Rep. Mike Thompson emphasizes regional solutions at climate change town hall

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Sonoma County will serve as a case study for the growing impacts of climate change, as well as offer a laboratory for potential solutions on how to offset and manage the anticipated consequences of a warming planet.

That was a leading message at a town hall hosted by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, inside Sonoma State University’s student center ballroom Tuesday night. The event drew a standing room- only audience estimated at about 400 people between students and community members who attended to hear from the 20-year House veteran and local environmental advocates on the efforts in Washington, D.C., and the region to take on the global threat.

“Climate change is the most important issue facing us as a people,” Thompson told the crowd. “We’ve got a lot of other problems that we need to work on, but if we don’t get this one right, nothing else matters. We’ll have no world to pass on to our future generations.”

A focus on aspirational goals and action that can help set the nation’s agenda were frequent talking points from both Thompson, who was an early co-sponsor of the Green New Deal legislation, and a panel of experts, including researchers and activists. Each emphasized a need to move quickly to make changes at both regulatory and individual levels to prevent even greater harm to the planet.

The past four years have been the four warmest since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began keeping records 139 years ago, and last year’s average global temperature was 1.42 degrees above the average for the 20th century.

Kate Roney, a panelist and high school senior at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, asked attendees to take a moment to picture their favorite 5-year-old. At our current pace, it is children of this age group and younger, she said, who the World Health Organization states will be forced to shoulder the brunt of climate change without a paradigm shift in how we live our lives and address the crisis.

“We have to turn to the hopeful side of things. We also have to remember that this is a battle that the youth can’t fight on their own,” said Roney, 17, of her work with nonpartisan group Schools for Climate Action. “We need help from the older generations. This is something that we must do together.”

During remarks from panelists and about an hourlong question-and- answer session, topics ranged from the expected impacts from the fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest in Brazil to what the long-range effects might be from the Trump administration’s continued federal environmental rollbacks. President Trump earlier this week referred to himself as “an environmentalist” despite skipping the climate change session at the G7 meetings in France and claims over the years that global warming is both “a hoax” and an invention of the Chinese to get an upper hand on American industry.

“It’s going to be devastating, you know that. It’s really hard to replace the type of institutional memory and knowledge,” said Thompson. “You’ve got to just fight to put those back in place. That’s going to be something that we’re charged with doing — the collective we.”

The region’s innovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by agricultural industries — including grape growing and winemaking practices — and the state’s efforts to pursue carbon-neutral energy production were highlights speakers said would have to carry the rest of the nation forward. In 2015, then-Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, and to 80% below the benchmark by 2050. Those targets have taken on greater significance with the White House’s stated plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement of 2016.

Husbands Timothy and Paul Burns, 19-year residents of Santa Rosa, said they attended Tuesday to learn more about how they can be more a part of the solution, and set an example for other California communities before spreading climate impact reductions to the rest of the nation.

“We know how lucky we are to live in Sonoma County,” said Timothy Burns, 50. “This is the right community to get more people involved, because that’s how it’s going to change other people’s attitudes, and getting them moving on this. Because they’re going to be late to the party.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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