My Turn: Everything’s connected, but some connections spell trouble

For the Monitor
Published: 7/6/2020 6:00:14 AM

On first glance, climate change, racial justice, and campaign funding don’t seem like three strands of the same rope, but in fact they are deeply intertwined. A fact that has become ever clearer in the last few weeks.

As of June 23, according to the National Drought Monitor, New Hampshire is officially in a drought for the third time in five years. Climate change presents itself in many forms, one being increased extremes in weather, like the flash floods we experienced in 2018 or not enough rain, like now.

As a farmer who spends his time grazing livestock, making hay, and growing fruit, I can tell you that farming through a drought isn’t fun. It means running out of grazing for our sheep flock, which means we have to feed them hay. Of course we have less of that hay because the drought reduced the hay crop. And that’s the same hay we should either be selling for cash or feeding in the winter when the sheep are in the barn.

But it’s not just drought and floods that make farming tougher. Extreme temperature variations do, too. Remember those hot May days? That abnormally warm winter weather? Not only does this lead to crop damage, it opens the door to new and more virulent pests, like fireblight. Orchards across New England are dealing with this scourge at the moment, a bacterium that can quickly kill apple trees and that thrives with unseasonably hot temperatures early in the spring. Drought and fireblight at the same time – welcome to farmers’ climate change reality.

New Hampshire residents not distracted by the drought or the blight may have taken the opportunity to attend a recent racial justice event. From our state’s biggest cities to the smallest hill towns like my own, people continue to turn out for protests, vigils, and rallies to express frustration with the failure of our country to come to grips with systemic racism, a different kind of blight that traces its roots to our country’s original sin. And one aspect of systemic racism that demands addressing is the impact of climate change on minority populations.

Because of climate change, temperatures in New England are rising faster than other areas of the United States. Research has shown that on a hot summer day, the temperature within one city can vary by double digits. The hottest areas? Not the suburbs, but those with the most pavement and the fewest trees – the neighborhoods that are most often home to the financially vulnerable and minorities. They bear the brunt of that heat, heat that is directly attributable to climate change. But wait, it gets worse.

While I’m struggling to keep up with climate change on the farm, women of color have a whole different challenge. New research draws a direct line between both air pollution, increased heat, and complications with childbirth. Women in those hotter neighborhoods are more likely to experience premature labor, stillbirths, and poor fetal development. And of course the poor and minorities have always been on the losing end of environmental degradation. When was the last time a coal-burning power plant was sited in a wealthy neighborhood? Probably never. Across the United States, communities of color consistently see increased airborne pollution and the negative health outcomes associated with it, particularly asthma. Not the pre-existing condition you want in the age of COVID-19.

Given this, it’s clear that climate change is linked not just to the challenges I face on my farm, but to racial and economic justice as a whole. Which shouldn’t be a surprise. Minorities and the poor have always carried the heaviest load. But here’s where the third strand of this story comes into play, and maybe you didn’t see it coming.

Some candidates for statewide office, depending on how their campaign is organized, provided the Secretary of State’s Office with their second financial filing a couple weeks ago (if you’re curious to see my financial statement, it’s available at craigthompsonforNH.com). In the race for Executive Council District 2, in which I am a candidate, three of the Democratic contenders filed theirs. All three listed lobbyists and corporations among their donors. Two, Leah Plunkett and Cinde Warmington, listed a lobbyist for Liberty Utilities as a donor, the same Liberty Utilities that is behind the Granite Bridge pipeline.

You may have heard of the Granite Bridge pipeline. It’s one piece in the fossil fuel industry’s effort to perpetuate our reliance on natural gas for decades to come. It’s also an attempt by the same companies to maximize their profits while socializing the costs – that is, Liberty Utilities will make a lot of money if the pipeline gets built, but ratepayers will foot the bill for building it and our state as a whole will pay for the costs incurred by climate change. Where will those costs land the hardest? On minority populations and the poor.

As a Democrat, I believe the party should fight against the climate crisis and for racial and economic justice. When I entered the Executive Council race, I made a conscious decision to reject financial contributions from corporations, lobbyists, and the fossil fuel industry. I can only assume other candidates made a conscious decision to take that money. Which begs the question, if those candidates end up on the Executive Council, will they be responsible to the voters – minorities and farmers among them – or to those donors? Let’s not forget it’s the Executive Council that approves nominees to the Public Utilities Commission and the Site Evaluation Committee – the boards that ultimately rule on the fossil fuel infrastructure decisions like the Granite Bridge pipeline.

With Democrats like that, who needs Republicans?

(State Rep. Craig Thompson is a farmer from Harrisville and candidate for Executive Council District 2.)


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