Off the coast of New England, warming waters may have led to the collapse of the cod fishery that gave Cape Cod its name. In our daily lives, however, the effects of climate change have been harder to notice. The average temperature and precipitation patterns have changed even here in Massachusetts, but such shifts are masked by day to day and yearly variations. To change that perception, and to build support for carbon pricing, several student organizations from local colleges and universities hosted a viewing of the episode “Priceless” of National Geographic’s “Years of Living Dangerously” (season 1 is available here) and an expert panel discussion afterwards.
Tufts Climate Action, Emerson Eco-Reps, Fossil Free MIT, DivestNU and the Boston University Environmental Student Organization organized the event as part of the #PutAPriceOnIt campaign.
The episode looked at places where the effects of climate change have been far more dramatic than what we’ve seen in Massachusetts, so far.
In the mountains of California, the pika, this adorable little creature:
may go extinct. They overheat easily, and as warming has made the lower reaches increasingly uninhabitable, they’ve fled to higher and higher elevations. But the mountains are only so tall, and if the temperature continues to rise, they will soon have nowhere left to go and will die out. They’ve already lost more than a third of their habitat in Nevada and Oregon. Other animals living in these sky islands are similarly threatened.
Kenya’s Ambroseli National Park endured a terrible drought from 2006 to 2009, one of the worst in generations. Hundreds of elephants starved to death, including 200 babies and at least 60 of the matriarchs. The population declined by more than 20%. In the words of one of the park staff, “There was dust and nothing else.”
The drought also triggered an increase in poaching. Some farmers killed elephants to protect their crops. The hungry elephants, in their desperate search for food, encroached on nearby farms, eating and trampling on produce. Other farmers turned to the ivory trade to replace their drought-stricken livelihoods.
The Masai people are traditionally dependent on cows, but as the climate has dried, many have shifted from a nomadic lifestyle to farming. They have had little choice: during the drought, some lost 90% of their livestock. This has led to increasing conflict between farmers and wildlife, as farmers’ fences block the migration routes of many large mammals. African elephants, hippos, and many other species are at risk of extinction if nothing is done to prevent it.
Such droughts will become increasingly common as the climate changes. Rainfall in Ambroseli has declined by 29% over the past century. California, too, has just begun recovering from a 5-year long drought that left lakes and reservoirs at their lowest levels in decades. This drought followed on the heels of another drought from 2007 to 2009. Over the past decade, California has had more dry years than normal years. That is not sustainable for a state with a large population (which also happens to grow most of the fruits and vegetables produced in the US).
The damage caused by climate change is no longer hypothetical, it is ongoing. Urgent action has been needed for decades now. But until recently, the lack of something visible to point to, something that connected to our daily lives, made it easy to push action to the future, to discount the risks and argue that any steps to fight it were just too expensive. That time is over.
We must establish carbon pricing here in Massachusetts. Carbon pricing helps people reduce their carbon emissions by adding a tax on the consumption of fossil fuels, in proportion to how much carbon is emitted from burning them. This discourages the use of carbon-heavy fuels such as coal and encourages cleaner sources such as biofuels, solar, and wind. The proposed legislation offsets the added cost by giving a rebate back to consumers and businesses.
A similar law has been quite successful in Vancouver-carbon emissions dropped by 15%, while the economy continued to thrive. Because of its success, Canada is considering carbon pricing for the entire country. Even fossil fuel companies have come out in favor of carbon taxes, perhaps, as one of the panelists speculated, because a tax would be simpler for them to implement than other potential regulations to address climate change. When even fossil fuel companies are on board, and when it has already been successfully implemented in other places, there really is no good reason not to put a price on carbon here in Massachusetts.
To make this happen, we must make it clear to our elected officials that we support strong steps to combat climate change. There are three chances to do this coming up very soon: the March for Science is happening on April 22, and the People’s Climate March happens a week later, on April 29. Both marches will take place in Washington D.C. and many other locations around the country, including Boston. After you're done marching, you can take the message directly to your legislators during Progressive Mass's Lobby Day, on May 3.
Now is the time to put a price on carbon. Now is the time to march. After all, as Obama once noted, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”