On Tuesday night, the Governor set a goal of the Commonwealth reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 — without proposing many specifics, including interim goals to get us there. We and others have noted that that’s a little bit slippery — especially since we need drastic action now.
Thursday — a few days ahead of Sen. President Spilka’s “drop dead date”, take note! — the State Senate endorsed a framework that does set a number of interim goals to keep us honest, although it relies heavily on executive branch discretion in implementation.
- Setting a statewide greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050 of “net zero” emissions. To achieve this, An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy requires the state to hit near-term limits in 2025, 2030, and every five years thereafter; set sub-limits for transportation, buildings, solid waste, natural gas distribution, and other major sectors; and make implementation plans that are “clear, comprehensive, and specific.”
- Reflecting the price of carbon. Under the bill, the Administration would be free to choose among various market based forms of pricing carbon—including a revenue-neutral fee or a regional “cap and trade” system similar to the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI)—but he or she would have to do so by Jan. 1, 2022, for transportation; Jan. 1, 2025, for commercial, industrial and institutional buildings; and Jan. 1, 2030, for residential buildings. Any mechanism would be implemented so as to minimize the impact on low-income households, disadvantaged communities, and vulnerable manufacturing sectors.
This is Sen. Barrett’s game, apparently. He has supported a revenue-neutral carbon tax as proposed by the Citizens Climate Lobby, et al. I’m much more supportive of a carbon tax/invest mechanism in the Bill Driscoll (formerly Jen Benson) bill in the House, H.2810, which specifically redirects proceeds to sustainable infrastructure with an economic justice. This bill hands the hot potato of what and how to implement it over to the Governor.
This agenda will seem very far-reaching indeed, touching on everything from the price of gas; to housing and commercial real estate; to transit; to appliances. But if I’ve been making any point at all on this site for the last 15 years, it’s this:
Climate is not a “single issue.”
It is everything put together.
Climate is literally where you live.
Climate policy is literally how you live.
Climate is the economy; it is energy; it is jobs; it is transit; it is water and air; it is food. It is everything.
Therefore, this will indeed require some adjustments. But these adjustments are nothing compared to the clearing-scythe of unchecked climate change.
There’s been an interesting discussion in climate circles about how much to emphasize personal actions to reduce one’s carbon footprint, versus public and political pressure to change systems. But I’m pretty sure it’s not one or the other. One way or another, these policy choices are going to be manifested in the lives of ordinary citizens. And so they will require unprecedented public buy-in, flexibility and cooperation.
- Yes, people will pay more for gas. (Compared to the amount of political oxygen this takes up, this is not actually a big deal.*)
- Yes, carbon energy will get more expensive, but we will use far less of it: The unit price of fossil fuels will become mostly irrelevant to our daily lives.
- Yes, people will be enabled to buy and use different kinds of cars and appliances.
- Yes, people will be enabled and therefore encouraged to use transit, walking, and cycling instead of driving.
If we want things to be different, I think we’re saying that we need to change.
But that’s how it works: Every policy change creates new constituencies. For example, I prefer to ride my bike to work — for environmental, health, monetary, and practical reasons. Well, someone decided to put a bike path in Arlington, which makes that choice much easier for me. And now as a bike commuter, I advocate for more bike paths. Bike policy recruited me as a bike constituent. It’s a virtuous cycle (heh).
So, as Sen. Barrett says, this is going to require a big leap in the public’s attitudes.
“The response has to be self-awareness and a concession that we’re falling off the pace and we’ve got to ask every climate activist in Massachusetts to help us put ourselves back on the pace.” said Barrett. “Because here’s the thing: You cannot legally enforce a limit if attaining the limit depends on millions of homeowners and millions of automobile purchasers making a particular set of decisions. There’s no body you can hold accountable. You can’t fine yourself as a collective population of 6.5 million. We’re going to find out, as climate change becomes more and more dire, that we truly are in this together and there’s no one source of failure. If we make these goals and we save Massachusetts it will be a collective success. If we fail, it will be a collective failure. We’re going to use the climate policy commission to highlight successes, highlight failures, keep this issue in the news, keep it before people until we succeed because, as the Senate president said, we can’t afford to fail.” [my emphasis]
I’d amend: We’ve got to ask every person in Massachusetts: Every Mom and Dad, aunt and uncle; every young person and every adult; everyone who cherishes life itself.
Get used to it, everyone; the alternative is too horrifying to consider.
*The price of gas is far overrated as an expense of owning a car: The proposed $0.17 gas tax under Rep. Straus’s bill or the TCI results in a mere $2.55 more per 15-gallon fill-up. Driving one’s car slightly more gently; or less; or choosing a car with slightly better mileage (moving from 22 to a meager 25mpg) absolutely obliterates that price difference. And put in the context of the yearly actual cost of owning a car — payments, insurance, tolls, repairs, parking — it’s negligible. And yet everyone fusses over a gas tax increase. More on this later.