Column: Where is the sense of urgency?

File photoThe iconic Ayer Mill clock tower can be seen from the rooftop of the historic Everett Mill, now covered with solar panels, in Lawrence.

It’s been almost 300 days since state Sen. Marc Pacheco, chairman of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, and his House colleague, state Rep. Ruth Balser, issued a New Year’s resolution calling for climate solutions, including net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The resolution was supported by 81 other legislators, including 36 of 40 senators. Since then, Pacheco and Balser filed related legislation but there’s been no action or sense of urgency from the so-called legislative leadership, as the bill sits in committee. As 16-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg would say, it’s “business as usual.’’

Not since 2008, when Beacon Hill lawmakers set what are now considered modest carbon emission targets as part of the Global Warming Solutions Act, has there been any real progress to match the existential threat of the climate crisis.

The inattention to climate change in the Statehouse stands in stark contrast to the growing demands to act heard around our commonwealth, nation, and world.

The science continues to show that we are experiencing record heat waves, severe droughts, rising seas and stronger storms.

A report released several weeks ago by the World Meteorological Organization found that the previous five years were the hottest on record — no surprise there.

Another September report, this one from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, shows that ocean warming has more than doubled since 1993. And even if countries reduce their emissions, sea levels will continue to rise.

Although at last month’s U.N. Climate Action Summit, 60 countries committed to climate neutrality by 2050, the U.S., Russia, China, India and Japan – the world’s major carbon emitters — made no new promises to take stronger action.

Even the European Union, which prides itself as a global climate leader, failed to take the mid-century climate neutrality pledge when four of its 28 member countries blocked the target, fearing the financial cost of such rapid emissions cuts. Given this lack of commitment, Thunberg’s comment to the U.N. summit that “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth” seemed especially prescient.

As President Trump continues to call climate change a “hoax,” and Congress refuses to act, it is increasingly up to states, cities and towns to take the lead and show the world that America still cares.

What does that mean for us? It means passing a “Green New Deal for Massachusetts.” A deal that would set goals for:

Zero net carbon emissions, meaning Massachusetts emits only the carbon emissions that it can capture or reabsorb — by 2050;.

An annual increase in the amount of clean energy that utilities are required to buy, leading to 100 percent renewables — by 2047;

Environmentally responsible development of 6,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy, and quickly scaling up from there – by 2027;

A carbon fee: Massachusetts and a coalition of 11 other states, along with the District of Columbia, are participating in the Transportation Climate Initiative, which would cap regional transportation emissions and require fuel wholesalers to buy pollution permits for the fuels they sell. Revenues from permit sales would return to states to invest in reducing transportation sector carbon emissions. Transportation is responsible for 28 percent of US carbon pollution and 40 percent of the region’s emissions. And if the regional approach fails, Massachusetts needs to pass its own statewide carbon fee — by 2022;

Improved solar options: Allow net metering not just for Massachusetts homes but for all non-residential solar facilities — by 2021;

Green jobs: Mobilize the academic and research assets of the commonwealth to more fully contribute to the innovation economy and create more green jobs beyond the modest three percent we have today — by 2012;

Environmental, social and economic justice principles embedded in all newly passed state climate and energy laws — by 2019.

Additional reports from the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment warn that we have only 12 years to figure out a solution before catastrophic events overwhelm us.

So, it’s time for Beacon Hill lawmakers to declare a climate emergency and act accordingly as our house — the planet — is on fire. But if we move now, we can still put it out.

Jack Clarke is the director of public policy and government relations at Mass Audubon, and is a Gloucester resident.

Recommended for you