Introducing the MIT Alumni for Climate Solutions group
A warming Earth poses increasing dangers. The coast, marshes, river floodplains, and many large cities are at risk. This is especially true for coastal states like Maryland.
Action at the level of states can help to reduce the risk and damage from climate change. By quickly developing renewable wind and solar energy capability and eliminating fossil fuel use for power generation, heating and transportation, states like Maryland can drastically reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. If Maryland acts with other states and signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement, warming by the end of the 21st century can be limited to less than 3.6° F (2° C).
On October 1, 2018, a group of MIT alumni in Maryland sent an open letter on climate change to all candidates running for public office in the State. The letter, signed by more than 100 alumni, includes a Nobel Laureate, engineers, scientists, and other professionals, sounds the alarm bell on the effects of climate change on Maryland. The group also provided to candidates background information on climate change and its effects on the State, which is particularly vulnerable and is exposed to dire consequences because of its long coastline and potential for flooding from increasing severity and frequency of storms and sea level rise. The group's website links to tools, resources, and references on climate change and energy generation for Maryland's leaders as well as all concerned citizens.
The group's Open Letter resulted in many supportive responses from candidates and elected officials in Maryland. Among the main concerns expressed was the continued use of coal fired plants, especially in the southern part of the state, and that Baltimore remains one of the largest coal exporting ports in the United States, accounting for about 20 % of all US coal exports, according to the US EIA. State Delegate Dan Morhaim, quoted Thomas Edison from 1931: "We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature's inexhaustible sources of energy - sun, wind, tide - I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
State Delegate Dana Stein wrote "I support your initiative and commit to supporting making Maryland carbon-neutral within a generation. I serve on the State's Climate Change Commission and two of my 2018 bills dealt with climate change. HB 3 strengthened the State's participation in the US Climate Alliance and HB 1350 required the State to develop stronger policies in response to sea level rise." Mayor Gavin Buckley wrote "the City of Annapolis is committed to doing its part to make Maryland carbon neutral within a generation. We recently opened the largest, non-federal solar project on a closed landfill in the U.S., which will generate clean, renewable power for the City and Anne Arundel County. The city is expanding the availability of electric vehicle charging stations and including electric vehicles in its fleet. We also are working on strengthening protections to our existing forests and expanding our urban tree canopy. We are exploring how we can facilitate alternate modes of transportation in Annapolis and incorporate more green infrastructure throughout the city. I applaud MIT Alumni for Climate Solutions in Maryland's efforts to provide Marylanders with the information and actions needed to protect our future.
On October 25, 2018, the Baltimore Sun published the Open letter online with the headline “Maryland MIT alumni: The state can help prevent climate disaster” and two days later in print as an OpEd in their newspaper "Md. Must Act on Climate". This resulted in considerable attention throughout the state, with some of the most well-known elected officials supporting the push to make Maryland carbon neutral within a generation. Among the leaders to provide support to the group were two US Senators and a Congressman. Congressman Elijah Cummings wrote, "I stand with you with regard to doing everything in my power to prevent climate change disasters in Maryland and in our country."
Senator Ben Cardin is a member of the Senate Climate Task Force, a group of Senators committed to fighting for action on climate change that meets on a weekly basis. Currently, Senator Cardin is a cosponsor of S. 750, the Keep It In the Ground Act, that would -- among other things -- prohibit the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) from issuing, renewing, reinstating, or extending any nonproducing lease, or issuing any authorization for the exploration or production of oil, natural gas, or any other fossil fuel in the Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, or any other area of the Outer Continental Shelf. He has fought successfully to preserve critical tax credits for wind energy, solar power, and electric vehicles. In the last Congress, he also cosponsored S.999, the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism Anti-Drilling Act to ban offshore drilling for fossil fuels in the Atlantic Ocean, and he has consistently called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to account for carbon pollution's long-term harm when evaluating the need for our country's energy projects such as natural gas pipelines.
Senators Chris Van Hollen is also a member of the Senate Climate Task Force and provided additional details of his efforts. Senator Van Hollen wrote that his "signature climate change proposal—the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act—is an innovative 'cap and dividend' approach that the Washington Post called 'elegant and effective.' It is a simple, fair, and practical way to address the dangers of climate change while putting more money in the pockets of hardworking Americans. In fact, a University of Massachusetts Amherst study found a 'cap and dividend' approach would mean more than 80 percent of families would see more money in their pockets, even before taking into account the economic benefits of preventing the costly impacts of climate change. The legislation is supported by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Environmental Defense Fund Action.
Governor Larry Hogan, though not responding directly to our MIT group, published an editorial in the Washington Post together with Virginia Governor Northam. While they did not commit to our aspiration of carbon neutrality within a generation, they did write that climate change is real and we need to put partisan divisions aside and work together. We hope that we convinced Gov. Hogan to embrace the needed changes, including replacing coal power plants with renewable wind and solar, transitioning to electric transportation, including better mass transit, improving efficiency of buildings and communities, expanding carbon sinks through land and forest management, and introducing carbon pricing to incorporate damages resulting from fossil fuels. The Maryland State legislative session will start early next year, and the Governor should embrace the proposed Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act, which will increase renewable energy portfolio for the state to 50 % by 2030 this time around.