Addiction is a curse that harms innumerable families and I, like many others, have lost loved ones to it. In my case, the loved ones I lost were taken by tobacco. When I saw the impacts of tobacco addiction firsthand, I vowed to honor those who had gone before me by never becoming addicted to such a deadly substance. Little did I know that, before I had even said those words, I was already an addict.
I am addicted to fossil fuels, and I am definitely not alone in the United States. Only recently did I realize the significant similarities between climate change and addiction, tobacco addiction in particular. Not only were the same doubt-mongering tactics used by private interests to convince the public that both tobacco and fossil fuels weren’t necessarily harmful, but our relationship to both products also became one of addiction through the process.
Our collective addiction is harming not just ourselves but all life on Earth. Luckily, my message to you today is one of hope, not of sadness. I think that we as a society can use the tried and true methods that the United States used to fight tobacco in our current fight against climate change.
Currently, the main methods that our government uses to prevent tobacco addiction are to tax it heavily, require health warnings on the packaging, and to prevent people under a certain age from buying such products. As a result, awareness of the harm that comes from tobacco usage is widespread, and usage has decreased significantly from the past. However, some people do still smoke, dip, and chew tobacco, so those measures alone were clearly not enough to eradicate the problem.
We citizens need to work with our government, and our government needs to work with us, in order to bring about strong legislative action on climate change. Just like with tobacco, a price on carbon would, alongside health warnings about the impact of climate change on Americans, help reduce fossil fuel usage and increase public awareness of human-induced climate change. We have been led to believe that fossil fuels are a necessity for society, but I say that they are in fact a commodity that, similar to cigarettes, can be incentivized or disincentivized via taxation.
A price on carbon is currently in place and working in 42 countries, and it shall work here too. It is a necessary step to prepare ourselves and our infrastructure for a transition to sustainability and thus not shock the system. It will advance investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, which reduce air pollution and save lives . However, we then need to catch up to the rest of the world and work to completely defeat our addiction to all products and practices that cause climate change.
How Does This Apply to Massachusetts?
There are currently two bills in the Massachusetts legislature that aim to put such a price on carbon, and over a third of the legislature have already signed on as cosponsors. This positions Massachusetts as the most likely state in the US to seriously act upon climate change through legislation.
Two similar bills that would bring about a price on carbon, H1726 and S. 1821, are under consideration at the moment. As currently designed, both would implement a price on carbon aimed at reducing consumption of fossil fuels. Either all or most of the revenue generated from the carbon tax would be returned back to the people, and any leftover funds would be used to fund clean energy and prepare for the disasters yet to come. When the federal government says we need to stay strong by investing in the fossil fuel industry here in the US, they forget that asthma rates, vector-borne diseases, severity of natural disasters, agricultural resilience, civil unrest, and infrastructural integrity shall all be worsened by climate change.
We must not forget, we must instead ensure that no climate change-induced taxation will fall upon future generations without their representation! Fellow citizens of Massachusetts, we have been a national leader on important issues ever since we were a colony. Through the enactment of a carbon tax legislation and subsequent action, we can work towards kicking our current addiction and let future generations worldwide have the freedom to live strong, happy and healthy lives. Please call your state representative today and urge them to pass H1726 and S. 1821, in order to make this brighter future a reality!
Sean Cloran studies Biology at UMass Lowell and is a resident of Grafton, MA.