By From the Lowell Sun
By JENNIFER AMY MYERS, Sun Staff
LOWELL -- If Massachusetts were a country, its greenhouse gas emissions would rank 15th among industrialized nations worldwide, U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan told a stunned crowd of 1,000 yesterday morning.
The standing-room only crowd packed UMass Lowell's Durgin Hall as the mercury soared to an unseasonably high 54 degrees outside, to learn more about the threat of global warming and what can be done to curb its dangerous consequences.
And to get a look at Gov.-elect Deval Patrick.
Meehan sponsored the panel discussion, titled "Climate Change: Local Solutions to a Global Crisis," which he said was inspired by former Vice President Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
The audience was welcomed by a video message from Gore, calling global warming, "the most serious crisis we have ever faced."
Patrick, who inspired three standing ovations from the crowd, expressed his support for the proposed Cape Wind wind farm off of Nantucket and vowed to make the creation and implementation of renewable energy technology and products in Massachusetts a priority of his administration.
He also said he supports RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative), a regional pact aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions that Gov. Mitt Romney withdrew the state from in September.
"I used to work for Texaco," he said, wincing and giving the crowd a chance to groan. "What I learned there is that oil and gas reserves all over the world are diminishing."
"I see this as an economy opportunity," Patrick added. "If we get this right, the whole world will be our customer. We can be green and wealthy too."
He said that Ian Bowles, who was tapped as the Patrick administration's secretary of energy and environmental affairs on Friday, will be included in all discussions of economic development.
Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School said that the most noticeable effects of the rising global temperatures are in our own backyards.
He said that as carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere, poison ivy grows faster and its toxins become more powerful. The same conditions have contributed to a 60 percent increase in pollen distribution, causing more cases of asthma and allergies.
The increase in climate has also led to additional cases of mosquito-borne illness such as West Nile Virus.
"We are in a crisis of climate," Epstein said.
Unfortunately, said Lee Ketelsen, New England director of Clean Water Action, the typical American is not motivated to make a change.
"You are sitting here on a Saturday morning with nine shopping days until Christmas, you are considered the nuts," she told the crowd. "The oil lobby is strong, we are going to need massive citizen pressure. Instead of a chicken in every pot, how about a solar hot water heater on every roof?"
Meehan has proposed legislation to give business and homeowners a financial incentive for "green" practices.
The Climate Change Investment Act would repeal the tax breaks given to oil companies in the Energy Bill passed by the last Congress, and replace them with a 50 percent tax credit for any investment that reduces greenhouse gas emissions or conserves energy.
"I will fight for even more incentives for investment in innovative new technologies." Meehan said. "Things like green chemistry, solar and wind technology and fuel cells, pro-environmental technologies where Massachusetts companies and universities are already on the cutting edge."
He is also co-sponsoring California Rep. Henry Waxman's Safe Climate Act that would cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and continue to cut levels an additional 80 percent by 2050.