Climate Leaders Call for Urgent Action, Focus on Equity

White House advisor Gina McCarthy, AG81, and Senator Ed Markey, H19, speak at Massachusetts Climate Summit

To reduce the damaging impacts of climate change, urgent action is needed on clean energy, green job creation, and environmental justice, environmental advocates said April 29 at the Massachusetts Climate Summit.

“This is an important moment in time,” said Gina McCarthy, AG81, White House National Climate advisor. “This is an opportunity for us to really buckle down and realize that the future is in our hands right now.”

McCarthy and U.S. Senator Ed Markey, H19, both longtime champions for environmental action, shared the podium at the Tufts University event. They discussed how technological investments and political efforts are working hand-in-hand to lower carbon emissions. They also called for college students to be leaders in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

Billed as “Confronting the Climate Crisis: Global Solutions, Local Action,” the event was hosted by Markey and organized by Tufts’ Office of Government & Community Relations, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, and The Fletcher School.

McCarthy, who advises President Biden on domestic energy and climate issues, said the United States is making “historic progress” toward a clean energy economy, citing strides in offshore wind power, solar panels, and battery storage.

“We have 56 million homes that are powered by clean energy today. And we can triple that as we move forward,” she said.

As the country moves toward “100% clean electricity, we know we cannot leave the major sources of pollution behind,” she said, “which is why we've gone after the strongest vehicle standards ever. All we need is some help with Congress to make sure that everybody can afford [an electric vehicle].”

With Markey, she said, “I know I have a champion . . . who’s going to help me and all of us get that done.”

Two panel discussions featuring Massachusetts community leaders demonstrated how local experts and advocates are leading the way “in creating a future in which we won't just survive the climate crisis but thrive in a world that is safe and healthy and supportive for all,” said Markey.

"If the United States doesn't show some leadership, then it’s going to be very difficult to get other countries that are not as wealthy as we are to understand the benefits of clean energy."

Gina McCarthy, AG81, White House national climate advisor

Markey’s Vision for a Green New Deal

Markey, who had toured the Tufts Pollinator Garden earlier in the day, connected his message to the university’s mission to educate leaders.

“We have great expectations for you” in shaping how the next 10 years unfold, he told students at the event. “We’ll lead the world, because we will invent these technologies” that will make a sustainable planet possible.

Markey said that words of advice from his mother—to “work smarter, not harder”—are defining principles of the Green New Deal, which he co-authored with U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a fellow Democrat. He was also the co-author of the landmark Waxman-Markey bill of 2009, which proposed a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions, but which the Senate failed to pass.

U.S. Senator Ed Markey, H19, of Massachusetts talks with Tufts students

U.S. Senator Ed Markey, H19, of Massachusetts talks with Tufts students, including Tufts Pollinator Initiative expert and graduate student Nick Dorian, A16, at near left, before the climate summit. Photo: Alonso Nichols

The Green New Deal, which outlines initiatives to slash greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture, construction, energy, and transportation, and calls for modernizing the nation’s power grid, “was really meant to create a movement because young people…realize that there’s an urgency to this problem,” he said. “They can see that the planet is dangerously warming.”

Markey called for action that puts in place the technologies and conservation strategies essential “to avoid the worst, most catastrophic consequences of climate change,” a crisis he called “the most critical national security, environmental, economic, and moral issue of our time.”

Climate action will advance energy independence for the United States, and, in turn, global stability, he said. “Last year, the United States sent $20 billion to Russia for 600,000 barrels of oil a day, giving Putin $20 billion to buy weapons, to attack Ukraine,” he said.

Reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and investing in alternatives is a “pathway to peace,” he said.

McCarthy’s View from the White House

Climate change is a global risk that calls for global solutions, McCarthy said. “If the United States doesn’t show some leadership, then it’s going to be very difficult to get other countries that are not as wealthy as we are to understand the benefits of clean energy,” she said.

McCarthy expressed optimism that the U.S. will act. The White House’s proposed budget for climate spending exceeds $500 billion; approving that budget would help President Biden meet a pledge to cut U.S. planet-warming emissions 50 to 52% below 2005 levels within this decade, she said.

Droughts and wildfires make it clear how urgent the climate crisis is, she said. “So folks, step it up. Let Congress stand up and give us consumer credits for electric vehicles. . . Let’s step up and weatherize our homes and businesses,” she said. “We need tax credits [to deploy] solutions. Let's get moving. The time is now. I’m excited about the opportunities, but if we fail to grab them, shame on us.”

Calls for Environmental Justice

Both Markey and McCarthy said that climate action must address historical inequities. “We have to be ready to supercharge the clean energy revolution, deliver climate and environmental justice, and win this incredible opportunity for the future,” Markey said. “We can reduce greenhouse gases and create millions of union jobs and provide environmental justice for the communities who deserve it simultaneously.”

McCarthy said that creating a clean energy economy requires recognizing and addressing environmental injustices. She added that policymakers should “put environmental justice communities at the forefront of every question we ask ourselves and how we do our business.”

"We can reduce greenhouse gases and create millions of union jobs and provide environmental justice for the communities who deserve it simultaneously."

U.S. Senator Ed Markey, H19

In a question-and answer-session, Markey said that communities that have historically experienced discrimination—“Black, Brown, Indigenous communities”—should give prior informed consent to actions that affect their environments. He recalled growing up in Malden when the Malden River, three blocks from his house, was “black with a kind of pre-Jimmy Hendricks purple haze” hanging over it due to pollution.

“All these things almost always happen in blue-collar, in poor communities,” he said. “They almost always happen because that’s where there is less political power. So we have to be intentional. We have to have programs to rectify those historic injustices and make this transition for everyone. We can do it.”

McCarthy said that investments in training, including community colleges, can help open doors of opportunity in the green economy.

Supporting environmental justice means “building capacity and . . . doing projects that communities want in the way they want it,” she said.

Local Voices

The first panel of the summit, on clean energy and equitable job creation, featured Ryan Dings, chief operating officer and general counsel of Greentown Labs; Kerry Bowie, executive director of Browning the Green Space;

Mindy Lubber, CEO and president of the nonprofit Ceres; Darlene Lombos, executive secretary-treasury of the Greater Boston Labor Council; and Kelly Sims Gallagher, F00, F03, academic dean and professor of energy and environmental policy at The Fletcher School, co-director of the Center of International Environment & Resource Policy, and director of Fletcher’s Climate Policy Lab.

The second panel, “Movement Building & Organizing for Climate Action,” featured remarks from Sara Arman, A19, Health Equity Corps coordinator at GreenRoots; Cabell Eames, political director at Better Future Project and 350 Massachusetts; Andrea Nyamekye, associate director of Neighbor to Neighbor; and Sophie Leggett of Sunrise Northeastern.

Bowie said that when he was director of environmental justice for Massachusetts, he visited communities such as Lawrence and Springfield, where residents told him, “We need jobs. We need better education. We need affordable housing and transportation.”  

He said Browning the Green Space works to connect economic justice and social justice through clean jobs. “Our mission is threefold,” he said. “We want to create jobs. We want to build well, and we want to reduce the energy burden in communities of color.”

Gallagher expanded on how buy-in is essential to building a sustainable future. The Climate Policy Lab at The Fletcher School studies the factors that drive effective climate policies around the world, and “one thing that we’ve learned is that jobs are at the heart of the deep decarbonization pathway,” she said.

“If people cannot see that this is going to benefit them, they're not going to support it,” she added. “Nobody knows that better than Senator Markey. The United States could be doing a lot better than it’s doing today. There is much opportunity to create jobs as part of the deep decarbonization agenda.”

At Ceres, Lubber and staff work with capital market leaders to solve sustainability challenges. One thing that gives her hope, she said, addressing students in the audience, is youth.

“You are driving the transition and you're going to continue to,” she said. “Things are changing because of the way you all frame things, what you're expecting, what you expect from companies and from what you want to do. Keep at it.”

Arman said that Chelsea-based GreenRoots asks: “What are the organizing techniques that we can do as an organization to bring people into the movement?” One that’s proved most important, she said, is language.

“We know that communities of color do not always speak English. We have to have our meetings, interpreted into different languages. We have to have our documents translated,” she said. “We have to encourage folks to come into our spaces and encourage them to speak from the language of their hearts. And not only just accept it, but really encourage them to come in as their full self.”

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