Printed in the Saturday, January 28, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — If there were ever a time to get involved in the fight against climate change, it appeared to be Saturday for Valley residents.

Some 600 people packed First Churches on Main Street for “Climate Action in a Time of Crisis,” a panel made up of local leaders and experts to address the dangers of, and solutions to, climate change. Climate forums typically attract some 40 to 50 people in the city, but Saturday’s event drew 10 times that number.

“This is the fight of our lives, folks,” said panelist Marty Nathan of Climate Action NOW.

Additional panelists were state Senate President Stan Rosenberg, newly elected state Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, and Smith College Professor Nat Fortune. Lilly Lombard moderated the panel.

“At this moment, we are faced with a crisis only paralleled by the imminent threat of nuclear war when I was 10 years old,” Nathan said.

She called the fight against climate change “the most important task ever undertaken.” A staunch supporter of community activism, she encouraged the crowd to get involved in local organizations like Mothers Out Front or the Sugar Shack Alliance.

Nathan said people must be ready for direct action to stop the building and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. “Protest the blasphemy and the carnage and the lies,” Nathan said. “Take to the streets.”

“We have no time to lose, we must stop the emission of greenhouses gases,” Nathan said. The crowd burst into applause.

Fortune lives in Whately and teaches classes on energy, the environment and the physics of global warming as a professor of physics at Smith College. He compared the Earth to a ship in the open ocean. Carbon emissions in the atmosphere, he said, are actively knocking holes in the sides of the hull.

“If you’re taking on water faster than you can bail it out, you’re not sailing. You’re sinking,” Fortune said.

Fortune warned that if climate change continues at its current pace, the Earth will reach a tipping point that will only be apparent after it is too late. The globe will enter feedback loops that cause irreversible warming, he said.

For example, ice sheets will melt and decrease the Earth’s reflectivity. The Earth will retain more heat from the sun, and permafrost will thaw, Fortune said. Decaying plants, previously frozen, will release methane and carbon into the atmosphere.

But time has not run out yet, Fortune said.

“Plug the holes. In the words of Margaret Thatcher, there is no alternative. You have to patch the holes,” Fortune said. “It is not alternative energy, it is imperative energy. There is no alternative.”

Consumers control the demand, Fortune said. He encouraged attendees to cut their energy use in half, adding that Americans use five times as much energy as residents of other countries, like Japan and the United Kingdom. He said climate-minded folks should encourage their employers to cut their energy consumption in half, and buy from businesses who do the same.

Legislators Goldstein-Rose and Rosenberg agreed it is up to Massachusetts to be a leader in the fight against climate change.

Rosenberg touted Massachusetts as the No. 1 state for solar energy in the country. He said he has high hopes for offshore wind energy, and vowed climate change will be among the state Senate’s top five priorities, along with income inequality, which the Senate refers to as “shared prosperity.”

Though the clock is ticking for the climate, Goldstein-Rose remains optimistic. He agreed Massachusetts must be a leader in clean energy, and plans to push the state to invest in green technology and jobs.

“It is urgent, it is a crisis,” Goldstein-Rose said. “And it is also an opportunity.”

Goldstein-Rose, 23, is the youngest current member of the Massachusetts Legislature. He said he has been a climate activist since he was 12 years old, and climate change is his top priority.

Goldstein-Rose said he believes the world will not transition to renewable energy until it is cheaper than fossil fuels and natural gas.

“We can do that,” Goldstein-Rose said, referencing the development of the internet, the human genome project and the moon landing. Government often seems slow, he said, but history shows that it can make major strides quickly. Goldstein-Rose said he plans to steer the state government toward legislation that promotes climate solutions.

Moving forward, Goldstein-Rose told the crowd to encourage young people to run for office — and then to vote for them. Even young Republicans “are often quite good on climate change” he added.

“Vote for the young ones,” Goldstein-Rose said. “Unless they’re crazy, vote for the young ones.”

Rosenberg echoed Goldstein-Rose’s statement about young people in the fight against climate change.

“Millennials have, and should have, a sense of impatience around this,” Rosenberg said. “All else is moot if we do not tame the carbon beast.”

Stephanie Murray can be reached at stephaniemur@umass.edu