New Hampshire Towns Press Washington on Warming
Author: Brian Early
Eighty-eight towns passed the resolution by early on Wednesday, and another 68 will vote on it this week and a total 183 will take it up by the end of May at annual town meetings -- a New England tradition where locals become legislators.
"The solution to this issue is sustained bipartisan support over many years," said Roger Stephenson, deputy director of New Hampshire's Carbon Coalition, an advocacy group which wrote the resolution and pushed it onto town meeting agendas.
The group said it drafted the resolution -- which calls for a national program to force emission cuts and develop sustainable energy technology -- because New Hampshire holds the first primary in the 2008 presidential race. Its citizens are uniquely positioned to influence national debate and put the issue at "the forefront of the presidential primaries and debates," it said.
In Mont Vernon, a 204-year-old town of 2,000 people, residents gathered in a school gym to vote by show of hand on routine items like electing town officers and approving the budget before tackling the weighty subject of global warming.
"Everybody has to pitch in and try to help," Mary Backus, 86, said during debate on the resolution late on Tuesday. "No matter how small the effort, all this counts." Her comments were met by applause.
Global warming was not the most contentious issue in the town this year, however. That honor went to whether or not to build a new firehouse (townspeople voted yes).
Tom Naegli, 75, offered the only dissent on the climate change resolution in Mont Vernon. "I feel global warming is a political concept. There is no real justification for it," he said. This, too, generated applause, but during the vote, only two hands were raised against the resolution.
While presidential hopefuls who stump in New Hampshire often speak about global warming, residents want to hear specifically how the candidates will reduce carbon emissions when elected, Stephenson said.
The resolution urges Congress and US President George W. Bush to establish a national program requiring reductions of greenhouse gas emissions while protecting the US economy, and to create a national research initiative for sustainable energy technologies.
It also encourages New Hampshire citizens to work for emission reductions and asks local politicians to consider appointing a voluntary energy committee to recommend local steps to save energy and reduce emissions.
William Antholis, an expert on the politics of climate change at the Brookings Institution, said he believes it will. "It's the steady drumbeat from the states that helped push this issue to the top of the national agenda," he said.
"The big specific, which has not been addressed, either by the candidates or the resolution, is whether to take the very deep cuts that most of the scientists believe are necessary to slow global warming," he said. This would mean cutting carbon levels 50 to 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, he added.
Residents in Colorado and Washington state approved the use use of more renewable energies though a state-wide referendum, but New Hampshire's vote is first of it's kind where residents debated the issue of global warming and voted on it, said Barry Raben, a University of Michigan public policy professor.