The year 2019 has seen massive floods and wildfires in the US and around the globe. Glaciers and the polar ice caps continue to recede, raising sea levels ever higher. A summer heat wave in Europe caused killed thousands of people. Crops died in the fields from lack of rain or too much of it, and from increasingly unpredictable weather patterns. Plant and animal species went extinct, with the World Wildlife Fund estimating up to 100,000 extinctions per year in recent years–between 1,000 and 10,000 times the natural extinction rate.
This was the year when UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared a worldwide climate emergency, saying the planet has arrived at “the point of no return.” Unless we rapidly and dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that causes climate change, the UN chief warned, conditions for human life on earth will grow increasingly inhospitable. In a century or two, the human species may join the list of those that have gone extinct.
Meanwhile, here in Quincy, 2019 was the year the city council voted twice to worsen climate change. Earlier this year, the city councilors voted unanimously to increase the number of parking spaces required for new residential developments, a move that according to the best research will increase miles driven and therefore greenhouse gas pollution. (It also promises to worsen Quincy’s already nightmarish traffic.)
And at the council’s December 2 meeting, they unanimously voted to ban single-use plastic shopping bags without also putting a modest charge on paper bags. As Quincy Climate Action Network has been pointing out for a year or more, manufacturing paper bags causes four times the greenhouse gas pollution of manufacturing single-use plastic bags, so driving consumers towards paper bags, rather than reusable shopping bags, is exactly the wrong move for our fragile climate. (Paper bags also cost the stores four to five times more than plastic ones, so it wouldn’t surprise us if the council’s move also drives up your grocery bill!)
At the December 2 council meeting, Councilor Brian Palmucci had a two-word answer for the many Quincy residents who have been calling and emailing councilors to ask for a small price on paper bags: “Baby steps.” Our response to the councilor: Baby steps won’t get it done when we’re facing a worldwide emergency. More to the point, the ordinance as written isn’t actually a baby step towards cutting greenhouse gas pollution. It’s a big step–in the wrong direction.
Granted, there are limits on what any one city or state can do to tackle climate change, but acting together, cities and states can make a substantial dent in the crisis. What is more, at the moment states and cities are our only hope, at least in the United States, where the federal government is working hard to dismantle climate change solutions.
Luckily, the city’s plastic bag ban doesn’t take effect until March 1, so councilors can still undo the damage of Monday’s ill-considered vote by adding a five or ten cent charge per paper bag to the ordinance. In doing so, they’d be following the wise example of our neighbors in Boston as well as the entire states of Maine and Vermont.
One thing’s for certain: Whatever the councilors decide to do, QCAN’s 30 members and 500 friends will be watching closely. Climate action is not a hobby for us, or a political preference or lifestyle choice. The fight to maintain a livable climate is our generation’s World War II. We’re in it for our kids and grandkids, and for the future of this good planet.
Board Chair, Quincy Climate Action Network