Long before global warming began to be recognized as a major threat, we had compelling reasons to end our economic dependence on burning of fossil fuels.
The extraction and the burning of fossil fuels both cause extensive
environmental damage with high human health costs. Competition for scarce
fossil resources has played a role in most of the major conflicts of the
last 100 years.
Yet our dependence on fossil-fuel continues after decades of national talk
about the need to break free. Enormous economic inertia ties us to fossil
Certainly, a long and arduous journey separates us from the environmental
and economic goal of a fossil-free economy. So far, we are still moving
in the wrong direction. Even the European nations that have made strong
commitments to controlling greenhouse emissions have continued to expand
their fossil energy consumption.
The good news is this: Every step towards a fossil-free economy will yield
tangible environmental and economic benefits. And, in the long run, a
fossil-free industrial economy may help dramatically reduce the toll of war:
Instead of a global politics dominated by conflict over scarce resources,
imagine a global politics dominated by collaboration around new technology –
for efficiency and for abundant renewable energy.
There is no one technology and no one policy instrument that will solve the
In fact, we cannot concretely define any portfolio of technologies and
policies that will solve the problem. At this stage, energy economists
can inventory ideas that might add up to progress, but there is a vast
unknown terrain between the ideas and the ultimate goal.
We need to start to move now, knowing that we will need to continue adjust
our strategies as we learn from our failures and receive new information.
In Massachusetts today, we are well positioned to make a first few steps. We
have a Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, who deeply
understands the climate change issue and is committed to making progress.
One of the new Governor’s first actions was, with the support of the
legislature, to combine energy and environmental affairs to create an office
with the ability to lead on climate change. Secretary Bowles has moved
quickly to use his regulatory powers in support of energy efficiency and the
development of renewable energy sources.
We have a Speaker of the House, Sal DiMasi, who has made the passage of a
green energy bill his top legislative priority. He made the first move by
proposing an energy package earlier this year, and he has demonstrated a
strong willingness to listen and to work with the Governor on this issue. A
new draft package that reflects broad input is likely to emerge within the
next few weeks.
The Senate has created a Select Committee on Climate Change under the
leadership of Senator Marc Pacheco, by so doing signaling a clear
willingness to focus on the issue.
With the strong alignment of leadership commitment from the House, the
Senate and the Governor, there is good reason to expect that Massachusetts
will take concrete steps forward on the climate issue before the end of
My own present concern in the process is to advocate for an approach which
speaks strongly to the transportation, land use and building sectors as well
as to the power generation sector. I am also concerned to see us
institutionalize a commitment to continuing policy evolution — the steps we
take in 2008, however bold, will only be first steps.
People who feel concerned about climate and energy issues should continue to
speak out on the issue. It is clear that we face a long journey and that
if we are to be successful, commitment to control climate change must become
as perennial and universal as commitments to make government efficient, to
educate children and to preserve access to affordable health care.