While Massachusetts students have hoped for a few snow days every winter for generations – canceled classes means a chance to play – extreme weather events resulting from climate change have begun to interfere with education worldwide with unsettling frequency. In India, thousands of schools closed recently due to unhealthy levels of air pollution. In California, schools shuttered because of winter blazes of unprecedented size. On the East Coast, we recently remembered the five-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy and the shutdowns it caused.
Study after study and article after article warn of the bleak financial future my generation will inherit. From debilitating student debt to stagnant salaries and a vanishing safety net, millennials are in trouble; human-caused global warming only compounds the problem – potentially costing my generation an additional $8.8 trillion in lifetime income. If no action is taken to reduce carbon pollution, a 21-year-old today could be poorer by $126,000 in their lifetime.
There is no amount of studying or hard work that can prepare millennials for the massive financial burden we will inherit. We must hold the older generations who dominate our political system to their obligation to act on climate change, and act fast.
In Massachusetts, we have the opportunity to take bold action by setting a price on carbon.
There are two bills before the Massachusetts Legislature that aim to put a price on carbon pollution, and they’re now supported by close to half of all the legislators. The bills return most or all of the revenue gained through carbon pricing to consumers and businesses as rebates; the remaining revenue would pay for critical climate mitigation and adaptation programs to minimize pollution and extreme weather events.
Even ignoring the climate and health costs of fossil fuels, we are not paying full price. We subsidize fossil fuels heavily through tax breaks and economic systems that encourage growth in that industry and discourage development of renewables. Massachusetts alone spends $20 billion a year on fossil fuel imports, and reducing reliance on oil and gas will help keep money in the state as well as do our part to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
Accelerating deployment of renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions would also improve Bay Staters’ health. A Harvard School of Public Health study found that the proposed legislation would save nearly $3 billion in health costs for in the state by 2040.
A carbon price will level the playing field in the energy industry and encourage businesses and consumers to transition to renewable energy and adopt more energy-efficient practices, growing the economy and reducing the staggering cost of being young in the age of climate change.
In light of the dismantling of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and other climate change initiatives, state leadership is more critical than ever for climate action.
Massachusetts is a national leader on important issues, including universal health care and marriage equality. For the sake of young people throughout Massachusetts and around the world, we have an obligation to lead the United States in carbon pricing and climate change legislation too.
Claire Halloran is a undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying materials science and engineering. She is a student leader in the MIT Energy Club.