Friday, 25 May 2001

PORTSMOUTH, N.H.

This morning, news of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords’ defection from the Republican Party pushed energy issues off the front pages of most papers for the first time in weeks. Jeffords’ move, and the seismic Senate committee shake-up it will trigger, should also help knock some of the wind out of the sails of the Bush administration’s oil- and coal-friendly energy plan.

Not all of today’s news was good, though. The Boston Globe reported that an Interior Department advisory panel is recommending that the administration reexamine the current moratorium on offshore gas drilling on Georges Bank, off the coast of New England. Fished, and then overfished, for hundreds of years, Georges Bank is one of the most important natural resources in the U.S., and it is just too valuable to risk damage from drilling. The threat serves to remind us that this ill-informed energy plan isn’t just bad for the atmosphere, our climate, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but also for a host of other critical natural areas and ecosystems. You can check out some of the other threatened areas and listen to a cool new radio advert at the Wilderness Society website.

Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching, and you can see the difference on the roads around Portsmouth. Traffic is getting heavier as the tourist season gets off to a lumbering start. Soon, there will be a steady flow of gas-guzzling SUVs heading up Interstate 95 to the lakes and mountains. Tourism is a mainstay of the northern New England economy, but most of the people who leave their automobiles to paddle the lakes or hike the trails probably don’t give much thought to the environmental impacts of the gasoline they burned to get there. But when they have a hard time seeing through the summer haze from the mountain overlooks, they should have pause for thought. If, as predicted, global warming results in more days over 90 degrees in summertime, the problem will only get worse, and smog alerts will become more frequent. There is growing evidence to show that hiker health is affected by smog.

Some communities are acting to reduce vehicle emissions. Propane-powered Island Explorer buses on Mount Desert Island, Maine, have become a hugely popular way to visit Acadia National Park. The buses, which are about to begin their third season, helped avoid more than 50,000 car trips in the year 2000. Inland, Burlington, Vt., has developed a comprehensive climate action plan that includes tra
nsportation options such as initiating new commuter rail links, increasing bike and pedestrian facilities, and utilizing electric and natural gas vehicles in municipal fleets. There is a growing awareness that we need clean and efficient vehicles — and less of them — on the roads.

The week is winding down, and as it does, I’m coming to the end of my diary contributions to Grist. I’ve enjoyed sharing these last days with you. Next Tuesday we’re hosting a small reception to celebrate the first anniversary of Clean Air-Cool Planet opening its office in Portsmouth. On Wednesday, we have our quarterly board meeting, and after that it’s back to the daily business of building partnerships to reduce carbon emissions and spreading the word about all the good stuff that is going on. Make no mistake about it, there’s a revolution brewing in New England. But tomorrow is Saturday, and the biggest decisions I have to make are if I should set the tomatoes out in the garden and which beach Vicky and I should visit with Tessa to look for starfish.

Have a great weekend.