On Sunday evening I proved myself to be even less cool than my tween daughter thinks. Not quite having the energy to drive all the way to Stonehill College, and also not wanting to add to my carbon footprint by driving there alone (no one wanted to join me!), I sat down at my laptop to watch the climate debate. Steve Kornacki looked far more relaxed than usual (I’m used to seeing him at the “big board” on election nights, with a distinctly panicked look, as he tries to keep up with everything in real time), and I was eager to hear what both Senator Markey and Ms. Shannon Liss-Riordan were going to say. All in all, I found it interesting and informative, and learned more about both of their perspectives. Not surprisingly there seemed to be a lot similarity between them on the majority of issues – climate crisis is real and human made, their voting on the issue would be similar if elected, improved mass transit (especially east-west across the state) would help tremendously, fracking must end, and so on. After some prompting and clarification from Steve Kornacki, Senator Markey also ultimately seemed to concede that ending the filibuster may be needed in the future. In other venues, Congressman Joe Kennedy (for whom I volunteer) has expressed similar views on these topics (though he and Ms. Liss-Riordan are more similar on the filibuster issue than is Senator Markey).
There were also a few differences on stage. Senator Markey highlighted his long history of hard work on climate change, and his co-leadership of the Green New Deal, for which I am very grateful and have much respect. Ms. Liss-Riordan spoke repeatedly of carbon taxing and other ways to pay for the changes needed to create a green energy future, and I didn’t hear much (any?) of that from Senator Markey. Ms. Liss-Riordan was critical of Senator Markey’s acceptance of major donations from Black Rock Investments, and seemed to allude to Senator Markey’s to-be-determined acceptance of the People’s Pledge.
But throughout the hour, I couldn’t shake two nagging questions – “How?” and “Why?” How are we actually going to achieve (and pay for) all these critical changes in legislation, energy consumption, and clean energy innovation? And why would enormous industries that survive on fossil fuels (e.g., the automotive industry, fossil fuel companies themselves, and so on), not to mention Republicans, go along with all of this? And though I desperately want to believe in the energy future that Senator Markey described, I was not convinced. He spoke in inspiring tones about a “revolution.” (He used the word so many times, Ms. Liss-Riordan seemed to reference it as “lofty language” at one point.) But I didn’t once hear him use the words “strategy” or “plan.” He painted a picture so optimistic that it became easy to believe that Democrats would have a majority of 60+ votes in the Senate after the 2020 election, and that all we (the 2020 Democrats in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress) would have to do is “just lift the goals” for required fuel efficiency in cars, “just mandate” changes, “just…take on the issue [of recycling and plastics]”. That “all we have to do is change the policies” with regard to fracking, that “the [green energy] revolution will begin quickly once we [the Democrats] take over,” and that “the auto industry will just have to adapt to that reality [of electric cars and pollution reduced “almost to nothing”]. Senator Markey seemed undaunted by the fact that none of these changes “just” happened when Democrats actually did most recently have control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. He seemed to brush this away by saying that the “political climate has changed.”
I agree with Senator Markey on many issues, including the fact that the climate crisis is urgent and that the political climate around it has changed. But I don’t see how or why the critical changes we need to make are “just” going to happen. Even Senator Markey acknowledged that the Green New Deal “does not give prescriptions for how to get there.” And none of this even takes into account serious consideration of how to approach any of these necessary changes if Democrats don’t take control of the Senate next year. We need plans and strategies for how to get there (and how to pay for it), and those plans need to include contingencies for the fairly likely (albeit horrifying) event that Mitch McConnell will still lead the Senate in 2020. So, although I desperately – desperately! – want to believe in the energy future that Senator Markey describes, I just don’t.