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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Environmentalism, Bizarro Charlestown–style

Previously in Bizarro Charlestown:

By Linda Felaco

In “Raiders of the Lost Platform,” I made passing reference to an incredibly insulting, condescending, and completely off-base lecture the Steering Committee of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance posted back in April in response to a “CCA e-mailer” who had the temerity to suggest, as we have several times here on Progressive Charlestown, that there’s more to environmentalism than just open space preservation and that the CCA should embrace green energy projects rather than obstruct them. In true Bizarro Charlestown style, the Steering Committee’s rant doesn’t even respond directly to the points made by the commenter but instead is addressed to several of what CCA’s most prolific blogger, Michael Chambers, has since termed “hobgoblins.”[1]

I found the CCA response so jaw-dropping that I’ve reread it several times, to make sure I didn’t imagine it, and also to make sure that the CCA hasn’t “disappeared” it. Apparently, they don’t even have the grace to be embarrassed by it.

I don’t know who wrote the comment that got the Steering Committee so hot and bothered—the CCA fastidiously protects the identity of their e-mail pen pals—but I agree with its sentiments, so I take the Steering Committee’s response a little personally. And frankly, given that my family was recycling years before Rhode Island became the first state to adopt mandatory recycling in 1986, and that Charlestown Department of Public Works Director Alan Arsenault tried to get Charlestown exempted from the law at the time on the grounds that vacationers wouldn’t bother to recycle (see the full letter here), I don’t care to be lectured to by the CCA on the subject of protecting the environment and living a low-carbon lifestyle.

But let’s back up a moment. The comment the CCA singled out to respond to appeared in a thread about the high crimes and misdemeanors of former town administrator Bill DiLibero, namely his so-called failures to divulge information. The commenter asks, “Isn’t it time the CCA stops inflaming issues with this childish rhetoric and starts dealing with the realities of “that vision thing?” and suggests that the CCA’s efforts would be better spent exploring “how towns in fragile environmental areas [can] transition to a non-fossil fuel energy system.

Raceway pond used to cultivate microalgae for biofuel.
Clearly extremely unsightly and something we'd
never want to see besmirch our beautiful town.
Credit: JanB46
Ironically, one of the charges leveled against DiLibero as part of the CCA’s infamous “Kill Bill” campaign was that he explored the possibility of establishing a biofuels plant on a former hazardous waste site off Sand Plain Road without first getting permission from Planning Commissar Ruth Platner. Because just think what a nightmare it’d be if we could fill up our tanks with renewable algae-based biodiesel rather than nonrenewable petrodiesel—the tanks not only of our cars and trucks, but of the tractors, bobcats, bulldozers, and other machinery many of us use to maintain our properties and which actually pollute more than passenger vehicles do.

In an April Letter to the Editor of the Westerly Sun, Ruth Platner laid out the charges against DiLibero stemming from Biofuel-gate.[2] His great crime: The proposed biofuel plant would “change our community,” sayeth Platner, and yet DiLibero had failed to consult with the lengthy list of groups and individuals she felt should have been consulted prior to even thinking about maybe applying for a grant that the town would be under no obligation to pursue assuming it were even awarded.

Hurricane Irene removed the entire berm at the town beach—
and the National Weather Service just upped its prediction
for the number of hurricanes this season.
Yes, I suppose a biofuel plant would change our community—potentially for the better, by making productive use of a hazardous waste site and providing clean, renewable fuel. Whereas, say, an accident at Millstone, which we’re in the 20-mile evacuation zone of and from which we all get some portion of our National Grid–supplied electricity, wouldn’t change our community one bit, would it. In fact, a reactor unit at Millstone just had to be shut down because after July’s record-high temperatures, the water in Long Island Sound is too warm to cool the reactors sufficiently.

Speaking of climate change, sea level rise surely won’t change our community either, will it? Matunuck will be underwater, but Charlestown, with its average elevation of 59 feet above sea level, will somehow stay above water. Funny, though; I seem to recall a moderate-intensity hurricane about a year ago that didn’t even hit us directly that changed the community a bit, namely by removing about 4 feet of the town beaches. The reason Charlestown Town Beach doesn’t look radically different this summer than it did last year is because by sheer coincidence, the breachway dredging was already scheduled to take place over the winter and the dredged sand was piped onto the beach.

But firing DiLibero for applying for a grant is doubly hypocritical on the part of the CCA given that one of their major platform planks is fiscal responsibility. Their 2012 platform states, “we will promote an entrepreneurial spirit through town leadership and management to capture funds that will support fiscal projects and activities that fit with the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.” And yet DiLibero was fired for doing just that. Guess weaning ourselves off of fossil fuel isn’t part of the Comp Plan. Though planning for the effects sea-level rise is mandated to be part of the new revision due in April that hasn’t even begun to be written yet.

Then, apropos of absolutely nothing the commenter said, the CCA Steering Committee concludes with this self-righteous, condescending rant:
Locavore spaghetti with zucchini, squash blossoms, and
tomatoes from my garden and garlic from the
farm stand on Old Coach Road.

We suggest you put down your “eat the rich” placards, and actually eat food you grow as many in Charlestown do, and try living a very low carbon lifestyle.[3] Then perhaps you’ll begin to see the stars and the birds and the beauty of this place and understand why it needs to be protected.[4]

I have some news for the CCA Steering Committee: You’re not the only ones in town who eat food you grow or try to live a low-carbon lifestyle. People do it for all kinds of reasons, not just as a political statement or as a stick to beat others over the head with. And you’re not the only ones who can see the beauty of this place, either. But Charlestown is not an island, and protecting it requires protecting the entire planet, not just this little 60-square-mile patch of it. Rivers all flow to the sea, and some of them pass through Charlestown.

[1] “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
—H.L. Mencken, a far better writer than Chambers will ever be.

[2] I can’t link to the original since I’m not a subscriber and so am linking to it on the CCA site. I’m assuming the CCA won’t “disappear” this one since it ran in the Westerly Sun, but if they do, you’ll have to look for it in the Sun archives.

[3] This, of course, is precisely what the commenter suggested we all should be doing.

[4] Full text of comment and response can be found at the links in this sentence in case the CCA sends them down the memory hole.