Frequently Asked Questions

FOSSIL FUELS AND THE CLIMATE CRISIS

What’s the problem with fossil fuels?

Coal, oil, and gas– the three energy sources considered “fossil fuels”– are a serious threat to our society. Burning fossil fuels causes global warming, with potentially catastrophic effects for people around the globe. The communities near oil refineries, oil/gas wells, coal mines, powerplants, and railroads or pipelines that transport fossil fuels are burdened with serious health impacts and safety threats.

How do fossil fuels make people sick?

In Massachusetts, burning fossil fuels pollutes our air and water. The pollution from just one of our coal plants– the Brayton Point plant in Somerset, MA– leads to hundreds of illnesses and dozens of deaths each year. Oil combustion from cars and buses worsens asthma and respiratory illness in Massachusetts communities like Roxbury.

Outside of Massachusetts, the communities near sites of the extraction of our fossil fuels also face high levels of pollution and illness. Chemicals used in natural gas “fracking” (a particular technique for extracting hard-to-reach gas deposits) are known dangers to human health, and communities near new fracking wells have reported sudden die-offs among livestock and a rise in strange illnesses. Tar sands oil extraction has released chemicals that threaten healthy child development into local water supplies and led to high rates of rare cancers in downstream communities . The health threats posed by mountaintop removal coal mining are so severe that the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has called for an investigation of human rights abuses by coal companies in Appalachia.

The transportation of fossil fuels poses other significant threats to the safety of communities, including those in Massachusetts. When a gas pipeline exploded in Springfield, MA in 2012, it was “a miracle” that no one died. Explosions from railroad oil shipments have also taken dozens of lives.

In addition, the distribution of the sickness that results from fossil fuel use is extremely troubling– the burden tends to land on poor communities, recent immigrants, and communities of color. Tar sands oil extraction companies regularly infringe on Native treaty rights and destroy indigenous ways of life. Our society’s addiction to fossil fuels is thus making racial and economic inequality worse.

What is the climate crisis?

Since the rise of industrial society, humans have been busy burning fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) and cutting down forests– and, in the process, releasing heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The increase in these gases has led to a rapid rise in global temperatures (check out the resources listed at the bottom of this page for more climate science).

The resulting global warming poses a serious threat to human life and society. With warmer oceans and melting ice, rising sea levels will force millions of people to leave their homes in coastal cities around the world. Changing weather patterns will threaten water supplies and disrupt our ability to farm, leading to higher food prices and political instability.

What does the climate crisis mean for Massachusetts?

Massachusetts residents will feel ripple effects from the broader geopolitical trends mentioned above, but climate change will also directly impact our economy and health. Flooding from sea level rise threatens $463 billion worth of assets in Boston alone, never mind our many other coastal communities. Our fishing industry will be crippled by the disappearance of lobster and cod from regions along our coast as the oceans warm and acidify. With changing weather patterns, farmers will see lower yields at harvest while certain key crops, like cranberries, may entirely fail. Summer heat waves will worsen air quality in our cities, making asthma attacks more dangerous, and threaten our water reservoirs. As Massachusetts becomes a more favorable climate for mosquitoes, we will face more infectious diseases like Dengue fever, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease.

Why is the climate crisis so urgent?

According to the International Energy Agency, we are building new fossil fuel infrastructure so quickly that we will be “locked” into consuming our global carbon budget by 2017. If we consume beyond that carbon budget, we will surpass 2C warming and head towards potentially catastrophic impacts.

We must turn the tide on fossil fuels in the next three years– there is very little time to waste.

 



 

SOLUTIONS

So, what can we do about all of this?

We need to immediately set out to meet all our energy demand from renewables, energy efficiency, and conservation efforts from this point forwards. We should quickly phase out the worst polluters like coal, fracked gas, and tar sands oil. We should stop letting polluters freeload their damage onto society, and make low-carbon lifestyles affordable by fixing the market signals.

How will we get our electricity without fossil fuels?

We don’t need to use energy sources that cause climate change and make people sick– there are proven alternatives.

In Massachusetts, we can start by building more renewable energy projects. We should use the sunshine hitting our rooftops to heat our water and produce electricity, and build more wind turbines in the places where this is feasible. We also need to weatherize our homes and increase energy efficiency standards for our buildings and appliances to decrease overall energy use.

We also need to import clean electricity from nearby states like Maine and New York that have more space to build large wind farms.This will mean putting hundreds of Massachusetts residents to work upgrading our transmission lines.

What does this mean for workers and the economy?

The clean energy industry represents 2% of the Massachusetts workforce– that’s nearly 80,000 workers! Clean energy jobs grew by 11.8% last year, and are expected to continue growing at similarly impressive rates. Governor Patrick’s choice to adopt the Climate Legacy platform would only accelerate these positive trends.

Our economy will also be stronger without fossil fuels because MA residents will be healthier. With cleaner air, we’ll have less asthma, respiratory illnesses, and heart attacks as well as fewer emergency room visits.

 



 

CLIMATE LEGACY CAMPAIGN

How does Governor Patrick have the authority to take these steps without approval from the legislature?

The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008 set mandatory emissions reduction goals for Massachusetts, including an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 (compared to our 1990 levels). The state’s Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020 predicted that our electricity grid will need to be 80-100% renewable electricity by 2050 in order to meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets. So, according to the GWSA, Governor Patrick has the authority to take whatever action necessary to move Massachusetts to a fully clean electricity grid and thereby meet our emissions reductions targets.

 



 

ORGANIZATIONS AND PARTNERSHIPS

The Governor’s Climate Legacy Campaign is run by 350 Massachusetts and Better Future Project.

The following organizations have endorsed our campaign goals: