By Lynda King
Voters at the May 7 Annual Town Meeting will be asked to consider a proposal that would have the town of Bolton speak with one voice on the topic of climate change. A citizens petition initiated by the grassroots community group Bolton Local asks voters to endorse a nonbinding resolution to “adopt, honor and uphold commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Climate Accord.”
According to Bolton Local President Laura Kischitz, Bolton Local was asked by a group of citizens in November to sponsor the initiative. Kischitz said that this effort is in keeping with Bolton Local’s motto to “think globally, act locally.”
Bolton Local presented the proposed resolution to selectmen at their Jan. 18 meeting, seeking to have them endorse the resolution on behalf of the town. However, the vote was 2 to 1 against such a move, with selectmen Bob Czekanski and Stan Wysocki voting against and Selectman Jonathan Keep voting in favor. Selectmen suggested that Bolton Local put it before town voters at ATM by way of citizens petition instead.
In a phone interview, Czekanski told the Independent he voted against selectmen’s endorsement because “It’s a national political issue, not a policy issue of the town.” He explained, “It’s not the selectmen’s job to make political recommendations on behalf of the town,” such as recommending who the town supports in an election, etc.
Wysocki concurred. “The citizens of Bolton voted us in to deal with town issues and town politics,” he said. “It isn’t fair for the selectmen to take a stand on behalf of the town.” He added that this nonbinding resolution isn’t the same as the resolution endorsed by selectmen in 2014 in objection to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. He pointed out that the pipeline would have had a direct impact on Bolton. To illustrate the difference he said, “It would have gone directly through Bolton, not someplace in Nebraska.”
Keep said in an interview that he voted in favor of the selectmen’s endorsement because “We’re already doing so much in Bolton for the next generation. We’re very thoughtful about our children.” He added, “My kids are turning to me … they’re listening to the news, and seeing the weather. … They’re saying, ‘What is your generation leaving us?’”
The Paris Agreement Back Story
The Paris Climate Agreement, also known as the Paris Climate Accord, is an initiative that was negotiated by 196 countries in December 2015 and falls within the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It aims to deal with issues believed to be causing climate change and proposes to identify steps to mitigate the effects of climate change and adapt to the results, starting in the year 2020.
The agreement, which is voluntary, sets out general goals and asks richer countries to help poorer countries achieve those goals. The document’s summary states: “The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
However, beyond that, the document offers few details about specific actions expected of member countries, and does not list or otherwise identify the “developed” and “developing” countries to which it refers.
Online summaries about the agreement, such as one published by the National Resources Defense Council in 2015, say that the agreement expects developed nations to contribute at least $100 billion per year between 2020 and 2025 toward “climate finance.” Although those specifics are not contained within the Paris Agreement itself, they are contained in the “financial mechanism” established by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to which Article 9 of the Paris Agreement refers.
The agreement became a focus of public attention in June 2017, when President Donald Trump announced his intention to have the United States withdraw from it. Although member nations are forbidden by the agreement itself to exit before Nov. 4, 2020, President Trump said in his 2017 statement that the U.S. never properly joined the accord in the first place. He said that the document is a treaty, and as such requires the advice and consent of the Senate, which President Obama never obtained.
He went on to say that the U.S. would “cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris Accord,” asserting that the agreement placed “draconian financial and economic burdens” on the U.S. But he also stated his intention to “begin negotiations to either reenter the Paris Accord” or initiate an “entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.”
Meanwhile, citizens across the country mobilized to show support for the Paris Agreement. Governors from 17 states, including Massachusetts, banded together to form the US Climate Alliance, advocating state-level climate action. In June 2017, a number of cities and towns across the country followed suit, memorializing their commitment in the “We Are Still In” declaration. In November 2017, the Massachusetts House voted 145-10 in favor of a bill that would commit the state to the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals of the Paris Agreement. The Massachusetts Municipal Association, of which Bolton is a member, voted in January of this year on a resolution to support a partnership with local, state, and federal entities to “combat the effects of climate change.”
The Bolton ATM warrant article, if approved, would bring that commitment to a very local level.
More Thoughts in Bolton
Commenting on the Paris Agreement itself, Selectman Czekanski told the Independent, “Most of what the agreement is, is administrative procedure. It’s a politician’s ‘dream document.’ It’s a political treaty, not a scientific document. There’s no monitoring, measurement or commitment to do anything. It’s all at a very high level. Each country reports on its own; there’s no established agency to validate what’s reported.”
That said, Czekanski said he believes the question of climate change is really “a question of human rights. Climate change will create hardship and dislocation. There will be winners and losers.” But, he added, “As a selectman, my primary obligation is to the town and the townspeople, not to be an advocate for my own interests.” Which is why he voted against an endorsement by the Board of Selectmen.
Selectman Wysocki said he thinks it’s a “great idea” that the topic will be before voters at ATM. “I was very disappointed that Trump decided to pull out of the Agreement,” he said, but added, “My personal position shouldn’t be foisted on the rest of the town.”
Selectman Keep said, “I support the Paris Climate Agreement. As a town, I believe we should support it as a way of supporting our region. It’s an agreement of intention, and has gotten everyone pointed in the same direction.” He added, “I hope Bolton can support this. It is largely symbolic, but symbols are important.”
Kischitz said that having the resolution be “nonbinding” means Bolton is not obligated to take any specific actions. But, she said, “It will create a paradigm for future decision-making” relative to support of the goals in the Paris Agreement.