Neighbors unite to save the planet

By Andreae Downs
Globe Correspondent / January 13, 2011

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In Brookline, professional passions can sometimes run in the neighborhood.

So it is with three nationally known climate activists who work in separate fields but have connected over their efforts to slow global warming.

Beyond living in the same town, Dr. Paul Epstein of Harvard Medical School, journalist Ross Gelbspan, and lawyer Mindy Lubber have crossed paths and collaborated as they labor to safeguard the world’s future.

They will share a stage at the Lincoln School at 2 p.m. Jan. 23, when a ceremony honoring their efforts will be part of a program launching the inaugural Brookline Climate Week, with events continuing through Jan. 30.

The week will be filled with contests, exhibitions, workshops on such green topics as home insulation, urban composting, and the “ups and downs’’ of older windows, a planning presentation for a new bikeway, plastic foam recycling at Town Hall, and a book reading.

“The focus is on moving people from understanding climate change as an issue to taking action,’’ said Mary Dewart, one of the organizers.

Disease, algae, and climate have long been favorite research topics for Epstein, who has put some of this work into a book coming out in April.

In the 1990s, while researching a connection between algae and cholera, Epstein read an article about algae and climate written by Gelbspan, then a reporter at The Boston Globe. They discovered they both lived in Brookline, and their children were acquainted.

Epstein brought Gelbspan some of the articles he had written for a leading medical journal, the Lancet.

“I said, ‘This is important, people should know about this, too bad you can’t write,’ ’’ Gelbspan recalled telling Epstein.

Soon the neighbors were collaborating on an opinion piece on algae, disease, and climate change that ran in The Washington Post in 1997. Letters the pair received prompted Gelbspan to examine the background of global warming skeptics, and led to a book, “The Heat is On.’’

“I’m not really an environmentalist, I’m a journalist,’’ Gelbspan said, “but I got swept up in this stuff.’’

Epstein and Gelbspan, now a regular walking and brainstorming companion, continued to think about how to affect national policy.

Epstein was working with the reinsurance industry to study health and climate change when he met Lubber, an activist who had helped win approval for the state’s bottle-redemption law and headed the regional office of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Lubber is now president of Ceres, a Boston-based environmental coalition working to convince industries that slowing global climate change is in their interest.

Epstein has collaborated with Lubber on workshops and courses for congressional aides.

“Ross, Paul, and I work in completely different planes and use different words, but we all have spent the last 30 years working to build a more sustainable world,’’ Lubber said. “We have crossed paths, and enjoy and appreciate each others’ work.’’

Brookline Climate Week is cosponsored by Climate Change Action Brookline, a private group of volunteers, and the town’s Climate Action Committee, Department of Public Health, School Committee, and Adult & Community Education program.

The five cosponsors have signed up nearly 100 area organizations, including the Brookline Chamber of Commerce, foundations, congregations, businesses, and school groups as partners to spread the word.

And, Lubber said, the local work is critical.

“There is no way to take on this massive challenge without a focus on local politics as well as state, national, and international,’’ she said. “It will be cities, towns, and states that move the federal government.’’

All of the week’s events are free, except for Adult & Community Education classes, which carry a small fee.

Brookline Booksmith will display a “Green Age Living Room’’ for the week, featuring a solar panel and recycled materials; and residents will be able to drop off plastic foam for recycling Jan. 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Town Hall parking lot, where a “Mount Trash-More’’ display will illustrate the average US family’s annual trash production.

For more information on Brookline Climate Week, go to