MassINC Polling Group Climate Research Launch Event Recap

Getting to net zero in Massachusetts: Energy Secretary Theoharides reacts to new MPG polling on climate

As Governor Baker and the State Senate set their sights on net zero carbon emissions by 2050, policymakers, environmental advocates, and business leaders gathered for the release of The MassINC Polling Group’s latest wave of research on climate change. The research, like previous waves in 2011 and 2014, was made possible by the Barr Foundation, with additional support from the Hyams Foundation.

After an introduction by MPG president and a presentation of the key findings by MPG Research Director Maeve Duggan, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides delivered a keynote address. For her, the high levels of concern found in the research were not a surprise.

“Quite honestly, the poll results are not shocking. I think we’ve recognized the importance the public is putting on these issues here in Massachusetts and also the leadership role that they really want their state and their community to take on this.”

“Getting to net zero means a lot of leadership from Massachusetts,” she said “With these goals, we have to chase emissions in every sector.”

Chasing those emissions, she emphasized, will take new investment. Leaders, both elected and otherwise, will have to make the case for more spending to address climate change. “I think the challenge for all of us is making the case that if you can be part of the solutions and actually design them right, they can be beneficial not just for climate change but also for society and the way we live our lives.”

The poll found that a majority of Massachusetts residents notice the existing public health impacts of climate change and expect those impacts to be aggravated if and when climate change worsens. Theoharides noted she has seen a similar change during the time she has worked on the issue.“When I first started this work in climate change, it was all about nature and wildlife. And maybe that’s just where I was coming from, but I really have seen the conversation shift to, this is really about people and communities and the health of our families, the health of our children, and the future we’re seeing.”

That concern about health was central to the Secretary’s pitch for the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI, a regional compact among Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce carbon emissions from transportation. Theoharides has played a leading role in the effort. “It represents a solution that will not only address climate change but will ultimately improve people’s lives everywhere, particularly on that public health element which is so critical,” she said.”TCI has the potential to provide up to $10 billion in public health benefits. That’s fewer days of missed work, fewer respiratory illnesses.”

The new climate poll found majority support for the core mechanism of TCI — imposing an import fee on gasoline and investing the proceeds in better and cleaner transportation. Another MPG poll found similar levels of support across the 7 largest states in the TCI region.

“The investment that that would enable would be significant: $500 million dollars a year, potentially, in Massachusetts. That would enable clean buses, clean transit, electric vehicle rebates, connectivity, other things that help connectivity in rural communities, including things like high-speed wireless internet so more people can work from home, and electric buses in communities that don’t have those services now.”

Theoharides noted that the impact of these new policies may be softened in the public’s mind by another finding from the poll: that residents expect impacts, either from climate change itself or the efforts to fight it.

But the Secretary also noted there is a silver lining in addressing climate. “This is not all gloom and doom,” she said. “There is a real opportunity to look at this as building something significant together while we deal with a challenge.”

Meet The Authors

Steve Koczela

President, The MassINC Polling Group

Rich Parr

Senior Research Director, The MassINC Polling Group

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