Businesses flood in downtown Boston as others call for a price on carbon
By Maria Virginia Olano
On the first week of the New Year, Boston recorded its highest tide in almost one hundred years, experiencing record flooding and considerable damage. In the wake of a snowstorm that hit on Thursday January 4, ocean waters rose and flooded major parts of downtown Boston and communities along the coast, in the latest display of why climate action is now more crucial and pressing than ever. Massachusetts’ businesses recognize this threat and are calling for action from state leaders to put a price on carbon emissions.
The so-called “Bomb-cyclone” was one of the fastest strengthening winter storms in history, and it comes after a year of unprecedented devastation from hurricanes, fires and extreme weather events. These natural disasters not only have awful humanitarian consequences, but also incur immense costs. We are already dealing with the massive – and rising – costs of climate change. Natural disasters caused $306 billion in total damage in the United States in 2017 alone, making it the most costly disaster year to date. Extreme weather events are only projected to get worse as the climate continues to warm, and last week’s storm provides a glimpse into what the future holds if we continue to avoid significant climate action in terms of emissions reductions.
Tackling the issues associated with climate change is the single greatest humanitarian and economic challenge of our generation. It also however, poses a great opportunity for growth and innovation. Money spent on climate change today is predominantly going towards cleanup and repair efforts. But what if those dollars could instead be spent proactively on protecting our communities and mitigating future worse case scenarios?
Boston businesses are already looking to do just that. By using innovation and leveraging their network, business leaders in Massachusetts are pressing state legislators to pass a carbon pricing policy in the state.
Putting a price on carbon provides economic incentives for businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon emissions and opt for cleaner alternatives, while still allowing for the freedom of choice in how and when to do so. It is a market-based solution to ensure a smooth and business-sound transition to a much-needed low carbon economy. Carbon pricing is a growing trend and has already been adopted internally by companies such as Microsoft, Ben & Jerry’s and Disney. This growing trend demonstrates how future stock valuations and investment will be increasingly tied to a company’s carbon footprint.
There are currently two carbon pricing bills before the MA House and Senate, which have collectively received 79 cosponsors, accounting for about 40 percent of the state legislature. Massachusetts is not alone in pursuing a carbon pricing policy–– bills like these are being considered in states across the country as an economically viable way to address climate change.
As of writing, 97 business leaders signed a letter in support for the bills in Massachusetts, citing the benefits they would provide to local businesses and the state economy. It is an example of how the power of businesses and the economy can be harnessed to create positive environmental change. More importantly, what is happening in Massachusetts is significant proof that environmentally sound policy is not necessarily mutually exclusive with business-friendly laws and economic development.
In fact, an independent analysis estimates that implementing a carbon fee and rebate system is forecasted to create 4,000 to 10,000 new jobs by 2030 (households with modest income levels would see the greatest job gains). Other economic indicators such as disposable personal income and the labor share of state income are also forecasted to rise. Moreover, Massachusetts currently imports all of its natural gas and oil; reducing the consumption of these fuels would also reduce the dollars sent out of state and allow for more capital to be recycled back into the MA economy.
For its low elevation and large swathes of coastline, Boston has been considered one of the most vulnerable U.S. cities to climate change. Both rising sea levels as well as a surge in the number and strength of storms pose a direct threat to the city and surrounding communities. As such, Massachusetts must lead the way in adopting legislation that protects communities and businesses from the impacts of climate change.
Pricing carbon emissions is the most effective way to combat climate change at the state level and has garnered significant business and legislative support. The unprecedented levels of flooding and surge of winter storm strength seen last week is a signal that it is time to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Curbing carbon emissions goes beyond an existential threat to coastal communities; it is in fact a significant opportunity for innovation and economic growth, especially for those who become early adopters of alternative energy sources.
Maria Virginia Olano, Policy and Research Fellow
Maria Virginia is a young professional with experience in non-profit and coalition organizing in the areas of disarmament and human rights. She is currently pursing a Masters degree in Security and Resilience Policy at Northeastern University, where she also completed her undergraduate degree in Political Science. During her time at Northeastern she studied abroad in Japan, India and Saudi Arabia and worked as a journalism intern in Bosnia Herzegovina and Turkey. She is passionate about travel and photography and in her free time loves to watch movies, eat lots of food and read.