Editorâ€™s note: This commentary is by Paul D. Manganiello, MD, MPH, of Norwich, an emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. He is president of GunsenseVT Educational Fund.
As I sit here locked down because of the current existential threat we are facing with Covid-19, Iâ€™m fascinated by how individuals and society in general are addressing this crisis. This contrasts with the inability of these same individuals to also see global warming as an existential threat. One is unfolding quickly, while the other has been evolving over time. Unfortunately, it seems that we as individuals, and the larger society, are incapable of addressing the later threat with a unified and comprehensive strategy.
My hope is that this epidemic will play out having less of a dire impact than projected. I, due to my age, probably will not be around to experience the worst of global warming. My generation has benefited from the use of fossil fuels at the expense of future generations. Global warming is really a moral, justice issue that needs to be addressed by each of us on both an individual as well as a societal level. We need to stop thinking like a â€śreptile,â€ť whatâ€™s good for me, and start thinking more broadly, how it is impacting others.
My family and I came to the Upper Valley to work at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in 1979. Our reliance on fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) was already having a negative impact on the environment, adversely affecting the health of many individuals starting with their extraction, during their petro-chemical processing, and through to their combustion (power plants, transportation etc.). Possibly, not many people today remember how acid rain, or mercury contamination, from the coal burning power plants adversely affected the Northeastern states.
Shortly after we arrived here, we built a passive solar/electric home with roof-mounted solar hot water panels. In 2013, as technology advanced, and after having an energy audit we decided to swap out the solar hot water for a 5 KW photovoltaic (PV) system. This had pretty much taken care of most of our annual energy needs. When we were made aware that there would be an opportunity to buy into a community solar project in Norwich we purchased an additional 5 KW PV system. This should take care of the rest of our energy needs and whatever is left over can be donated to a local nonprofit.
People have advised that at my age, I shouldnâ€™t buy any green bananas. There is a good possibility that the lifetime of those panels will outlast my own personal lifetime. We all get to make choices, we need to stop thinking short term and start thinking how our choices will affect those who will come after us. On the personal level, we need to stop believing that a choice that keeps our land, water and air clean is a burden. Walking more or riding a bike is not onerous, it is enjoyable and healthy. Intellectually, it can be fun to challenge ourselves to discover different ways to conserve energy, i.e. can you devise ways of wasting less hot water while taking a shower or shaving? There are big-ticket items for sure, should I buy a Tesla?Â
Unfortunately global warming and environmental degradation will not be solved purely on an individual level. We will also need to pass legislation, which affects our public sphere. The bottom line is that just like Covid-19 we need to take global warming and environmental degradation seriously.