electric car, or taking public transportation.

But individual action isn’t enough. Millions of people have done what they can, individually, for decades now, and our trajectory has not changed. The truth is we caused this problem together. We need to solve it together, too.

That means our township government needs to adopt policies to help us push along strong action against climate change. At the very least, it should do what towns and cities around the world have done, and set aggressive targets for greenhouse gas reductions. Princeton, New Jersey, for example, has set a goal of a 50% reduction by 2030, and an 80% reduction by 2050.

And then Montclair needs to go further, learn from what other towns have down and put in place practices that will make this a greener town. Encourage biking, walking and public transit. Make EV charging accessible to renters in town. Arrange 100% renewable electricity for the township government and township residents. Install solar panels on government buildings. Require “zero energy ready” construction. Limit new methane gas hookups.  There are many ideas out there. What we need is a conversation about what to do, then the collective will to do them.

Montclair Climate Action invites you to join us to start this conversation, by attending our Earth Week events — four conversations about sustainable living in Montclair, on transportation, energy, food, business practices and more. MCA, along with the MSU Institute for Sustainability Studies, will be hosting these conversations at 7 p.m. in the evening, Monday through Thursday of next week. To register, head to our website. We hope you’ll join us.

And I want to close by mentioning one of the most important “individual” things you can do to address the climate crisis: Call or email your elected representatives, and let them know you want action on climate. Call Mayor Sean Spiller. Call Gov. Phil Murphy. Call our president and members of Congress. Demand that they act. 

By acting, we can avoid all those bad consequences I discussed. But the benefits are more. Think also of the society we can create. A society with cleaner skies. A society with more green space. A town, maybe, where we have empowered ourselves as a community to create the kind of world we want to see. To be creators of that world — well, that might be the greatest gift climate change could give us.

David Korfhage is the coordinator of Montclair Climate Action


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