COLUMN: Local actions have global consequences 

Over the past several weeks, the United Nations Climate Conference COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, has highlighted how our actions here at home affect global climate, impacting countries rich and poor throughout the world.

At this contentious summit, developing countries — where the biggest climate damages are — criticized wealthy nations — which caused the problem by burning coal, oil and gas — for not helping to rescue them from the worst impacts of a warming planet. And, although compensation to developing nations is important, critics are also saying that the U.S. and other large polluters should be focused, first, on cutting their OWN carbon pollution.

A recent Marblehead letter to the editor echoes this sentiment. The letter writer called church bell ringing to sound the alarm about climate change “charming,” but wondered what the churches were doing to actually reduce their carbon footprint. (Marblehead churches have been ringing their bells on the 11th of every month at 11 a.m. for 11 minutes to signify the 11th-hour need to take action on climate change.) 

In fact, faith communities in Marblehead ARE leading the way to reduce carbon emissions, by such activities as exploring energy efficiency measures, volunteering to improve the tree canopy, and hosting talks like the one on home energy efficiency cosponsored by Sustainable Marblehead and the Unitarian Church on Nov. 13 For the program video, visit 

But the letter-writer’s admonishment should be taken more generally. What are we as a town, and each of us individually, doing to reduce our carbon footprint? 

The letter writer himself downplays the need for Americans to reduce their emissions, saying that Asia (read: China) is responsible for twice the carbon emissions of the U.S., so we should “record the bell ringing” and send it there, implying that we can wait for the largest emitter of greenhouse gases to cut its emissions before acting ourselves. 

This strategy, though it may seem tempting to some, will not succeed. Climate change is a global issue, and while China is TODAY’S largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States is HISTORY’S largest.

Both countries, and indeed ALL nations, need to work together to solve this global problem. Last week, U.S. President Biden and Chinese President Xi acknowledged as much when they agreed to restart negotiating on climate. 

Here at home, Marblehead has set a goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. (Click to read the Marblehead Climate Vision Report.) But as the U.N. warns in a recently released expert report on net-zero commitments, such pledges risk being little more than “greenwashing” if not backed up with robust plans to actually reduce emissions. 

The Green Marblehead Committee is working on just such a robust Net-Zero Roadmap for our town and depends on feedback from town residents to perfect the document. Keep an eye out for a public meeting coming soon to discuss it, and consider attending monthly public meetings of the Green Marblehead Committee. 

On a personal level, you can start by visiting the “Take Action” pages on Sustainable Marblehead’s website to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint, eliminate waste and protect the health of the planet. 

According to our Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report, the three largest sources of Marblehead’s emissions come from heating our homes and buildings with oil and gas, vehicle transportation, and the carbon-emitting sources of our electricity (predominantly gas-fired power plants). Other smaller sources are landfill waste emissions and air travel. 

Given those sources, our biggest carbon reductions would come from changing from gas and oil to electric heat pumps to heat (and cool) our houses.

The next largest reduction would come from reducing our transportation emissions by using our cars less (biking, walking and riding public transportation) or buying an electric vehicle or hybrid.

And the next biggest reduction would come from choosing the “Go Green Now” 100 percent carbon-free electricity option from the Marblehead Municipal Light Department.

Sustainable Marblehead realizes that these emissions-reduction actions require research and investment. Our goal is to educate and engage with town officials and Marblehead residents to help everyone take the actions necessary to reduce emissions.

We accomplish this by attending meetings of town boards, sponsoring webinars and beach cleanups, organizing volunteers to plant trees, and working to increase composting and reduce single-use plastic, among many other initiatives. 

We need your help. Please join us by clicking on “Volunteer” at the top of our website at

Climate change is top of mind right now. Let’s keep it that way. 

Louise Bullis Yarmoff is the executive director of Sustainable Marblehead. 

Louise Bullis Yarmoff
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