- Isn’t Joe Kennedy, the current incumbent in the Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District, good on climate change?
Representative Kennedy is a progressive Democrat and therefore generally supportive of legislation and regulatory action to protect the environment. Unfortunately, humanity has ignored climate change for so long that it is no longer an exaggeration to say that we are living through a “planetary emergency” as James Hansen, the former top climate scientist at NASA, puts it. For example, the last time atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were at levels observed today, sea level was 20 to 30 feet higher. Scientists have concluded that sea level will rise about six feet this century, give or take, and that increases are most likely to be sudden and sporadic rather than smooth and gradual. Other changes in weather due to climate change have become depressingly familiar and more frequent and will only intensify and increase in frequency as the century progresses. Because of this, being “generally supportive of legislation and regulatory action” is no longer adequate if we and our children are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. So, is Representative Kennedy good on climate change? No, not by a long shot. Much more focused and aggressive legislative and behind-the-scenes action is necessary, and that is what Gary will to bring to the Congress.
- Why try to unseat such a popular progressive when we need as many progressives in Congress to counter President Trump and Republicans?
There are many progressives in Congress from around the country ready, willing, and able to fight the excesses of the Trump Administration and the Republican majorities in Congress. What we need at this point in history, in addition, are more climate champions to serve alongside those progressives to build the coalitions our country needs to promote action that helps us, our children, and future generations avoid having to experience the worst effects of climate change. Gary is ready to be one of those climate champions and a strong progressive voice to push back against Trump and Republicans generally.
- Why do you think you have any chance against someone who is so popular (and whose last name is Kennedy)?
Consideration of his chances of success in beating Joe Kennedy did not factor into Gary’s decision to contest the Fourth Congressional House seat in the Democratic primary. Gary is running because of two concerns. One is that he concluded that if he did not run, America would go through yet another election in which the only mention of climate change would be commentary on how little climate change was being mentioned in the election. The other crucial factor was Gary’s concern for his three twenty-something children, all just starting careers or continuing their educations, whose lives will be completely upended by climate change if something is not done immediately. Gary believes that his chances of beating Joe Kennedy in the Democratic primary are better than humanity’s chances of avoiding the worst effects of climate change, absent the kind of focus, drive, and boldness he will bring to the task of making something happen.
- Wouldn’t your time be more effectively spent trying to convince Representative Kennedy of the need to act?
Gary has spent seven years as a volunteer with one of the most successful climate advocacy organizations on earth, Citizens’ Climate Lobby. In ten years, CCL went from nothing to an organization with worldwide reach, volunteers in every Congressional district in the U.S., and chapters in every state. CCL holds more meetings with Members of Congress on the issue on climate change (over 1000 per year) than any other environmental advocacy organization. CCL has been successful in changing the conversation on Capitol Hill to the point where their preferred policy—a steadily rising, revenue-neutral price on greenhouse gas emissions and pollution—is the dominant policy model in the debate of how to address climate change. But still there is reluctance on both the right and the left about embracing solutions commensurate with the scale of the problems we face. Gary feels we have run out of time for educating current legislators and trying to convince them of the need to act and the kinds of solutions we need. As Albert Einstein said, “Our problems cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.” We need bold leaders in positions of power now or even more time will be lost.
- Where are you going to get the money to compete against someone as popular and experienced as Representative Kennedy and with his campaign war chest?
Gary is not a professional politician and his views are not likely to be popular with the people or organizations capable of making the kind of donations that could build his campaign war chest quickly enough to match Joe Kennedy dollar-for-dollar. However, as we have seen in the form of sit-ins at the Governor’s office, pipeline protests, and at hearings of climate-related bills on Beacon Hill, there is strong sentiment among the grassroots environmental community for much stronger action on climate change than current officeholders are comfortable with. Gary is well known to this community and hopes they will join his campaign, seeing it as another high-profile vehicle to use to further advance their agenda.
- What do you think needs to be done to address climate change?
Gary believes that we need to unleash the free market to use the same ingenuity and risk taking that brought us such great advances as the Internet, iPhone, and Tesla, to advance the state-of-the-art in conservation, efficiency, and clean energy. A key observation in how to incentivize the free market to produce the goods and services we need is that when gasoline went to four dollars a gallon in 2008, people and businesses changed their habits. Rising energy prices stimulate investment in conservation, efficiency, and clean energy, so a first best step to take is to follow the example of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and propose a gradually rising fee on fossil fuels with all proceeds returned equally to households. Studies have shown that this type of “revenue-neutral carbon fee” will grow the economy, create jobs, and reduce emissions and premature deaths, all while benefiting the lowest 60% of households by income. Gary believes more will need to be done to reduce the already dangerously elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but his first priority will be to build a bipartisan coalition within Congress to bring revenue-neutral carbon fee legislation to the floor of the House and pass it.
- Why should a carbon fee be revenue neutral?
The purpose of a carbon fee is to increase the price of fossil energy to the point where conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy options are cost competitive with fossil fuels without requiring subsidies or tax breaks. Economists believe it would take a doubling of current fossil fuel costs to achieve this. At double current prices, the carbon fee would generate more than a trillion dollars in revenue per year. This is too much for the government to spend effectively on clean energy projects. If the revenue is not returned to households, the fee (now a tax) would hit poor-, low-, and moderate-income households hardest. In that case, those who contribute least to the problem of climate change would then suffer the most from the solution.
- How do you respond to the main criticism of pricing carbon—that it does not guarantee hitting specific emission reduction targets?
When gasoline went to four dollars a gallon in 2008, people changed their habits. Historically, private investment in clean energy increases when the cost of oil increases and falls when the cost of oil falls. Economists say, “If you want less of something, tax it.” There is no question that use of fossil fuels will diminish as the fee on carbon increases. Well-founded economic analyses put the reduction at 50% over twenty years for the plan proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Gary believes this is an underestimate because of how fast innovation can happen today. If emission reductions are less than expected, additional measures can be implemented. It is also worth considering, however, that the alternative to allowing price to drive reductions is a regime of explicit caps on emissions. The only practical way to enforce caps is through rationing, either explicitly or by also relying on a pricing mechanism using a carbon trading market. Gary believes that a fair, simple, and transparent price on carbon is the preferable path.