By Michael Schroth
Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey’s April 17 visit surprised a lot of students at Worcester State—including reporters at the Spy—given its short notice. Nonetheless, students and faculty arrived in droves to listen to the senator’s speech as well as ask their own tough questions.
The Democratic senator used most of his time to talk about climate change issues—both globally and locally. He spoke optimistically about reform, calling on WSU students to lead the way.
WSU President Barry Maloney hosted the short discussion, which was attended by approximately 150 students and faculty. Sen. Markey spoke for less than an hour, flanked by Worcester State flags and with student representatives from the March 2019 D.C. Student Leadership Program trip looking on.
The science of climate change is clear, Sen. Markey announced, referencing the work of both United Nations scientists (who called climate change an existential threat to the planet) and US federal agencies. His and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed Green New Deal seeks to act upon those warnings.
According to the senator, the Green New Deal lays out the plan to move toward clean energy sources, like wind and solar, that do not emit greenhouse gases. This plan will create millions of jobs in the roofing, electric, insulation, and automotive industries as the shift to renewable energy gets underway.
“The goal will be to save all of creation with massive job creation,” announced Sen. Markey. “It’s not just a resolution. It’s a revolution.”
The Senate recently rejected the proposal, but Sen. Markey seemed to find victory in getting the conversation started.
“We’ve triggered a debate we haven’t had in this country,” he told listeners during Wednesday’s discussion.
Each of the Democratic candidates for the upcoming 2020 election is going to have to take a stand on the Green New Deal, explained Sen. Markey.
“By the time we reach the end of this year, everyone will have to have a plan,” said Sen. Markey. “I’m quite confident that you’re going to have very well-defined programs on the Democratic side.”
With regard to affecting real, effective, and dramatic change nationwide and across the world, Sen. Markey was hopeful.
“Can we do it? I know we can do it,” announced Sen. Markey. “Failure is not an option. We don’t have any other choice.”
The United States has a “moral responsibility” to combat climate change since it has been a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions for such a long time, said the senator. He called much of the CO2 in the atmosphere “red, white, and blue.”
“Other countries look up to us and ask, ‘What are you going to do?’” explained Sen. Markey.
Sen. Markey, Ocasio-Cortez, proponents of the Green New Deal, and others trying to combat human contributions to climate change face an uphill battle—and not just because scientists warn that humans only have until 2030 to avoid irreversible damage. They also face challenges from Republicans and big oil companies like Exxon Mobil.
“Our message to Republicans is, ‘Where is your plan?’” said the senator, referencing the Green New Deal. He had some fun at Republicans’ expense, joking that they do not believe the science, so ultimately they do not have a plan in place to transition to clean energy.
Sen. Markey was consistently frank when discussing Congressional Republicans.
“One thing is going to separate us on these issues: we are right, and they are wrong,” said Markey to the attendees, eliciting a laugh in response.
The senator sympathized a little with big oil companies. He explained how the move to renewable energy is an existential threat to their business model, just as continued greenhouse gas emissions and climate change is an existential threat to our planet. Ultimately, though, Sen. Markey is calling for “fundamental fairness.”
“[Fuel companies like Exxon Mobil] have had guaranteed tax breaks for a hundred years,” said Sen. Markey. “The same cannot be said about other, newer technologies … They need tax subsidies as well.”
Every time Republicans call for a tax break for their industries, explained Sen. Markey, Democrats will do the same for renewable industries. Eventually, the renewables will win out.
“We’re going to leave their technology in the trash can of history,” declared the senator.
Moving forward with electric vehicles means the gradual decline of gas tax revenue, which could negatively impact how roads get repaired. Sen. Markey seemed unconcerned, however.
“We found revenue sources that were unrelated to gas tax,” Sen. Markey assured listeners. “Repealing the tax break to millionaires and billionaires—that could be one mechanism. They did not need that trillion dollars. We could reclaim that.” He said this in reference to Trump’s sweeping tax cuts passed in 2017.
In terms of technology, Sen. Markey views the fight against climate change as the “same challenge” as the getting to the moon—that is, seemingly impossible. John F. Kennedy called for technology that did not exist in the 1960s, technology that would let mankind do such unheard-of tasks as re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Sen. Markey is confident that people can overcome today’s obstacles just as we did in the 1960s.
He referenced the development of smartphones to make his point. They used to be the size of a brick, analog (instead of digital), and very slow. And the telecommunications monopolies were just fine with keeping it that way. It was not until regulations broke down those monopolies and let the younger generations invent and create amazing new technologies that things changed.
According to the senator, that’s why the driving force on climate will be young people, or the “Green Generation.”
“We need the Green Generation to rise up politically on these issues, to make a relevant, potent part of the political dialogue which we have in our country,” said Sen. Markey.
Sen. Markey talked briefly about several other topics, including Title IX, which is one of the advocacy topics chosen by this year’s D.C. leadership delegation.
“Look how far we’ve come,” said the senator. “And look at how far we have to go … You need laws to give people the courage to come forward. A lot of people aren’t sure they have the protections, the legal right to stand up … both men and women.”
Food insecurity locally and nationally was another topic that was discussed. About 50 percent of students in community college, and one third of students at public, four-year colleges are food insecure. He referenced food banks and pantries, like Thea’s Pantry, which just opened this semester on campus. Sen. Markey explained that we need to do better than that, though.
“Having [a food bank or pantry] is merely a band-aid, not a sufficient long-term solution,” Sen. Markey told the crowd.
The College Student Hunger Act, which Sen. Markey plans to reintroduce, provides grants to colleges to tackle food insecurity with innovation: ideas like donating or sharing meal swipes, assisting students with SNAP paperwork, and letting students use EBT cards on campus are all on the table.
The senator also addressed the astronomical price of college, mentioning high interest rates on students’ loans.
“The promise of a college education shouldn’t be accompanied with the hopelessness of overwhelming debt,” asserted Sen. Markey. “I pledge to you, I’m going to work hard to make the lives of our college students more secure.”
One student asked about the senator’s views on abortion. Sen. Markey said he leaves the decision up to the woman and her physician.
“I don’t think that, as a politician, I should be making the decision for her,” said Sen. Markey. That earned him the loudest applause of the afternoon.
The senator called upon all of the students in attendance to be involved in changing the world.
“This is real. We can make it happen,” Sen. Markey told the attendees. “Every one of your majors is relevant to the solutions needed for our planet …. The leadership has to come from here, and it has to come from young people, and it has to come now.”
Tyanna McCaulsky, a 19-year-old WSU student, felt like the topics of the senator’s discussion were relevant to her.
“It is always nice to learn new things,” said McCaulsky. “I figured the topics he was touching base with have a lot to do with my everyday life living here on campus.”
Students like Tyanna will lead the way, said Sen. Markey. It starts with organizing right on campus.
“Involve yourself in the politics of Massachusetts,” advised Sen. Markey. “Drive the change here. We’re the leading state in the country, so how do we get even better—dramatically better—than we already are?”