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Opinion | Deb Pasternak

Charlie Baker, Marty Walsh, and Robert DeLeo need to move on climate change

Cars in Winthrop are stranded during a storm in March.Aram Boghosian/The Boston Globe

Arguably the most fundamental mission of government is to keep people safe. And on that metric, too many of our local elected officials are not taking the necessary steps to protect us.

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that if global warming is not limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, tens of millions of people will experience food insecurity, drought, disease, heat waves, wildfires, and extreme storms. Here in the Northeast, warming is occurring faster than the global average, resulting in heavier rainfalls. We can also expect to see more drought, hotter summers, and more frequent and extreme storms, as we saw last winter.


Governor Charlie Baker has claimed that climate change would be his top priority in the coming legislative session. Yet the governor still supports imposing a $6 billion pipeline tax on ratepayers to pay for a massive new fracked-gas pipeline, which would increase our state’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh claims to be a leader on climate change yet has dragged his feet on implementing community choice energy, which would boost the amount of renewable energy in Boston’s electricity contracts. The mayor has committed to reducing Boston’s carbon footprint 25 percent by 2020, yet Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising, and the Walsh administration is planning more than 70 million square feet of new buildings that will be powered by fracked gas. Developers are subject to only a voluntary — not mandatory — climate resiliency checklist, and the mayor is still encouraging development in historic floodplains such as Widett Circle.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo told a packed room at a Boston College climate change symposium in June how shocked he was at the storms battling Winthrop last winter, with flooding occurring where it never had before, yet the House he rules significantly weakened the clean energy bill passed by the Massachusetts Senate.


Two MIT graduates were so fed up with the speaker’s lack of leadership that they gathered enough signatures to place a nonbinding question on the ballot in Winthrop and Revere ordering the “state rep. from this district” to support creating a road map to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The measure was passed by a majority of voters in DeLeo’s district, with 73.4 percent voting yes and 26.6 percent voting no. The speaker’s disinterest in climate change is all the more remarkable considering that Winthrop, his hometown, is the most vulnerable community in the entire Commonwealth to sea level rise.

If Baker wants to demonstrate he is serious about climate change, he will give up the ghost on new fracked-gas pipelines, and double down on renewable energy, which not only protects public health but creates good-paying local jobs, and keeps energy dollars here at home.

If Walsh wants to protect those who live and work in or visit Boston, he should take aggressive action to wean the city off fossil fuels. And he should put in calls to DeLeo and every state representative who represents Boston to demand they pass legislation that protects Boston and the other 350 cities and towns in Massachusetts.

And we will see soon enough if DeLeo is ready to get serious about climate change by who he appoints to be the new Ways and Means chair. If he appoints someone who supports a clean energy mandate of 50 percent clean energy by 2030; removing caps on solar net metering that have caused solar jobs to decline over 20 percent within a year; and forcing gas companies to repair the thousands of dangerous and polluting gas leaks in virtually every community in the Commonwealth, we will know that he understands the gravity of our situation and plans to make Massachusetts a climate leader yet again.


Deb Pasternak is interim chapter director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club.