Commentary: Now is the right time for our legislators to act on climate change

The COVID-19 epidemic has raised a multitude of questions regarding the future of public life and the built environment. Much of this focus has been on social distancing, public transportation usage, and economic survival. The concerns raised by COVID-19 are not unique to this disease, and this will not be the last pandemic that many of us will face.

According to the 2016 “Health and Climate Assessment” by the US Global Change Research Program, climate change has the potential to negatively affect human health in a myriad of ways. Decreased air quality can worsen asthma and harm our bodies’ abilities to fight off respiratory infections. Climate change and pollution are also expected to decrease our access to both safe drinking and recreational water. Environmental destruction may also cause an increase in animal borne disease like COVID-19.

The 2003 paper “The Relationship of Urban Design to Human Health and Condition,” by Laura Jackson, details how Lyme Disease, a disease formerly localized to our region of the US, has become one of the most common vector-borne diseases across our nation. As humans destroy ecosystems for natural resources and suburban sprawl, animals find themselves living in closer proximity to the built environment.

Although infectious disease rates are also dependent on a multitude of factors, climate change and further environmental fragmentation have the potential to create new health crises. It is vital that we continue our efforts in slowing and stopping the infections of the current pandemic, but we must not forget about protecting our environment.  

Currently, there is a bill in the Massachusetts House of Representatives proposed by Representatives Marjorie Decker (D-25th Middlesex) and Sean Garballey (D-23rd Middlesex) to drastically reduce the state’s emissions of greenhouse gases. An Act Repowering Massachusetts pledges to transition our state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Not only will this reduce our contribution to the global greenhouse footprint, but it will also revitalize our communities and economy. The bill pledges to create jobs in the renewable energy sector and provide displaced workers and environmental justice community members the training for new middle-class jobs in the renewable energy sector.

Through careful analysis and budget tracking, the bill offers plans to identify revenue generating renewable energy projects that will fund at least $5 million in workforce development programs at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

The reinvestment in public transit will create good jobs while allowing us to discontinue the trend of suburban sprawl and our reliance on cars. By creating net-zero emission buildings, reinvesting in clean public transit, and making Massachusetts a leader in renewable energy, not only will we be taking action against climate change, but we will also be healing our economy in the post-COVID-19 economic downturn as well.

We are calling upon our elected officials, especially those on the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, to support this bill and to stand for roll call when it is voted on during the current legislative session. As the 191st session of the Great and General Court draws to a close and as our state continues to mitigate the damages of COVID-19, it is more important than ever for our legislators to act on climate change.

Cynthia Nelson is involved at UMass Boston with the Sunrise Movement, a youth-driven organization that aims to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.