Saturday 24 March 2018

Monday Interview: They thought I was off my rocker on climate change

Massachusetts Senator Marc Pacheco calls it a national security issue, writes Paul Melia

Massachusetts Senator Marc Pacheco during his visit to Ireland
Massachusetts Senator Marc Pacheco during his visit to Ireland
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

For Massachusetts State Senator Marc Pacheco, tackling climate change is not just about protecting the environment - it's also a national security issue.

But even if US President Donald Trump follows through on his threat to pull one of the world's largest emitters out of the Paris climate accord, it will not scupper actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Democrat senator says.

"Everybody looks at national policies through the federal agenda, but it is not necessarily always the case," he says. "There's a lot of energy and support for a green energy future in the US at the state level. Regulatory actions at the state level, and laws at the state level, represent over 200 million people in America.

"We've come a long way. It started out many years ago with a number of state leaders like myself and others who were told we were off our rocker in trying to go down this road, at a time when climate issues were not seen as real at all.

"We're still unsure on what he's [Trump] going to do on a range of issues, but I would hope the administration would see the benefit of staying in the Paris agreement.

"Climate change is the number one issue facing us internationally. You have to look at terrorism and other issues affecting the world, but climate change is also a national security issue.

"We've seen climate refugees and other issues which impact. The Department of Defence has been in support of the climate accord. That's why recommendations have come from national leaders to the Trump White House to stay in the accord, and to continue forward with the work the US has been doing in this regard."

An Al Gore climate leader and founding chair of the Massachusetts State Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, the senator was in Dublin to speak at the launch of the GreenGasCert research project.

This aims to develop quality standards for renewable or green gas, produced by food wastes and other materials, and which will comprise 20pc of all natural gas used in Ireland by 2030, under ambitious plans from Gas Networks Ireland.

Massachusetts is on the same track, Mr Pacheco says. "We took all commercial food waste in the commonwealth and banned disposal in landfill which has created a market for anaerobic digestion (the process used to produce green gas). Otherwise it's just creating waste emissions.

"Our law brings down greenhouse gas emissions by 80pc by 2050, with interim targets in between, and we are looking at any energy source to meet those standards."

There has been notable successes. In Massachusetts, some 6,700 businesses are in the green economy, and it's a $11.8bn (€10.8bn) industry. The commonwealth is a long-standing leader in energy efficiency and roll-out of solar and wind, and emissions are falling while the economy grows.

He says there is enormous potential for job creation across the clean tech sector.

"The economy has changed. There was 6pc growth in the clean tech sector in Massachusetts last year. There's well over 105,000 private sector jobs created since 2008," he said.

"We just passed offshore wind procurement legislation, and we're looking at hydroelectricity. That will create thousands of jobs. This is no longer a pipe dream. It's real and happening."

Part of the reason is the drive from business.

"The market trends have already begun to shift in the US and internationally. The investors and venture funds have started to move a growing piece of the investment portfolio into renewables," he said.

"Those smart investors are seeing the significant liabilities in terms of the old technologies, including health risks. You're seeing support from leaders in the private sector, coming forward and saying they want to be part of a set of solutions.

"We have something now which is economically the better option in the long term."

Nationally, renewable energy standards or targets are in place across 37 of the 50 states.

There are no policies in those with an abundance of fossil fuels such as Alaska and Texas (oil and gas) and Wyoming (coal), because citizens will not benefit from moving to renewables, and so their politicians don't push for change.

But politics is changing, with most new members of the state senate now committed to a clean energy future.

"It might not be from an environmental perspective, but from a public health one. We're starting to see people becoming concerned because there's places along the coast where you cannot get a property insured," he said.

"The insurance industry was not founded to be taking a bet against certainty. Now that we are seeing more and more extreme weather events, it is becoming unpredictable for that sector of the economy.

"To try to stop the worst effects [of climate change] we need to muster the political will to stay the course, and put in place clean energy policies for the future.

"We're in a very different place today than 10 years ago. Emissions are going down. We've seen quite a lot of innovation in the private sector. And with the public we're in a better place to win the argument, because the jobs we said would be created have been created."

Irish Independent

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