Commentary: Markey’s leadership on climate sets him apart

Massachusetts voters have a lot on our minds as we approach the Sept. 1 primary and November’s general election: a pandemic, a struggling economy, and racial tension, among other things. But if we are going to take the long view, we should keep one issue, climate change, at the top of our mental list.

Climate change threatens our way of life in Boston and most everywhere else. Along with the harbor moving into low-lying areas, climate change will bring more heat waves, droughts, storms, economic crises, even more pandemics. But climate change also brings us an opportunity. We can use the crisis to reinvent our city, our country, and our economy to reduce the destruction of climate change while creating jobs and a more equitable economy that can lead the world through the 21st century.

The best hope for the United States seizing the opportunity of climate change is the Green New Deal, a package of legislation introduced last year that will, if enacted, transition the United States to 100 percent clean, renewable energy over ten years. This will require massive public infrastructure projects—like Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal—which will generate millions of family-wage, union jobs. The Green New Deal provides for education and job training to help workers prepare for jobs in infrastructure and other areas of the new green economy.

Urban areas like Boston stand to gain the most. The Green New Deal prioritizes both projects and jobs in vulnerable and front-line communities, and we fit both categories. Cities bear a disproportionate burden of pollution from fossil fuels, so they will disproportionately enjoy improvements in health and well-being from less pollution. The Green New Deal promises to “promote justice and equity,” especially for communities of color, migrant communities, the poor, and low-income workers.

The Green New Deal is ambitious, but avoiding the worst of climate change and seizing the opportunities ahead requires us to think big and move fast. President John F. Kennedy’s observation that “there are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction” applies all too well to our climate predicament.

Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, who is running for re-election, is the lead author of the Green New Deal in the US Senate. His decades of experience leading on environmental issues in both houses of Congress and his seniority on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee make him uniquely able to realize the Green New Deal’s promise.

US Rep. Joe Kennedy – President Kennedy’s grand-nephew – is running against Markey in the September 1 primary. He also supports the Green New Deal and would vote for it if elected senator.

The primary race is close. The latest poll by JMC Analytics and Polling found Markey with a slight lead overall, with Kennedy claiming a small— two percent— advantage among those of us who are 55 or older. Most of those in that group were born before President Kennedy’s assassination and are old enough to have been inspired by generations of Kennedy family public service, including the current Rep. Kennedy. We are also old enough that we will not personally experience the worst impacts of climate change.

Our children, grandchildren, and others under 55 are more likely to personally experience the worst of those impacts. They know that “comfortable inaction” – while new senators develop the skills and experience to replace Ed Markey’s leadership – will allow climate change’s destruction to advance inexorably. So, voters under 55 favor Markey by a whopping 17 percent, according to the JMC poll conducted July 29-30.

Markey’s lead among the young and youngish is not decisive in the race, because the older cohort votes more than twice as much, so our priorities carry weight beyond our numbers. Younger voters should, of course, follow our example by voting more and telling their friends to vote. But the elders should follow the example of youth by looking ahead to the world we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.

We may find that the answer to “ask what you can do for your country” is to join the young people in voting for the promise of the Green New Deal and its Senate author on September 1.

Brian Concannon, Jr. is a human rights lawyer and a former columnist for the Reporter.