As the UN climate conference in Bonn, where the US government shilled for fossil-fuel corporations, was coming to a close last Thursday, several hundred Massachusetts citizens who care about climate and climate justice massed inside the State House at high noon, under the shining gold dome on Boston’s Beacon Hill. It was the peak of a months-long grassroots campaign asking the commonwealth’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, to sign an executive order preventing any new fossil-fuel infrastructure in the state, including controversial fracked-gas pipelines that have been a flashpoint for years.
I was among the 26 of us, including prominent clergy members, who proceeded up the grand staircase to Baker’s executive suite, a noisy throng of supporters at our backs, where we would sit-in all day and into the night, prepared to be arrested and go to jail. The week before, six people sat-in inside the office, but this time we were prevented by State Troopers from entering the suite, so we settled in on the hard floor of the ornate marble hallway outside its doors. We sang, we chanted, we spoke out; some of us prayed; some wept. You see, after two months during which ordinary citizens stood outside Baker’s office, week after week, we had not received even a minute of the governor’s time.
Back in January, as Donald Trump took office, I and others addressed a crowd on the State House steps, challenging Baker to reject Trump, Tillerson, and the rest of Trump’s science-denying cabinet, and to represent Massachusetts voters by showing some moral courage on climate change. That wasn’t going to happen. Although Baker, a moderate GOP governor of an otherwise blue state, eventually reassured voters that he accepts climate science and even joined those supporting the US commitment under the Paris Agreement—a pledge so manifestly inadequate as to be almost meaningless—he nevertheless remains in the pocket of the fossil-fuel lobby and big utilities pushing for unnecessary new pipelines and gas-fired power plants.
Now, there’s a wonkish temptation to get deep into the policy weeds on gas and electricity—a temptation that should be resisted. Because on this one, the facts are straightforward. Anyone who claims to accept climate science and to take climate seriously simply cannot support building out new fossil-fuel infrastructure at this late date, locking in carbon and methane emissions for decades to come, far beyond the point at which the IPCC tells us, and the Paris Agreement affirms, we must decarbonize our energy systems. It’s an emergency situation, and at some point—as we should have long ago—we need to act like it.