Our Opinion: Republican guv. talks climate change sense


For political observers, the first conceptual hurdle to overcome was the spectacle of a Republican governor appearing in Washington to address the House Committee on Natural Resources as an advocate for federal action on climate change. Republican orthodoxy holds that climate change is either a hoax or that man's activities have had no impact upon it. However, in the case of Massachusetts' Charlie Baker, governor of a progressive state with large stretches of coastline already feeling the effects of extreme weather and sea level rise, that dogma won't hunt.

Gov. Baker spoke before the committee, newly chaired by Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Texas, as part of its first hearing on the topic since 2009, and presented his listeners with a hefty list of recommendations. Probably most important — especially coming from a member of the president's own party — was Gov. Baker's declaration that climate change and its consequences should not be partisan issues; the stakes are simply to high to waste valuable time taking ideological stances that ignore proven scientific evidence. As he told the committee, "We understand the science and know the impacts are real because we are experiencing them firsthand."

In a nod to that science, the committee also heard testimony from Kim Cobb, a paleoclimatologist and oceanographer at Georgia Tech who's a graduate of our very own Pittsfield High School. Based on her studies of the damage done by sea-water warming to coral reefs, she warned that climate change's effects were already being felt across the country and would only worsen.

Even though states like Massachusetts and interstate compacts like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are doing their best to fight this crucial battle, Gov. Baker made it clear that it was the responsibility of the federal government to fund more resilient infrastructure, develop emissions targets that contained some regional elasticity, underwrite research into emissions reduction, find ways to fight climate change's effects and acknowledge the impact on climate change in making planning decisions. Gov. Baker also listed the ambitious initiatives the Bay State has launched, like a requirement that by 2050 state carbon emissions be reduced to 80 percent below 1990 levels. The state also has established a level of clean and renewable energy production that is the envy of its peers.

All this is refreshing coming from a member of the same party as Sens. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky republican, and James Inhofe, the Oklahoma republican, whose state economies rely on fossil fuel production and therefore must turn a blind eye to the environmental degradation resulting from its use. It is also confirmation that at the state and local level, real action is the political driver, not the peddling of self-serving and specious arguments whose goal is to minimize the problem within the national discourse.

Appearances like Gov. Baker's — which help provide a measure of political cover to wavering Republicans in Congress — are critical if the United States is ever going to join the community of nations in doing all it can to combat this existential threat to the future of humanity. As more in his party step forward to acknowledge reality, the chances of science-based policy prevailing in this battle will improve.

"The bottom line," said Ms. Cobb, "is that we are running out of time."

Too much has been wasted already.



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