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Climate, Environmental Issues Among Top Priorities at Town Meetings

Eve Zuckoff

As town meetings get under way this fall across Cape Cod, voters are being asked to consider major decisions about climate change and the environment.

During the season’s first town meeting in Wellfleet, residents voted to declare a climate emergency, pushing the town to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero as soon as “technically and economically feasible,” but no later than 2050. On Monday, Falmouth declared a similar emergency at its town meeting.

A climate emergency declaration is now on every town warrant for fall or spring voting. 

“The pandemic crisis that we’ve all been living through is a modest first installment of the kind of crisis we’re going to be living in permanently if we don’t do something to change the course of climate change,” warned climate activist Barry Margolin, who organized citizens’ petitions to get the declaration onto town meeting warrants. 

Also on the warrant in 11 towns is a proposed ban on the commercial sale of single-use plastic water bottles of less than one gallon as part of an effort to clean up the local environment.  

Brewster, Wellfleet and Falmouth have all approved that measure, with Falmouth going a step further, banning the sale of miniature alcoholic “nip” bottles. 

The group Sustainable Practices has already pushed 11 towns to ban single-use plastic water bottles from being sold or provided at town-run events. 

“The biggest thing is to stop thinking about convenience-based consumption because convenience has a huge footprint,” said Madhavi Venkatesan, a Northeastern University economist and executive director of Sustainable Practices. “You use it once. It’s gone.” 

To Margolin, it’s clear that activists are motivated by the urgent threats to the region posed by climate change, and they’re looking for change to start at home.  

“Both around the plastic bottle ban and the climate emergency declarations,” he said, “the impetus has come from organized groups of activists working all across the Cape on a common strategy.” 

The next Cape-based town meeting will be outdoors in Provincetown on Monday, Sept. 21. Eastham, Harwich and Dennis will host their respective meetings the following Saturday.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.