I was happy to see that action on climate change is finally taking center stage, according to State House News Service’s “2020 State House outlook: Seven issues to watch over seven months”. Transit funding also makes the list, which is of course inextricable from climate concerns.
Context is everything, and things happen for a reason. As famed climate writer Elizabeth Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction, 2015 Pulitzer winner) points out, this is the decade where we decide whether we want to survive, or not.
Every decade is consequential in its own way, but the twenty-twenties will be consequential in a more or less permanent way. Global CO2 emissions are now so high—in 2019, they hit a new record of forty-three billion metric tons—that ten more years of the same will be nothing short of cataclysmic. Unless emissions are reduced, and radically, a rise of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) will be pretty much unavoidable by 2030. This will make the demise of the world’s coral reefs, the inundation of most low-lying island nations, incessant heat waves and fires and misery for millions—perhaps billions—of people equally unavoidable.
Really waking up, and not just dreaming to ourselves that things will be O.K., has become urgent—beyond urgent, in fact. To paraphrase Victoria’s fire authority: The world is in danger, and we need to act immediately to survive.
There is no excuse for not doing everything we can, rowing all in one direction. There is no “good enough”; we’re not “on time” for anything anymore. While Massachusetts can only affect the overall crisis in a very small way, its leadership in policy serves as proof-of-concept and inspiration to other places — including the US Congress. California continues to lead on a large scale on energy policy; we used to lead on renewables, but lost our hustle to New Jersey and New York. As I’ve said, Gov. Baker’s multi-state Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) is very welcome, though not anywhere near ambitious enough. Speaker DeLeo will point to his GreenWorks climate resiliency legislation, and smile and fold his hands like he’s done. He isn’t, and we’re not.
On the other hand, our State Senate seems primed for action. Sen. President Karen Spilka has declared a “drop dead date” of January 31 for a climate bill. That’s basically … now. Contrast this to DeLeo’s glaring legislative incompetence, where even matters of broad consensus have to reach a crisis point, and many members’ priorities are simply chucked overboard at the end of the session. Ran out of time again, womp womp.
So what do we want, specifically? Fortunately there is no shortage of good ideas floating around the State House, and there is indeed a new energy in the House. The Mass Power Forward coalition, which includes several environmental groups like Clean Water Action, 350Mass, and Sierra Club MA, is asking the legislature to pass the following:
- S.1958/H.2836 An Act Re-powering Massachusetts with 100% Renewable Energy (Sen. Eldridge/Reps. Decker & Garballey). You’ve heard me talk about this one: It would mandate
100% renewable energy by 2050. Actually we need it much sooner than that.CORRECTION: 100% renewable electricity by 2035; 100% renewable heating and transportation by 2045. Thanks MassPowerForward.
- S.453/H.826 and S.464/H.761 – An Act relative to Environmental Justice. Specifically prioritizes the concerns of low-income and communities of color in environmental protection — since historically they have been neglected and victimized. (Who can you take advantage of, if not the poor and vulnerable?)
- H.2810 An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions (Rep. Benson). This would set a carbon price and invest the proceeds in “green infrastructure” and housing, targeting an equitable distribution of resources to low-income communities.
- S.2106/H.3008 An Act to Advance Modern and Sustainable Solutions for Transportation (Sen. Lesser/Rep. Ehrlich). This creates a fund to enhance transit and sustainable mobility, particularly in low-income areas.
How some of these, particularly Rep. Benson’s H.2810 and Rep. Straus’s transit funding bill, will interact with the Transportation Climate Initiative is yet to been seen. Relationship: It’s complicated.
Sierra Club MA has a long list of good legislative priorities, some of which received hearings this past July and December. They include everything from building codes to electric vehicles, to the very clever FUTURE act, turning gas pipelines into renewable thermal pipelines and repurposing the entire gas delivery industry. One could imagine a number of these might get folded into a large omnibus-type bill. It’s easy to see how state mandates can prod the private sector into action, creating jobs along the way. Creating renewable energy sources = jobs. Infrastructure and transportation = jobs, both in their creation and operation. Energy efficiency in construction and retrofits = jobs. There’s so much to do!
So we live at the knife’s edge — between panic, and what hope is left to us. If they feel pressure from the public, our legislators may finally act out of productive panic — both for fear of our burning planet, and of burning phones and ears. That State House switchboard number is 617-722-2000.