A Prescription for a Better Transportation System for Massachusetts – and Why it Should Matter to Climate Hawks

Seth Kaplan

There is an epidemic of truth telling underway, globally, nationally and in Massachusetts.  And as hard as some of that truth is to hear it is a very healthy and important exercise.

On the global level the business and political leadership is finally waking up to the deep and systemic threat of a changing climate.  The 2013 Global Risks Assesment from the World Economic Forum describes how business and political leaders see climate risk as the only thing competing with “risk of financial collapse” as the biggest threat facing the world economy:

respondents also identified the failure of climate change adaptation and rising greenhouse gas emissions as among those global risks considered to be the most likely to materialize within a decade. Compared to last year’s survey, the failure to adapt to climate change replaced rising greenhouse gas emissions as the most systemically critical. This change in our data mirrors a wider shift in the conversation on the environment from the question of whether our climate is changing to the questions of “by how much” and “how quickly”.

Meanwhile back in America, the experts preparing the National Climate Impacts Assessment dropped a terrifying draft report on the government and the internet, seeking public comment. That report, summarized in a “Letter to the American People,” described how the changing climate is already visible:

Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of  extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between.

 The report then goes on to lay out in excruciating detail the impacts of global warming that have been observed and are anticipated by very solid science – laying out the facts in over a thousand pages of text (147 MB PDF) and 32 alarming charts and graphs.

So what does all this have to do with transportation infrastructure, and paying for it through taxes, in Massachusetts?

It matters because the transportation sector is the second largest (or largest depending on what definition of “sector” you use), and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. If the Bay State is going to meet the mandate of the Global Warming Solutions Act and live up to its Clean Energy and Climate Plan we will need to invest in a modern and effective transportation system.  The Governor and his Department of Transportation have laid out the formidable challenge of updating a chronically underfunded and neglected system to meet these challenges in a startling clear and powerful document titled, “The Way Forward: A 21st-Century Transportation Plan”.

The job of solving our transportation infrastructure crisis brings together a powerful coalition.  Citizens who just want a transportation system that will let them lives,  the business community who are shouting from the front page of the newspaper about how the weaknesses in our transportation system are undermining our economy and need to be addressed through investment and Climate Hawks who want Massachusetts to again lead the nation and the world.  Leading, as it did at the time of the American Revolution and as it did as the cradle of the movement to abolish slavery, both through our words and thoughts but also lead by example by building a better Commonwealth with the clean and climate-protective transportation system of the future.

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