Open Letter to the Massachusetts Legislature


Published: 3/6/2020 9:51:10 AM
Modified: 3/6/2020 9:50:57 AM

We need to engage all of our resources in fighting climate change. Many of the necessary actions will be difficult, time-consuming, and costly. However, some strategies are not only effective, but also wonderfully simple and require only the stroke of a pen. This is the case with two bills that are pending in the Massachusetts Legislature, which can be implemented immediately and will not cost taxpayers a dime.

One bill is H.897, sponsored by Rep. Susannah Whipps, which would designate all Massachusetts state conservation land as parks or reserves with protection similar to national parks — where forest ecosystems are guided primarily by natural processes and carbon storage is optimized. The other bill, H.853, sponsored by Rep. Denise Provost, ensures that Massachusetts’ renewable energy subsidies are directed to truly clean energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal, rather than burning wood.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that to limit catastrophic global warming we need to both drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next ten years and draw down the excess CO2 that has built up in the atmosphere. Trees are an important part of both sides of the equation. Put simply, to fight climate change, we need to stop burning trees and let them grow.

On H.897: I have long advocated urgent action to address the climate emergency by cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Equally important is allowing forests to grow back and keeping them standing, because these natural forests absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere — and they do it at an accelerating rate, as they grow older. This is the goal of an extremely important bill in the Massachusetts Legislature, H.897, which would protect 610,000 acres of state lands — encompassing 20% of the state’s forests — as parks or reserves where forest ecosystems are guided primarily by natural processes, much like New York’s Adirondack Preserve or our National Parks. This bill is the cheapest and quickest step the people of Massachusetts can take to maximize the storage of carbon in forests and help to mitigate climate change.

On H.853: One of the biggest climate hoaxes being perpetrated around the world is the concept that burning wood for energy — aka biomass — is carbon neutral. In fact, burning wood fuels, whether to produce heat, electricity, or both, generates far more CO2 emissions than even the dirtiest fossil fuels, not to mention large quantities of fine particulates and other air pollutants that are hazardous to human health.

While in theory, forest regrowth would eventually be able to absorb the carbon released from combustion, it would take decades to over a century to achieve parity with fossil fuel emissions — time that we do not have. Currently the Baker Administration is seeking to expand subsidies for wood burning in Massachusetts’ ratepayer-funded renewable energy programs. It is absurd to use dedicated clean energy funding to subsidize technologies that actually increase CO2 emissions and air pollution.

H.853 would remove biomass eligibility from the state’s Alternative Portfolio Standard, which promotes renewable heating, and should be amended to remove biomass from the Renewable Portfolio Standard for electricity as well. This bill, which would ensure that these programs incentivize truly clean renewable energy, is a no brainer — and it should be acted upon immediately.

I have spent almost all my adult life living in the woods of the Adirondacks and Vermont. This has given the protection of our forests a special significance to me. I hope you have a chance to read two recent articles I have written for The New Yorker and Grist Magazine on the urgency and importance of addressing this issue.

What stands out about these two bills is their simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and practicality. I urge Massachusetts lawmakers to act decisively to pass both bills now, because there is no time to lose.

Bill McKibben is an activist, author, educator and journalist who has written extensively on the impact of global warming. He has written a dozen books about the environment. including his first, The End of Nature. He is a co-founder of submitted this letter to Massachusetts lawmakers in early February as testimony on two bills. Since then, these bills were revised and voted favorably out of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee.


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