EDITORIAL: We won’t always have Paris

THE POLLS HAVE CLOSED on the 2019 election in Columbia County but as this is written the results are still rattling around the computers and tabulating tabletops at the Board of Elections at the County Office Building at 401 State Street, Hudson. They can wait for a moment, because it feels like there’s more to think about now than the numbers, as important as they are.

Since he was a candidate for the office, President Trump has promised to pull this country out of the Paris agreement on combating climate change, and this week he made it official by having Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put the United Nations on notice that the United States will withdraw from the agreement by this time next year. That’s not a surprise nor is it local news except for the question of where that leaves us here in Columbia County.

We’ve seen what climate change can mean in other places, California for instance. We had some wind gusts here last week. They made for a properly creepy Halloween and some folks lost power for a while, but it was nothing like the hot, dry winds that led to the incineration of thousands of acres, whole neighborhoods leveled and nearly a million people whose power was deliberately shut off to prevent even more fires.

We don’t live in an arid region so wildfires probably aren’t the greatest threat we face, for now. If not fire, then ice? In 2008 we had a taste of what that could be like downing trees, making travel nearly impossible and exposing people to cold in their unheated homes. That didn’t last too long, but ice storms can linger, you can imagine that someday we might need help.

The president threatened by tweet to withhold aid for parts of California affected by the wildfires. It makes you wonder, could we count on help from the federal government if we needed it for an ice event or another Superstorm Sandy? The president is no longer a New York state resident and it’s a reasonable question. Or, given contemporary events, maybe the question is: If we ever need emergency help from Washington, what will the president want from us in return?

The president didn’t cause climate change but he does have responsibility for defending the nation from its effects. So how do we reconcile that duty the with the second most high profile action he’s taken recently regarding climate change? Last month the Trump administration pressured several of the world’s largest car manufacturers to break their agreement to meet California’s auto emissions standards. The California standards require new cars to emit less air pollution and gasses that warm our atmosphere. The federal standards aren’t nearly as strict and will lead to more heat and pollution. The carmakers said they could meet the stricter standards, so this was a lost opportunity. The president sees it as a victory. But for whom?

Despite the president’s actions, the people of Columbia County and our elected local, county and state officials are taking steps to address the threats from climate change. The most visible are the electric car chargers that appear when towns realize that the chargers attract people who stick around and spend money while their cars are charging.

But these charging stations are more symbolism than substance. The substance begins with planning and an effort to envision what is, almost by definition, unimaginable: a climate with temperatures as warm and an atmosphere as dense with carbon as the planet had millions of years ago, before humans existed.

Yes, we need to budget for road repairs, schools, courts and all the other services that define our communities, but somehow all levels of government starting with towns, villages and school districts–and we have a lot of all these municipalities–must incorporate adjustments for climate conditions that none of us would want and all of us will experience.

These elections are over for the next few months with the exception of the most important election of all. Here, there’s time to plan and to govern before the next round of contests. But the temperature of climate isn’t waiting on our votes. The forces moving it have greater power than any town board or, for that matter, any great nation, to control. That’s why we had an agreement in Paris and why the threat to all of us only increases with our government’s withdrawal.

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