Environmental rhetoric is riddled with fluffy promises about green jobs, green economies, and green governments. These issues may seem simply nebulous and unimportant concepts. Yet the Massachusetts state government is now poised to lead its constituents towards a true green economy.
Students for a Just and Stable Future, a political advocacy group on campus, lobbied to create the first environmental caucus—the Green Economy Caucus—in the Massachusetts State Legislature last year. The purpose of the caucus is to “promote legislation and policy that encourage economic growth and job creation based on sustainable development aimed at improving economic, environmental and social well-being.” This caucus, a victory for SJSF, represents student involvement in the government and the commitment of politicians to act on climate change mitigation. The first Caucus meeting was on February 13, and represents an historic achievement for Massachusetts legislators. The meeting was an enormous success, with about 50 legislators and aides present, and lends hope for future political processes.
The United Nations Environment Programme defines a green economy as “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” According to Mihir Chaudhary ’12, leader of SJSF, the “Green Economy Caucus represents the first cohesive political attempt to develop a 'transition' to a post-carbon economy. We do not know what that economy will look like, but this is where the true potential of this legislative forum works.”
So, why does anyone care about a green economy? Climate change has an undeniable impact on our way of life. Everyone has heard the statistics: The Northeast has warmed half a degree Fahrenheit per decade since 1970. The numbers of days over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Massachusetts is expected to increase from between five and 20 days to between 30 and 60 days. Ocean temperatures in the Northeast Atlantic are expected to increase up to eight degrees Fahrenheit due to climate change. These numbers seem abstract, but the realities they represent pose a significant threat to agriculture, fishing industries, tourism, health, and communities—the foundations of our economy.
For example, agriculture—a $94 million per year industry in Massachusetts—will see decreased yields due to higher summer temperatures. This means crop failure and increased pests and weeds. Marine species will move further north to colder waters, jeopardizing the coastal fishing industry. Skiing and snowmobiling industries will be severely affected by decreasing snowfall and shorter seasons. Residents with asthma will face greater risks as air quality worsens. Mosquitoes will become more widespread, acting as vectors for diseases. The list goes on.
This may seem like a hopeless situation, but it is not. The challenges facing society and individuals are also opportunities for change. Humanity has the tools to maintain a high-quality of life and live within ecological limits. Climate change is not an unsolvable issue. Individuals are taking action around the world to decrease their carbon footprint and live in an environmentally and socially just way. Of equal importance is government’s ability to create meaningful legislation that can reduce dependence on fossil fuels and develop viable alternatives. The Green Economy Caucus is an example of this kind of progress. Hopefully it will serve as a model for other states.
Ideally, the Caucus will develop its own legislation and vote on policies as a bloc. Members will become educated on the importance of a green economy and promote legislation that will advance technological and economic progress. For example, there is already a bill in the state legislature to phase-out coal in Massachusetts by 2015. Frank Smizik and James Eldridge, the co-chairs of the Caucus, are also working to increase usage of green technology 25 percent above 2010 levels by 2020.
These bills, focusing on truly stopping climate change, are a result of the type of coalitions that the Green Energy Caucus will strengthen. Alli Welton ’15, another SJSF member, notes that “people often get the sense that the environmental movement opposes the interests of business and labor—but this Caucus will show that it doesn't have to be this way.”
The Massachusetts Legislature is active and impassioned. The Green Economy Caucus, founded as a result of student advocacy, will increase the Legislature’s impact by bringing together people from all sectors—health, labor, economic, and environmental—and uniting them in a common interest. This is political change in the making.
Chloe S. Maxmin '15, a Crimson editorial writer, is a member of Students for a Just and Stable Future.