We pay a lot of lip service to young people in politics. Politicians and elected officials are prone to talking about how much youth inspire us, how they’re the future for our state and our country. Meanwhile, we tune out those same young people when they ask us to take bold action.
Young people are begging us not to hand them a planet on fire, and they have been for years. My eight-year-old daughter talks to me about climate change more than any other issue. As I campaign for governor and meet people at backyard events across the state, it’s the high schoolers who raise their hands and ask me the tough questions about how fast and hard my administration will go on climate change.
They see clearly the facts all around them: record-breaking heat and rainfall, and more damaging storms than ever before. Sea level rises that will put their communities under water, and the fact that our lower-income communities and communities of color will face the worst effects. Our state has the third-highest number of affordable housing units at risk of coastal flooding in the country. Climate change is not just coming, it’s already here. Without immediate action, this crisis will only deepen.
As both a mother and a policymaker who’s waxed poetic about the importance of our young people, I refuse to accept that future for our kids and our state. That’s why I worked with young people, experts and advocates to write the plan for a Massachusetts Green New Deal — a concrete, research-backed approach to win the fight against climate change, promote environmental justice and create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs across our state in the new green energy economy.
When you’re stuck in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging. That’s why, under my plan, Massachusetts will stop the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure and turn our attention to rapidly expanding the clean energy sector.
We will establish a 100% renewable, carbon-free electric grid by 2030 — by harnessing the power of renewable energy sources that are sitting right in front of us. Offshore wind, all on its own, could generate more than 19 times as much electricity as our state currently consumes each year. We will also eliminate carbon emissions from new buildings by the end of the decade by making them more efficient and implementing renewable heating technologies, and we can do the same for existing buildings by 2045.
We’ve also known for years that transportation is one of the top sources of carbon emissions, so we will expand and electrify mass transit across the state, and make the MBTA and regional buses fare-free, to drastically reduce carbon emissions.
Accomplishing all of this, of course, will require transformational change across our energy, transportation, construction and business sectors. This presents huge economic opportunities for Massachusetts workers and entrepreneurs — from installing solar panels, building wind turbines and retrofitting buildings to the sales, planning, finance and numerous other jobs that ensure green projects are designed, funded, implemented and paid for. We must also ensure working families and communities of color are at the front of the line for these opportunities.
Some say that achieving this transition will be hard, maybe even “impossible.” But that's what they said to me and thousands of parents and teachers when we fought for the most progressive K-12 education system in the country. That’s also what they said to me and communities of color across the state when we fought for comprehensive criminal justice reform. Now those things are the law and they're already making a real difference in Bay Staters’ lives.
When it comes to winning the fight against climate change, the reality is that we aren’t limited by natural resources, technology or public opinion in Massachusetts. Our biggest obstacle? A lack of urgency from elected and appointed leaders to take action when it’s uncomfortable, including bucking the interests of the fossil fuel industry, in order to forge a new future for our state.
Today, Massachusetts continues to incentivize the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure with ratepayer dollars, while we slow-walk renewable energy adoption. And our most promising efforts to transition away from fossil fuels, like the recently imperiled TCI compact and Canadian hydro-power project, have failed because they staked our energy future on the decisions of other states and countries around us.
We can determine our own future here in Massachusetts, but we must act with urgency. We must use every tool at our disposal — to both hasten our arrival at a carbon-zero economy and to create prosperity in the communities most threatened by climate change.
Sonia Chang-Díaz is the first Latina and first Asian-American elected to the Massachusetts State Senate, and she is currently seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.