Editorial: It ain’t Easy Being Green, but You Have to Mean it, Charlie…
Scripture says God gave humanity dominion over the Earth, but not license to irresponsibly exploit it. Quite the opposite, as Pope Francis observed in his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si. “Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations,” the pontiff wrote.
The United States has abandoned this responsibility to future generations and to the Earth herself in Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. It is only this administration’s latest fit of pique against the environment. In the face of this shortsighted pullout, there has been resistance, even from Governor Charlie Baker here in Massachusetts. But that resistance must add up to something.
Friday Baker, a Republican, joined a now-bipartisan alliance of governors—Phil Scott of Vermont is the other Republican on board—promising their states will fulfill its obligation under the Paris accords. This is truly great news. Yet, Democrats that urged Baker’s action and later feted his move cannot let this declaration stand as its own achievement. It must be followed by concrete, perhaps even difficult action.
Readers of this blog know our disillusionment of Baker well. Our expectations were always low, yes, but we believed he really did care and that he would govern competently. The former we still believe, but the latter has long since petered out given constant budget crises, a teetering (non-Boston) economy, and rampant patronage.
But those gripes pale in comparison to the peril our planet faces. Engineering may yet save Boston from the sea—at a cost of billions—but radical weather shifts will strain and buffet the economy, government services and our way of life. In other words, if Baker is sincere about meeting this challenge, this blog is with him.
We don’t doubt his sincerity, though. We doubt his commitment and imagination and fear this is all a greenwash. He promises to meet or exceed the commonwealth’s climate goals for 2030, but on too many other areas of policy he directly or indirectly contradicts this aspiration.
Boston’s roads continue to choke on cars. Two years after he promised to right the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, the agency that runs Boston’s transit network, progress seems glacial. Moreover, he has refused to commit any serious money to the MBTA to improve reliability and capacity. These actions will only push more Bostonians into cars and traffic-strangled streets, you know the ex-cow paths.
And non-Boston transit systems? HA!
At the same time, Baker blocked an engineering study to ascertain how to implement more rail service between Boston and Springfield. If Senator Eric Lesser’s study survives the legislature’s conference committee, it will face Baker again. Should it fall to Baker’s veto pen, expect more jaundiced eyes directed at the governor’s climate hawkishness.
There are broader concerns about the governor’s green credentials. Though hackery is nothing new to the Department of Conservation & Recreation, Baker’s has been stuffed with political hangers-on and riven by scandal. Meanwhile, the years’ long deterioration of the Department of Environmental Protection has not abated under Baker, whittling away the commonwealth’s capacity to care for our slice of the Earth.
Matthew Beaton, who as Baker’s Energy & Environmental Affairs Secretary oversees both DCR and DEP, inspires little confidence he can correct either’s problems.
The governor refuses to raise revenue to properly fund any of the above efforts. Nor has he put forward sufficient development, housing or land use plans that reduce or outright discourage car use or promotes greener living.
Though we credit the governor’s break from his party’s rejection of climate science—unique even among center-right and right-wing parties globally—this belief must accompany action.
Most center-right parties agree w/ "the left" on climate change. Even France's National Front. GOP's an outlier. https://t.co/TrdFpsQDYU
— David Weigel (@daveweigel) June 2, 2017
This is not a partisan concern, either.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, a Democrat, roundly, loudly and rightly condemned Trump’s pullout of the Paris accords. But Walsh, who often bros out with the governor, has not aggressively taken Baker to task on transit whether through polite bully pulpitism or outright castigation.
California and New York state Democratic governors Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo have also pledged to uphold Paris. Both states have made progress, but have more to do.
Brown’s California has made tremendous strides to limit greenhouse gases. Los Angeles is spending billions on new mass transit and high-speed rail linking the Bay Area and SoCal seems inevitable. Both will reduce carbon emissions from cars and planes. But the Golden State will need to do much more. Land use policies must transform radically to discourage driving enough to meet carbon reduction targets. Ths is to say nothing of the changes the state’s massive agricultural sector must undergo to curb its greenhouse gases.
Cuomo, who effectively runs the Greater New York city area’s transit operation, put his shoulder into a timely(ish) completion of the Second Avenue subway. But the subway and bus systems needs billions in upgrade just to maintain current service. Only under pressure did he even respond to the subway crisis and limply so. Meanwhile, ride-sharing services may lure New Yorkers, but belch more carbon into the atmosphere. Upstate? Mass transit options are feebler still.
Back in Massachusetts, Democrats and all environmentally-minded residents can and should praise Baker’s move. But they should also be mindful of the dance he has been performing ever since a freak snowstorm turned him from a lank plurality-win candidate to the most popular governor in America.
A controversial issue arises. Baker shuffles left rhetorically. Democrats and editorial boards cheer. Almost nothing changes.
The stakes here are too great for such political nonsense. There is no dividend to ourselves, our children or Earth for such political expedience. Pressure must be maintained and ratcheted up on Baker (and the legislature) from this point forward.
Notably, Baker was partly responsible for the Big Dig’s (fiscal) engineering. It would be ironic, if we fail to meet this planetary crisis and the now-underground Central Artery ends up literally underwater.