April 5, 2017
by Ed Brennen
When state legislators wanted to learn more about climate change and how energy policies can impact global warming, they didn’t have to look far for scientific expertise.
Assoc. Prof. Juliette Rooney-Varga of environmental biology and several fellow members of UMass Lowell’s Climate Change Initiative were invited to the State House recently to give a legislative briefing titled “Meeting the Climate and Energy Challenge.” Approximately 50 legislators and staff members attended the two-hour session, which was sponsored by Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell, along with Reps. Denise Provost of Somerville and Frank Smizik of Brookline.
“Any time we can inform decision-making, it’s a good thing,” said Rooney-Varga, who walked lawmakers through the climate change policy simulator C-ROADS World Climate, an interactive tool developed by her colleagues at Climate Interactive that shows the long-term impacts of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Rooney-Varga asked participants to come up with target percentages and dates for desired emission reductions and then entered them into the simulator, which showed how they lined up with the goals of the recent Paris Agreement.
“Our goal is to empower decision-makers to make their own decisions and to come to their own insights,” she said. “And we want to ensure those decisions are informed by our current scientific understanding of climate and energy.”
Provost Mike Vayda, who joined the university delegation on Beacon Hill, told lawmakers that climate change is a “critical problem that’s facing the world right now, and this is the place where we need to step up as leaders.”
While adopting policies like a carbon tax would cause some economic discomfort — particularly for the poorest segments of the population — Vayda said the state can also benefit from being a leader in innovative energy technology.
“There’s an opportunity here for economic growth for the Commonwealth,” he said, “and that’s the fuel that will help balance the social pain of instituting new policies.”