Fossil fuels are the finite results of eons and eons of geological time. They are of the past.
They underpin the Anthropocene Age, bringing us the wondrous developments and painful pollutions of the industrial age. We are still learning about and dealing with what fossil fuel lifestyles have done to our environment.
When coal was abundant and oil was dirt cheap from the Middle East — before OPEC put the world on notice — no one cared about fuel efficiency. There was breathtaking air pollution and acid rain, among other ills.
The clear air and clean water acts and the Environmental Protection Agency were direct, positive and successful responses. Choking air, rivers on fire and oil-slicked sea creatures are concrete signs of pollution.
Today’s carbon and particulates pollution and its effects on climate and health are less obvious to nonscientists, but real nevertheless. A new poll finds a sharp increase in concern about climate change in Massachusetts in two years, now at 88 percent, an increase of 11 percentage points. Three quarters of respondents were concerned about flooding, rising seas and severe storms from climate change.
The United States is third highest in per-capita carbon emissions, after Saudi Arabia and Australia. The U.S. and China together account for about 45 percent of total emissions. Clearly there is work to be done.
How do we live satisfying lives that also care for and sustain spaceship Earth? Borders are silly when you talk about pollution. The winds and currents know no manmade borders as air and water circumnavigate the globe. But if we each care for our local parts, the whole benefits.
That is why the 2015 Paris climate accord is so powerful — 195 countries agreeing to work to lower carbon emissions, with an emphasis on climate justice. The U.S. now joins Nicaragua and Syria, who did not sign on. That fact has spurred concerned Americans, from governors, to mayors, to ordinary citizens, to keep working to honor the Paris accord. There is indeed a sense of urgency and momentum. If not now, then when?
Mission 2020, an initiative of a group of scientists, policy-makers and corporate leaders, is setting its sights on beginning the lowering of world carbon emissions —which are flat right now — by 2020. If we are able to do that, we have a better chance of achieving the Paris limit of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius increase in planetary temperature rise to avert global disaster.
Renewable, clean energy is the future. The transition to this future will be difficult for some people. We have to be honest about that.
The Barrett (S1821) and Benson (H1726) bills in the Massachusetts Legislature would put a price on carbon and return the money collected to the people. Putting a price on carbon better reflects its true costs to our health and environment.
Gradual and predictable increases in that price will allow adjustment, encourage conservation, technological innovations and efficiencies, and buttress already growing investments in green, sustainable energy.
It will help achieve the goals of the 2008 Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act, the 2015 Paris accord and Mission 2020. We can lead the way to a clean energy future of healthy, sustainable economic growth.
Kit Sang Boos, of Northampton, is a mother, nurse and immigrant who belongs to the environmental group 2degrees.earth.