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Senator Markey On Climate Agreement: "Durable, Flexible, Fair"

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Senator Edward Markey was among ten United States senators to wrap up their visit to Paris for COP21—a huge international meeting of the minds at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. Earlier this month, Markey wrote, “Paris isn’t the end of the road, all countries individually and collectively will need to do more in the future.”  Finally, after working on climate change for years, Markey witnessed world leaders agree on plans to tackle global warming. The senator joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio.

Margery: For those who are concerned about climate change or climate disruption, tell us why this was a terrific start.

This agreement will foster a truly global solution to global warming, with all of the countries on the planet doing their fair share. It’s going to do what has been needed to catalyze the changes in our energy system that we want, and we want to ensure that we move to a renewable carbon-free energy system by 2050, by the end of this century. This agreement, as a result, is ambitious. It’s durable, it’s flexible, it’s fair. And every five years, the countries will be reviewed to see what they’re doing, in order to make sure that each of them are making progress towards their goal.

Jim: With no enforceable mechanism, why should we believe the 190+ countries will comply?

Because of this review process. China signed up because they knew they could no longer be on the outside looking in, and then that put pressure on India. There was a domino effect that took place. With a five year review in place that ensures that the promises that have been made by each country are actually being achieved, it’s going to put pressure on each of those countries, because the other countries which are complying are going to be very upset, politically, if the false promises of some countries are not being honored.

Margery: The other concern for a lot of people worried about climate change is Republican opposition… Secretary of State John Kerry has said he doesn’t think someone could be elected president in 2016 if you don’t understand climate change. But a Republican might be elected, and most of them are not on board.

Everything the president is doing right now is under existing law. There was a treaty in 1992 that was ratified by the U.S. Senate, that’s what he’s preceding under. The Clean Air Act is the law that he’s been using to increase the fuel economy standards, and to put his utility clean power plant in place. The seminal decision is actually Massachusetts vs. EPA, which is an April 2007 Supreme Court decision, which orders the EPA to act if they determine that greenhouse gases are endangering the health and wellbeing of our state and the whole country. He’s on solid legal ground, but what the Republicans are saying is that they will repeal laws, they’ll take them off the books. That’s why this election is going to be important. Even this week, right now, the Republicans are trying to remove the ban on the exportation of oil out of the United States, which has been in place as a national security issue since 1975—and meanwhile, try to limit the tax breaks for wind and solar, to basically phase them both out. Even as early as this week, we’re already seeing a skirmish on how they will try to undermine the larger long-term goals of moving to a renewable energy future.

Jim: Senator Inhofe, the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, months ago called man’s involvement in climate change a hoax, what leads you to have the optimism that our commitments can survive a Republican majority apparently hell-bent on doing it?

Without question, there are still many deniers, and Senator Inhofe is at the top of that list. But in order to appeal directly, they would need more than 60 votes on the senate floor, and they just do not have those votes. In fact, the polling, nationally, on greenhouse gases as a dangerous climate-changing element, and that it’s caused by human beings is now polling at its highest level ever. The numbers are actually getting better, the clean energy revolution is helping, so I’m not saying there won’t be a battle, there will be. I’m not saying it’s not going to be hard-fought, it will be. again, we’re seeing that, even this week, with the oil industry trying to lift the oil export ban and drilling for even more oil in the United States, but that said and done, it will be very hard for them to take these initiatives off of the books.

Margery: Environmentalist Bill McKibben spoke to us recently, he said we need to keep the pressure on, and he talked about how Exxon, back in the 1970s, realized that climate change was becoming an issue, and could have opted to go toward the clean energy route, and didn’t. You wonder whether there’s any feeling that it might make economic sense to do an about-face on fossil fuels?

I don’t think so. I think that history has shown that they are a fossil fuel industry, that that's their focus. There’s an old saying that it’s hard to understand something when you’re paid not to understand it. They are paid not to understand this renewable energy revolution. You can see some ads on Sunday morning where they take you into their laboratories, and how interested they are in cellulosic fuel, or other technologies, but there’s another old saying, “hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” That’s what those ads are, they have to tip their cap towards the virtue of these alternative technologies, but the reality is, in this big fight, the biggest fight we’re going to have this week, over lifting the exportation of American oil. Even as we still import five million barrels of oil a day from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Iraq, and we still send young men and women over to the middle east to protect those ships coming in, just shows how intent they are on maintaining this fossil fuel agenda for as long as they can.

Jim: If you sat down over a drink with a Republican senate friend and asked them if they really buy the denial of climate change—do you think they’re they just towing the company line? Or do they believe it?

I think they know that the science is clear, I mean, the pope, the Vatican, the college of cardinals named a Jesuit [priest] who taught high school chemistry—he came here and delivered a sermon on the hill, and he said the science is clear, the planet is dangerously warming, humanity is substantially contributing to it, and there is a moral responsibility that [we] have to do something about it. I felt it that day, that many Republicans knew that they had a responsibility, but simultaneously, they know that they could actually draw a primary opponent from the denial community, from the tea party right. That’s a big decision to make, in terms of their own commitments, and I think that’s the single biggest drawback, that the well-funded far right, the Koch brothers, have this capacity to just instill the fear of the voters into the hearts of too many of the senators and house members. The Koch brothers wrote a letter last week to each one of the Republican members of the House and Senate, and here’s what the letter said, “lift the ban on the exportation of oil, it’s in the nature of the free market, it should never be on the books, and secondly, repeal the tax breaks for wind and solar.” That’s not in the nature of the free market, not to mention that the tax breaks for the oil industry are bigger than the tax breaks for wind and solar. That’s the letter they got, and they have to deliberate as politicians as to whether or not they want to buck it, and unfortunately there’s not a substantial number of them willing to do so.

To hear more from Senator Edward Markey's interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.

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