We should have been on a climate emergency status years ago, but it’s ever more necessary with the growing war over Ukraine.  The Russian aggression, movement of armaments, transfer of troops, training exercises and the like all burn enormous amounts of fuel and virtually all the fuel burned by the military creates greenhouse gases.

In addition, there’s the problem that an immense amount of European fuel comes from Russia: 41% of Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia. With the sanctions and undoubted pushback, Europe’s natural gas supply is imperiled.  Measures to prepare for cutoffs of Russian natural gas are leading world leaders to go back to the worst climate polluting methods of creating energy. 

The New York Times reported on February 23, “In Britain, the Coal Authority gave a mine in Wales permission last month to increase output by 40 million tons over the next two decades. In Australia, there are plans to open or expand more coking coal mines. And China, which has traditionally made energy security a priority, has further stepped up its coal production and approved three new billion-dollar coal mines this week.”  In addition, fracked gas companies are looking to reopen closed drilling sites.

That will be a guarantee of disaster.  Remember climate scientists almost universally agree we MUST cut-back our carbon output near 50% by 2030.  Going back to coal would doom that effort.

We obviously need a crash program for renewables, but that can’t be done with a snap of the fingers.  We have to cut back on the amount of fuel we use.  Rationing is the best way to do it.  The U.S. did just that in World War II.  The Office of Price Administration ran the program.  You’d get paper cards that you needed to hand over with your money to buy gasoline or fuel oil.  We don’t have to use cards now.  We have computers and apps that could keep track of who gets what.

Keeping homes warm in winter and lights on at night will be number one priority. It will be painful to some.   Jet-set vacations and amusements that use lots of fuel will be low down on the list of priorities.  Life will change and there will have to be self-sacrifice, but the alternative is nothing less than the collapse of the Earth’s climates that allow for civilized life.

What Connecticut can do this year to lessen greenhouse gases

Some things are complicated.  Some things require new laws.  Sometimes the state laws we want can’t be made because they conflict with federal law.  Yet there are things Connecticut can do right now.  We can stop using gasoline powered equipment on land that is owned by the state, city governments and universities.  Use electric powered equipment in its place.

We burn 38 million gallons of gasoline in Connecticut just to care for lawns and gardens (latest figures from 2018).  Besides the global warming effects, gas-powered equipment gives off exhausts dangerous to the workers who use the tools daily and those in the immediate area.  The two-cycled engines are the worst. A large part of their fuel is not even burned but is aerosolized.  Chemicals like benzene, butadiene, formaldehyde are released along with a lot of microscopic ultra-fine particles.  Those tiny particles can go deeper into the lung and can cause lung cancer, heart disease, strokes, asthma and other respiratory ailments.

And then there is the noise. The cacophony from these machines range from irritating to dangerous.   Gas-powered lawn mowers range from 82 to 90 decibels. Gas-powered leaf blowers make 80 to 92 decibels of racket. That’s the equivalent of a motorcycle just 25 feet away and is in the range of causing sensori-neural hearing loss. Even when it’s not causing direct harm the noise can bother babies and others who sleep during daylight hours, those who study, and the increasing number of people who work from their homes.   Quiet should not be a luxury. 

What we need are many efforts, an effort state-wide to convince Gov. Ned Lamont about equipment on state land, and local campaigns to convince city governments and school boards and university presidents to make the lawns around their buildings trimmed without burning fossil fuels.

All this will cost money and small lawncare companies might take the brunt of this.  This is something that could help: give away electric-powered equipment.  Connecticut did something similar ten years ago.  The state spent $550,000 in a program to reduce smog and  haze.  It got cities and regional school districts to exchange their old, high-polluting lawn and grounds maintenance equipment for new, lower-polluting machines.  Connecticut paid 80% of the cost of the newer machines.

Newer in 2011 meant exchanging different versions of gas-powered machines.  Here in 2022 we have to go beyond that and replace gas powered equipment completely.  The state government could start by spending $2 million on electric-powered equipment this session.

Where could the state get the money for this?  The governor says the state treasury has too much money and is calling for $336 million in tax cuts.  Certainly he could chop that back a bit and provide $2 million for equipment exchange.

Finally, I want to mention the efforts that have been going on for months or years in Connecticut to get rid of the worst of the lawn care machines, the leaf-blowers.  Campaigns are going on in New Haven, Greenwich, Stamford and in no doubt other municipalities.  They should be supported and duplicated all over.

Stanley Heller is Administrator of Promoting Enduring Peace