Tag Archives: climate change

Uninhabitable

Samuel Eliot Morison in The Maritime History of Massachusetts describes our state’s liabilities—tumbling, shallow, un-navigable rivers that could never compete with the mighty Hudson or the St. Lawrence; “long-lying snow,” making for a short growing season; shallow soil too close to the underlying granite for successful farming, few natural resources beyond timber, and then there is the ice. Compared to the old country, Massachusetts presented daunting challenges to its early European settlers.

Morison goes on to credit those settlers with turning their liabilities into assets. Our forebears captured the power of the waterfalls that prevented navigation to turn the mill wheel, enabling them to grind wheat and develop industry. They used the snow’s slippery surface to haul big items, possibly the most famous being the captured British cannons that Henry Knox dragged on sleds from Fort Ticonderoga at the beginning of the American Revolution. He made it to Dorchester Heights, where General Washington trained them on the British fleet, which prudently left Boston Harbor on or about March 17, conveniently giving us a secular reason to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Finally, landowners, realizing New England’s soil was mostly only marginally fertile, quarried the underlying granite to build imposing architecture, headstones, curbs and now, kitchen counters. With few natural resources of their own, Massachusetts’ early entrepreneurs shipped other places’ goods. Then they sliced the ice from the ponds into blocks, packed them in sawdust in the holds of ocean-going ships, and sold the ice to tropical countries. I’m told that such entrepreneurs also introduced ice cream to show tropical-landers how to use frozen water.

Clever.

Nevertheless, Morison’s description reminds readers of how uninhabitable America was to early Europeans. It still is. New England? Morison spelled it out. But other regions were and are even more challenging.

The mid-Atlantic states, the South and the Midwest? So hot and humid that British diplomats assigned to Washington, D.C. in the 1800s were allowed to wear Bermuda shorts. Texas— same heat, with the added threat of fire ants. South and the Midwest? Tornedos. The South? Bugs, big ones that bite and give you the creeps, not to mention poisonous snakes and the alligators that would get you if you tried to swim in the fresh-water ponds, rivers and lakes.

Arizona and some of Nevada? October through March is nice enough. But from April on you can’t go outside without collapsing. You will burn your hand if you touch anything outside. I once met a woman who grew up in the state before air conditioning. She said her family dipped their sheets in water before they went to bed and rolled up in them so they would be cool enough to sleep.

Arizonians say you won’t mind the heat because it is dry heat. They say this while sipping margaritas at an air-conditioned bar. They know better than to go outside.

In many other areas of the country you can’t go outside in the summer. That’s one advantage New Englanders have on most summer days. The southern states spend more on air conditioning than we do on heat. What kind of life is that to be forced inside all summer?

Then there is the West Coast, possibly the nicest place in all of America. Unfortunately, California is slowly tipping into the Pacific Ocean. It is wracked with earthquakes, fires and either droughts or floods. Oregon puts up with an active volcano.

With all the threats and challenges to human life in the rest of the country, Morison’s New England looks pretty good. We can still spend many days outdoors in the summer. Winter sports and a cozy fire in a fireplace, if we are lucky enough to have one, keep us going.

Still, we face global warming and sea rise, so that even in relatively livable New England we can expect overheated summers, winters too warm to stop the deadly southern bugs, and the Atlantic Ocean lapping at our doors. According to news reports, we might have to build a sea wall at the entrance to Boston Harbor to keep the rising ocean out.

We might get some solace from the fact the Florida, where the governor refuses to recognize climate change, will soon be a shallow salt marsh. But that also means that New Englanders won’t have Florida to flee to if they can’t stand weather or taxes.

We’ll just have to stay here and face the changes. Grist mills, granite quarries and ice seem pretty benign right now.

Reducing your carbon footprint

Let’s pretend. It is 2024. Senate bill 1747, An Act Combating Climate Change, passed the Massachusetts legislature and was signed by the governor in 2017. The bill made Massachusetts a leader in combating carbon emissions.

A couple who lives in downtown Boston spent $419.61 on natural gas fuel for heat and hot water in April of that year. That is about average for them for a month, since during winter they need more heat and, in warmer months, only hot water.

The bill for their fuel, however, is a bit higher. They also pay a carbon fee—$40 for every metric ton of carbon dioxide their fuel emits. In their case, for April, that amount is 1.65 metric tons of carbon dioxide, triggering a fee of $66. So their April bill is actually $485.61. Over 12 months, their household natural gas will emit over 11 metric tons of carbon dioxide, increasing their annual fuel bill by $446. That’s a lot of money for heat and hot water.

The couple doesn’t drive much because they live downtown, so their one car guzzled only 35.8 gallons of gasoline in March. Ordinarily they would have paid $2.41 per gallon at the pump, totaling $86.26. Again, this is about average for them.

But it is year seven after An Act Combating Climate Change passed. So for gasoline that month, they’ll pay an extra fee of 36 cents per gallon or $12.89, calculated at .009 metric tons per gallon, for the carbon dioxide their car emits. Yearly, the fee would cost them approximately $150.

That’s not the end of the story, however. Under this act, each person in their household will receive a rebate of $225. They will still be out of pocket for $146—money they’d like to save.

The obvious place for this couple to save money is not with their car—they don’t use it that much. But their heating and hot water bill is on the high side. They’ll figure out some way to save on heating costs, perhaps insulting pipes or walls, replacing leaky windows, maybe even replacing their furnace for a newer, less polluting one.

The result: not only does the couple save money in the future, but their consumption emits fewer pollutants. That means slowing down global warming. The polar bears survive.

State Sen. Michael Barrett sponsored this legislation after he ran in a contested primary in 2012. When he asked his future constituents what they wanted him to work on it was health care, the economy and climate change. “People were freaked out at the weather,” he said. The same message came from all income groups and every town.

“I wanted to find a game changer,” he said. “A carbon fee would get all of us in the game. It’s the single most effective thing a state government can do.”

How does he know if no state has tried it?

Look at what’s happened in British Columbia, he said. That province’s carbon fee began in 2008, increasing every year until 2012. BC’s fuel consumption per person has dropped by 16 percent, according to The Economist. Using less fossil fuel has not hurt BC’s job growth or its economy, proving wrong Republicans who make such claims in opposing such fees.

Proponents point out some things to consider in this legislation:

* The fee would start small and rise over a period of seven years to give householders time to adjust their practices and usage.

* Households will face a penalty if they use MORE fossil fuels, and they will enjoy a benefit if they use less. This motivates people to change their behavior.

* Low and moderate income families will NOT be burdened, since rebates will typically equal or be greater than the fee they pay.

* A formula will protect residents in rural areas, who must drive more than urbanites, from excessive fees.

* Most economists agree that a carbon fee is the most effective method to cut carbon pollution.

* State Sen. Marc Pacheco has also introduced a bill to put a price on carbon. It would set aside a small percentage of the fee to invest in clean energy.

* A carbon fee has been proposed in both Congress and the US Senate. It didn’t get far. But carbon fee legislation is now under consideration in 12 states or provinces.

* The fee requires no new bureaucracy, regulations or taxes, which could help it gain support from some Republicans, at least those who acknowledge climate change and the role fossil fuels play in the phenomenon.

Several Republicans already have come out in favor of it, including Greg Mankiw, a Harvard economics professor and a George W. Bush advisor. He claims that most economists agree with him.

It may be the cowardly way out—to let Canada experiment with new ideas before we try them. But taking this step with Barrett’s legislation or something like it, seems a good way to motivate all of us to change our behaviors. Stay tuned.

Charlie’s problems

Charlie Baker has intrigued some of my Democratic friends. They worked with him in government or insurance and admire his management acumen.

But he has problems if he expects Democrats to turn tail or Independents to support him. Many of them speak to his character. Let’s name them.

 

Smart enough?

In his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Charlie claimed he was not smart enough to know if climate change was occurring and whether humans had played a role in the change. He now seems to have acknowledged that it is yes on both counts. Why does a candidate who considered himself too dumb to observe the climate changing in 2010 think he is smart enough to run a state in 2014?

 

Karyn Polito. Charlie chose his running mate. It’s too bad some of us remember the unsavory aspects of Ms. Polito.

On social issues important to Massachusetts voters, we can’t predict what she would do if they came to a head.

She has blown hot, then cold on a woman’s right to choose. While Polito seemed to support choice, she says she now regrets sponsoring a bill that would force doctors to present pamphlets on fetal development to women considering an abortion, thus patronizing women and delaying the procedure. This is the deviously named “right to know” law that anti-abortionists promote.

She once was strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. Now? Not so much. It is understandable how persons evolve on this subject, but Polito’s quick switch from foe to friend is suspect.

Then there was license plate-gate, in which Polito acquired low-numbered Red Sox plates for friends and family members, leaving the rest of us with the dregs. Finally, she helped legislate funding for a new state road that was said to increase the value of her family’s adjacent land. Her behavior in these matters smacks of old-style, self-serving Boston politics. It is sleazy in either Democrats or Republicans. If Charlie wants a “state government we can be proud of,” as his web site proclaims, he’s got a problem with Polito.

 

Roads and taxes. Charlie promises not to raise taxes. (Maybe, like Mitt, he will raise fees instead.) He supports the ballot initiative eliminating the automatic gas tax hike. But legislators balk at raising taxes. So if the yes vote wins that one, Charlie will have less money to fix our roads.

That’s too bad, because apparently we have the worst roads in the nation. He’s not going to make Massachusetts great, as he says he will, without good roads.

He’s either pandering or naïve about this matter. I don’t want a governor who is more naïve than I am.

 

Make Massachusetts Great Again. This tag line to Charlie’s campaign is insulting. I thought Massachusetts was already great—prosperous, mostly tolerant, blessed with an educated workforce, good schools and a healthy population compared to other states because it made health insurance obligatory for its citizens long ago.

Charlie knows health care cold, but you wouldn’t know it from the wishy-washy sentences on his web site. He should not be rotely complaining about Obamacare. With his experience, he should be telling President Obama, “Let me help solve some of the problems that linger.” If he is the good guy people say he is, he should be thankful that Americans who needed healthcare are finally getting it.

 

Lastly, for those of us who remember Mitt when he ran for the senate against Ted Kennedy and then became governor in 2003, we have the same question the Bulgarian woman refugee asked Rick about Captain Renault in Casablanca:

 

Will he keep his word? Mitt told us he was pro-choice, not opposed to same-sex marriage. Then he wasn’t. He supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Then he didn’t. In his senate race he rejected the NRA. But those gun-wagglers endorsed his presidential candidacy. He first acknowledged global warming, then disputed it. He helped establish the nation’s best health care plan and then disavowed it when it went national. It’s sad when a person’s core is so mushy.

Mitt pandered to the nut-case wing of the Republican party, which has a habit of turning reasonable candidates into nut-cases themselves. Is Charlie like Mitt?

If he is as able as some people think, Charlie should be able to correct these problems. He might then attract Democrats, who in days of yore, with leaders like Elliot Richardson and Ed Brooke, would have been Republicans. But, so far, his campaign is muddled enough that there is no reason to go over to his side.