America’s Plan for Clean Power

Climate Reality: An Open Speech to the World
by Marc R. Pacheco (Senator of Massachusetts, Democrates)
Fresach, 12th May 2016

First, I’d like to start out by thanking Denk.Raum.Fresach for inviting me to speak to you all today. DRF promotes cross-border dialogue on issues of social, political and cultural coexistence in Europe and beyond. Their work reminds us that we’re all in this together; our solutions to world’s challenges cannot be unilateral.

2015 was the year where we took action on the global climate crisis. Business leaders, non-profits, NGOs, national governments and citizens all over the world mobilized for December’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21), where national leaders negotiated a strong emissions reductions agreement. The Paris Agreement was signed just last month, on Earth Day. While the accord is a necessary foundation to keep our planet habitable and healthy, the real work now begins. We must create a true era of carbon reduction in both the public and private sectors.

As we look ahead, we need to implement the political will to combat the threat of climate change. We face a challenge to survive, a challenge to preserve our heritage and our history. We face a challenge to put policies and practices in place that will guarantee the survival of our children and our children’s children, as well as the continuation of our planet as we know it.

In Boston, and in Massachusetts, where I have been honored to serve in the State Legislature for 27 years, we have not hesitated to get to work. In 2008, I called for—and have since chaired—the state’s Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, which at the time, was the first of its kind in America. Over the last four years, Massachusetts has taken first place, among our 50 states, in the energy efficiency sector.

In the United States, it has been clear for some time now that state governments must lead the way on climate change initiatives until a federal policy can be agreed upon and executed. Massachusetts has taken that lead.

We have passed a host of clean energy legislation that has made a huge difference today, including:

  • The Global Warming Solutions Act
  • The Oceans Management Act
  • The Clean Energy Biofuels Act
  • The Green Communities Act
  • The Green Jobs Act
  • The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

The Commonwealth was the first to institute our own Clean Water Act, before any other state or our federal government acted. We were also the first to take action against power plant-generated carbon dioxide emissions.

In 2008, I authored the Global Warming Solutions Act—the most progressive U.S. law of its day—which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below our 1990 levels by 2050.

Seven years later, we are well on our way to hitting those markers. Most recently, the Senate passed a bill to establish a statewide, long-term climate change adaptation plan to address the consequences of climate change in the Commonwealth. Our work was lauded by the American Lung Association as an act of public protection. And someday soon, if I have it my way, we will put in place a comprehensive plan to price carbon that will continue to set us apart as one of the country’s sustainability leaders.

On a national scale, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan aims to cut carbon pollution by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Power plants account for about 1/3 of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. This plan is expected to bring $55 – $93 billion in climate and health benefits by 2030, including the avoidance of premature deaths and asthma attacks. Power plants are the nation’s largest source for carbon pollution. When the Clean Power Plan is fully in place in 2030, carbon pollution from the power sector will be 32% below 2005 levels – or a reduction in 870 million tons – reaping immense benefits in the short and long term. States will develop customized plans to ensure that power plants meet these standards, either individually, together or in combination with other measures like renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for a nation as diverse as ours, and the administration has tailored its plan to recognize that.

While the United States is taking substantive action to fight climate change, we are, unfortunately, already seeing the terrible effects of our warming planet. 2015 was the hottest year in historical record, by far. Weather patterns all over the world are roiling. Our National Science Foundation just recently warned us that a warming planet could overwhelm natural variability and begin to significantly affect oxygen levels in the oceans in just 10 to 15 years. At some point, the drop in the ocean’s oxygen levels will leave marine life struggling to breathe.

We are experiencing more frequent, severe, or longer-lasting extreme weather events; degraded air quality; diseases transmitted through food, water, and disease vectors such as ticks and mosquitoes. Wildfires, once confined to a season and a time period, now burn earlier and longer. Drier winters mean less moisture on the land, with warmer springs pulling moisture into the air more quickly, turning shrub, brush and grass into kindling. A fire currently raging through Canada has burned at least 325 square miles, forcing the evacuation of 88,000 people. Experts say the burning areas of Canada have more than doubled in size since 1970.

All of this and more adds stresses to our health and well-being. And every threat is expected to worsen as climate change continues. Some of these health threats will occur over longer time periods, or at unprecedented times of the year; some people will be exposed to threats not previously experienced in their locations. All throughout the globe, climate change exacerbates existing health threats and creates new public health challenges. While all are at risk, some populations are dispropor­tionately vulnerable, including those with low income, communities of color, immigrant groups, Indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, senior citizens, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.

And as certain areas become uninhabitable, we will continue to see more climate refugees. Around the globe, governments are confronting the reality that as human-caused climate change warms the planet, rising sea levels, stronger storms, increased flooding, harsher droughts and dwindling freshwater supplies will drive people from their homes. Between 50 million and 200 million people — mainly subsistence farmers and fishermen — could be displaced by 2050 because of climate change, according to estimates by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security and the International Organization for Migration.

In January, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development announced $1 billion in grants for 13 states to adapt to climate change, by building stronger levees, dams and drainage systems. One of those grants, $48 million for Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, is something we’ve never seen before. It is the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community. Since the 1950s, this tribe of Native American people has lost 98 percent of its land to rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding. Experts suspect the island will be completely submerged within 50 years. Louisiana officials have been coping with some of the fastest rates of land loss in the world — an area the size of Delaware has disappeared from south Louisiana since the 1930s.

Heritage and history will be lost in all areas of our world. But if we work hard to implement political will, we can help protect our environment, and ultimately our lives.

The work we do now means the difference between a world riddled with floods, erratic climate change, and financial instability—versus a cleaner, greener planet, that boosts steady, economic growth and conserves the resources we need to secure a better standard of living in the future. We need to all work together and demand action from our local and international leaders. There is no time to waste.

Thank you.

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