It has certainly been an eventful summer in Massachusetts politics. Beyond the upsets of the Sept 4 primaries, two other noteworthy events happened in Massachusetts this summer: 1) Boston set new heat records and saw 16 days over 90 degrees, and 2) the state Legislature passed a severely watered-down clean energy bill.
Everyone in Massachusetts should care about both of these. But millennials should be furious about the latter.
We’ve heard the stereotypes about millennials before, but here’s an important truth about our generation: As millennials, we will inherit the worst effects of climate change. We will have to raise our children—and they will have to raise theirs—in a world of higher temperatures, rising seas, more devastating storms, and widespread food and water insecurity.
Recent reports suggest that the effects of climate change in Massachusetts are expected to be far worse than previously indicated. Average annual temperatures in the Northeast could rise between 5 degrees and 9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2071, while sea levels around Boston may rise more than 10 feet by the end of the century, which would plunge 30 percent of the city underwater. Furthermore, studies show that the Northeast is warming more rapidly than other parts of the country as a result of climate change.
For our generation, these are much more than numbers. This is our future. And it is a generational outrage.
These times require and demand urgent, activist leadership to combat climate change, and one would expect as much in a state as reliably blue as Massachusetts. After all, California just committed to reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Surely Massachusetts is doing the same, right?
Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic leaders in the House displayed a stunning lack of leadership on the issue this year. In July the Massachusetts Legislature passed H.4857, An Act to Advance Clean Energy, a profoundly watered-down compromise of the bill that passed the Massachusetts Senate in June. The most egregious aspects of this bill include its failure to raise the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 3 percent and the failure to lift the caps on net metering.
The RPS, which requires a certain percentage of the state’s energy to come from renewable energy sources, currently increases by 1 percent each year. The Senate bill originally increased the RPS by 3 percent each year. Under that bill, Massachusetts would have reached 49 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2047. The compromise bill increases the RPS by 2 percent starting in July 2019 and reduces it back to 1 percent in 2031. Under this bill Massachusetts won’t reach 100 percent renewable energy until 2090. This is even more infuriating when you consider the RPS timelines of other states. California and New York, for example, will reach 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, while under this compromise bill Massachusetts will only reach 35 percent by 2050.
Additionally, the Senate bill eliminated the caps on solar net metering and mandated 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind. The compromise bill does nothing to address net metering caps, even though Massachusetts lost 21 percent of its solar jobs last year, and authorizes merely 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind.
While ultimately a small step in the right direction, this bill is an embarrassment for a state that claims to be a global leader on climate change and clean energy, and wildly insufficient to meet the realities of the threat. Gov. Baker, meanwhile, seems intent on slowing the growth of solar power in Massachusetts, as evidenced by his attempt to impose new “demand charges” on residential solar customers and shelving initiatives to grow the solar industry. And let’s not forget about his attempted pipeline tax.
Millennials should be furious about this abdication of leadership. We will inherit a world that is both warmer and less stable, the livability of which remains an open question. Our future is on the line, yet our elected officials refuse to acknowledge the urgency of the threat.
Massive winter storms have brought numerous hundred-year floods this year and left lasting damage to our infrastructure. California’s wildfires are out of control. Hurricane Florence brought destruction to the Carolinas and Puerto Rico is still reeling from last year’s hurricanes. There’s a maniac in the White House hell-bent on undoing as many environmental protections as possible.
This is a climate emergency. At a time when the federal government refuses to acknowledge the very existence of climate change, it is incumbent on states to take the lead. Instead, our elected officials in Massachusetts have intentionally slowed our transition to 100 percent renewable energy.
It doesn’t have to be this way. This kind of anemic response to climate change is not an economic inevitability. It is a political choice our leaders have made and one we can unmake. California has shown us that bold climate action is possible. The only thing holding Massachusetts back is a lack of political courage. Environmental groups made it clear this year that they will no longer abide a half-hearted response to climate change. Millennials in this state should be just as angry.
Nearly 75 percent of millennials believe something should be done to stop climate change, including 89 percent of millennial Democrats. Approximately 70 percent of millennials believe it will affect them in their lifetime—and they’re right. Furthermore, Boston has the highest concentration of millennials in the country, giving our generation significant political power should we choose to exercise it.
A better future is possible in Massachusetts, but it’s up to us to build it. We cannot rely on tepid Republican governors and centrist Democrats in the State House any longer. It is time for this generation to claim our power and our place in this democracy, and elect a new generation of leadership that understands the urgency of the threat and is not afraid to act boldly and immediately.
Climate change isn’t going to wait. Neither should we.