Author: Mike Tidwell and Karla Raettig Published: March 8, 2019 Washington Post
Mike Tidwell is executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Karla Raettig is executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
When it comes to climate change, Maryland is like a fragile ship caught in a big storm. Great swells of rising water buffet the state in the form of sea-level rise. And dark, howling skies keep opening up, triggering 1,000-year floods such as the ones that recently devastated Ellicott City twice in 22 months.
Any rational captain and crew would bail water and steer rapidly to harbor in such a storm. That’s precisely what the Maryland General Assembly is being asked to do right now in Annapolis. How? By joining other states and countries in moving rapidly toward clean energy, thus reducing the source of the storm itself: greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act, now before the Maryland Senate and House, would mandate that 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030. It would create a plan to get to 100 percent clean power by 2040. Large majorities of lawmakers in both chambers have said they will vote for the bill, but a few representatives want to wait. “Let’s take action next year,” they say. “Or the year after that.” Which begs the question: What ship captain, seeing water spilling over the gunwales and into the galley, with rain crashing overhead, tells his crew, “Drop the lines! Let go of the rudder. We’ll steer clear of the storm later”?
A growing body of scientific evidence justifies the nautical image. Last October, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the largest scientific collaboration in human history, announced that the world has barely more than 10 years to cut global greenhouse-gas emissions essentially in half. Failure to do so would commit the entire planet to perpetually rising seas and bigger storms.
A preview of that alarming world is on full display in Annapolis itself right now. Last month, a groundbreaking study by Stanford University researchers showed that, in 2017, downtown merchants in the waterfront capital lost up to $172,000 due to “nuisance flooding.” In short, rising tides linked to climate change keep pushing water up — yes, up — the drains in the City Dock district, flooding a key parking lot and streets, and keeping customers away.
Those same merchants are represented by powerful House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), long a champion on climate action. Several of them sent Busch a letter late last month urging him to set a bold example by pushing Maryland further past fossil fuels. “Our families have less money” because of climate change, they wrote. “Our downtown waterfront is losing its future, and commercial spaces are literally growing vacant with ‘for lease’ signs out front.”
Making matters more urgent is President Trump. His reckless tariffs on solar panels and on steel and aluminum — combined with other factors — are putting solar workers out of business in Maryland. Last year, the state lost 800 solar jobs, according to the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Solar Energy Industries Association. The industry says that, without passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, many hundreds more jobs will be lost in 2019. These are vital crew members on our collective ship, but they are being swept right off the decks. We need to rescue them, grow their numbers and put them to work.
Inevitably, there are those legislators who ignore the economic costs of climate change and instead complain about the cost of clean energy. Thankfully, another Republican administration, that of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, has settled that matter. Hogan’s top environmental agency commissioned recent studies that show the Clean Energy Jobs Act, combined with other reasonable climate policies, would expand employment in the state and grow our economy. Win, win, win.
In Annapolis, 2019 is already shaping up to be a good year for the environment. A bill to ban foam food containers is likely to pass, and so is one that would preserve oyster sanctuaries in the Chesapeake Bay. But with climate scientists shouting alarms from the crow’s nest, it would be shocking if Maryland did nothing more.
There is no other choice. From shopkeepers to solar workers to NASA scientists, the voices of reason keep rising above the storm, urging the General Assembly to take its biggest step yet on climate change: Pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act. And do it now.