Like gun violence, chronic poverty and unequal health care coverage, the problem of unchecked greenhouse gas pollution won’t solve itself.
As important as local and state efforts to reduce the emissions imperiling our planet are, a problem of this magnitude demands federal action—the sort of federal action being dismantled by the current executive and legislative branches. If the House of Representatives and Senate change hands this November, the 116th Congress must be comprised of representatives and senators able to restore America to a position of leadership in combating climate change.
Gary Rucinski, who has launched a primary challenge to Rep. Joseph Kennedy III in Massachusetts’s Fourth Congressional District, is running to be such a representative. Rucinski, a physicist, thirty-year Newton resident and the longtime Massachusetts State Coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby (as well as the co-founder of the Committee for a Green Economy), is currently gathering signatures (2,000 are needed by May 8) to secure a spot on the Democratic Primary ballot. Is it a daunting challenge? Not nearly as daunting as the challenge of transforming our energy system and ensuring our children and future generations don’t experience the worst effects of climate change.
It’s possible to respect an incumbent while recognizing that incumbent’s priorities may not fit the times, and Rucinski asserts that Kennedy simply has not led on climate; the threat of a warming planet didn’t even make it into Kennedy’s response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address. “Rather than remain silent,” Rucinski noted in a recent interview, “I intend to thoroughly educate voters of the Fourth District about both the risks of climate change and the opportunities and benefits that will come from taking decisive action to address it.”
Taking decisive action means not being satisfied with only fighting back against the depravity of Donald Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Washington’s overall culture of deference to the fossil fuel industry, but working in the district and in Congress to bring new allies to the effort to pass fair, simple, and transparent climate legislation.
Of course, the climate crisis is not the sole pressing concern facing this country. Rucinski has vowed to cosponsor the reintroduction of H.R. 676–the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act–to finally guarantee high-quality, comprehensive health care as a right for every American, and the repeal of the ghastly Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act–which prevents gun manufacturers and retailers from being held civilly liable for the havoc caused by handguns (Rucinski also says he’s for the “regulation of firearms at least on par with regulation of automobiles, and [the] eventual repeal of the Second Amendment.”)
Rucinski is also committed to battling income inequality–which is rising in this country as fast as global temperatures are. “Democrats are vocal about economic inequality in the United States, but they need to propose and fight for solutions that get at the root causes of income inequality,” Rucinski observes. “There are many causes of growing economic inequality in the United States. I believe that one cause is the retreat begun forty years ago from a strong progressive income tax rate structure. A second is a failure by the federal government to continue muscular investment in fundamental research and development performed at our colleges and universities.
“This investment helped train a generation of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who went on to create many of the technological wonders our modern economy is based on,” Rucinski continues. “Without a restoration of this funding to appropriate levels, the U.S. will find its technological base increasingly impoverished and unable to keep up with foreign competitors. Finally, wealth distribution is now so heavily skewed in favor of the 1% in the United States, that it is likely necessary to implement a [significant] tax on wealth to restore a healthy balance.”
Rucinski’s grassroots campaign has been covered by the Attleboro Sun Chronicle and Taunton Daily Gazette, but it has been curiously ignored by the Boston Globe. Asked if there may be a connection between the Globe’s promotion of fracked natural gas and its reluctance to cover a Congressional candidate willing to take on the natural gas, oil and coal industries, Rucinski says he’s “extremely disturbed” by Globe’s gas-glorifying editorials “chastising environmentalists for being justifiably concerned about expanded dependence on natural gas, at a time when atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are already in the red zone and increasing by 2 to 3 parts per million per year.” The editorials, Rucinski suggests, are an example of misplaced priorities in the mainstream press: “Instead of taking environmentalists to task for fighting this type of expansion, the Globe [editorial page] should have asked why Cape Wind was not built and why Beacon Hill has not implemented an economy-wide, revenue-neutral greenhouse gas pollution fee and dividend plan. Had these steps been taken, it is likely that there would have been no shortages of natural gas and the economic folly of building additional fossil fuel infrastructure would be clear to all.”
Speaking of those who have promoted the economic folly of continuing to rely upon fossil fuels, Rucinski is fully in favor of the investigations by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into whether the fossil fuel industry engaged in fraud by attempting to confuse the public about the threat posed by dirty energy. “I believe Democrats should not wait until the 2020 election, nor even the 2018 election, to begin calling for [federal] investigations into allegations of fraud by the fossil fuel industry,” Rucinski declares. “They should be calling on President Trump to instruct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to conduct such an investigation, and call on Senate and House leaders to start bipartisan investigations in the Congress if such an investigation is not begun immediately. The prospect that Republicans will ignore such calls does not release Democratic officeholders from their responsibility to request action, nor educate the public about the justification for such action.”
This campaign is a moment of truth for Bay State climate activists, an opportunity to send to Washington an undisputed climate champion to continue the fight against the fossil fuel industry. Solid voting records are good. Leadership is far better. Our children and grandchildren need an all-out defense against the interests that seek to harm the very air they breathe, the very water they drink, the very atmosphere they rely upon. Rucinski’s campaign is not about Kennedy’s name. It’s about the countless names of those who will be harmed or even die if business as usual continues to prevail. Those alarmed by our nation’s inaction on climate change should support Rucinski to send a message that inaction on climate change means electoral defeat from here on out.