The Climate Race - What We Need to Win

Thursday, February 28, 2019 (Listed under Environment)

There's a lot of energy around the Green New Deal these days and with that comes excitement concerning the prospect of building a new energy economy that not only tames rising seas but also buoys communities that have long been disproportionally harmed by the social and environmental costs of fossil fuels.

In designing the economy of the future—one that is electrified by the wind, sun, tides and waves—it's only reasonable that everyone benefit equally. By tackling the climate crisis head-on now, we'll all win. If we deliberate so long that we run out of time, we're all going all lose.

There are wide-ranging proposals at state houses across the country to address climate change. In Massachusetts, various legislative proposals have been put forward to tackle the issue. One House bill focuses heavily on the social justice arm of the climate challenge. The bill calls for carbon fees to be collected on imported fossil fuels (Massachusetts does not have any indigenous carbon resources). A large percentage of the revenue would then be directed to families in need, in order to level the economic playing field for underserved neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by economic and environmental injustices. Many thoughtful economic analysts believe that this redistribution is one way to deliver economic parity to low-income, often overlooked communities who can then engage in and benefit from a new economic landscape.

Another proposal on Beacon Hill calls for a sweeping expansion of wind and solar power infrastructure through market-based incentives such as: raising Renewable Portfolio Standards; eliminating solar net metering caps; removing fossil fuel pipeline taxes and mandating vehicle emission reductions. It also proposes doubling Massachusetts's battery storage, directing state pensions to divest from coal and setting deadlines for electrifying the transportation and building sectors.

What I have been surprised by the most is how competitive environmental advocacy has become in the wake of the Green New Deal proclamation. I observe a contest among environmental coalitions and legislators to be "the most progressive of the progressives.” Decision makers, even those who are newly elected, are checking in with outside influencers to ask how they should vote on a particular bill, rather than just reading the proposal and making an educated decision. There's a timidity to the process that is interfering with the progress we must make. We can't be looking over our shoulders for approval when we're in the fight of our lives.

Debates over language can also derail progress, such as whether to say “carbon fees” or “market-based mechanisms” when describing how a proposal will be funded. One approach addresses climate change through the front door, the other through the back door, but both strategies can get us to the same place, if they're well-conceived.

Massachusetts is lucky to have an abundance of on- and off-shore wind ready to be harnessed as well as ample solar power potential. And, with the refinement of wave and tidal power technology to follow, the Bay State has the very real potential of becoming a serious exporter of clean, renewable energy. That image of a Commonwealth powered by the sun, the wind and the ocean is the image of a place where we all want to live, work and play. It's a just and equitable landscape that is resilient, agile and thriving, due to a climate “in remission,” clean air for kids to breathe and water that is safe to drink.

Environmental groups, climate-centric legislators and civic leaders need to get on the same page if we are to see this future materialize. They should all be supporting each other's work, sharing mailing lists, retweeting one another's news, celebrating the victories and supporting their colleagues' agendas because we're all in this climate crisis together. The obstacles we face are not technological or economic. They appear to be political allegiances fraught with competitive impulses that move us off our target.

I hope that as discussions of the Green New Deal progress and as legislators across the country rightly campaign for their climate bills to gain momentum (whether or not their framework mirrors the national Green New Deal), we all will pay attention to the details, read what they're putting forward and make informed decisions about how to best transition our economy away from fossil fuels and toward a net-zero renewable future within the very narrow window that we have left.

Let's commit to supporting all efforts to disturb the status quo. In building the clean energy economy that stabilizes planetary temperatures, a resilient future will sustain communities and real economic justice will be tangible in ways that are out of reach today.




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