“Climate Change,” Letter to Editor, Jamaica Plain Gazette, June 22, 2018
The statistics are shocking – around the world, more than 250,000 people will die every year because of climate change. The culprits are varied and sometimes familiar – poor air quality leading to respiratory distress, direct impact of excessive heat, or intensified storms flooding out communities such as we saw in the Boston area earlier this year.
The truth is that the health effects of climate change are the biggest public health crisis the nation, and the world, are facing. And it is a problem that can be solved, at least in part, by implementing carbon pricing at the state level. Residents of New England have particularly good public health reasons to pass a type of carbon pricing called carbon fee and rebate. The region has one of the highest asthma rates in the country, with one out of every nine individuals suffering from the illness. Some neighborhoods in Boston have even higher asthma rates. Fossil fuel air pollutants and airborne allergens are some of the triggers for asthma attacks.
Given the global nature of this public health crisis, it is tempting to think that it is a problem too big for one state to solve. But the truth is that public health – like politics – is local. The current proposal at the State House, which just passed in the Senate on June 15, would, among other important things, create a common sense carbon pricing system in Massachusetts, similar to one that has worked well in British Columbia. The Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future (S. 2564), would charge fossil fuel importers a fee based on how much carbon dioxide pollution the fuels release when burned. The fees would go into a special fund for rebates and be passed on directly to households and employers in order to minimize any increased costs of living and doing business. Each resident would receive an equal rebate from the fund. Since low- and moderate-income households tend to use less energy than wealthier ones, on average they would come out ahead.
It’s important to point out that Massachusetts passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in 2008, which mandates that the Commonwealth cut carbon emissions to at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Even though we have made some progress, we will need to adopt new initiatives in order to meet the legal benchmarks required by the GWSA. Carbon pricing is only one policy that the Commonwealth will need to implement to meet those mandates, but it is the single most effective one – it gives us the “biggest bang for the buck” – to reduce emissions and improve public health.
We have the chance to pass a policy that will reduce carbon emissions dramatically, while generating more jobs and helping the communities that are disproportionately harmed by climate change. The Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee will be considering carbon pricing as part of this year’s climate-related legislation. Let’s urge Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez to pass legislation that creates common sense carbon pricing in Massachusetts.
Jamaica Plain resident
An epidemiologist with more than forty years experience in public health practice, teaching and consulting, Richard (Dick) Clapp is both an Emeritus Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He has published more than 80 articles, reviews, and books.