Cardin ties climate change to economic, public health issues

“Public opinion supports what we’ve been doing in Maryland. But the political environment is unclear as to whether we can in fact carry forward with these commitments.”

By Jenny Hottle, Daily Record Business Writer
Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on

For U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, addressing climate change is an urgent concern, but it’s an issue that can be resolved by connecting the environment to the economy and public health.

Maryland is a case model for what other states should be doing, Cardin said Friday at a meeting with state agricultural, environmental and health department officials at the Maryland Science Center. But he said local issues such as changes in sea level, the quality of sea life and rising temperatures are drawing attention to a need for faster action nationwide.Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 10.19.35 PM

“We’ve got to listen to the scientists and do something about it,” Cardin said. “It’s happening in part because of our conduct here on Earth.”

Climate change has been a point of contention in Congress this month, after the EPA released new regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent by 2030. On June 18, four former EPA administrators, who headed the agency under Republican presidents, said the country needs to take action to slow the effects of climate change.

But conservative lawmakers — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has said he doesn’t believe in manmade global warming — argued the proposed regulations would kill job growth and do nothing to help the environment.

Cardin said at Friday’s meeting that the climate action plan was not at the cost of consumers and employees. Instead, he said, it would add jobs, particularly in renewable energy projects, and lead to a cleaner, healthier environment.

The majority of Maryland residents side with Cardin’s desire for action, according to one recent survey. A 2013 survey by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication showed 71 percent of respondents blamed climate change for high temperatures, and more than 75 percent said they supported local and state government action to protect communities from climate change issues.

“Public opinion supports what we’ve been doing in Maryland,” Cardin said at Friday’s discussion. “But the political environment is unclear as to whether we can in fact carry forward with these commitments.”

Even some people who deny climate change still support climate adaptation projects, Cardin said, particularly those who live in states that are hit by severe weather.

“They do want to deal with the risk issues but maybe not the underlying cause,” he said.

Nationally, two-thirds of Americans believe in global warming, according to 2013 Pew Research Center studies. About 34 percent of people surveyed said it was essential for Congress to address climate change policies.

The solution to taking action lies beyond policymaking, said Van Reiner, president and CEO of the Maryland Science Center. What’s missing, he said, is more vocal support of industries and corporations at the national level to draw attention to environmental concerns.

Some researchers and experts at the meeting recommended highlighting climate change as a personal issue and emphasizing the connection between environmental and public health.

“That is when people react, when it is touching them in a personal way — whether it’s health, their food, the water they’re drinking,” said Maris St. Cyr of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “Talking about this in a personal way is a strong and important key in terms of bringing public pressure to Congress.”

Baltimore adopted its own climate action plan in 2012 and an adaptation plan in 2013. City officials have been educating children on energy efficiency and weather hazards in an urban setting. That information, then, is translated to parents, said Alice Kennedy, sustainability coordinator at the city’s Office of Sustainability.

“Community engagement at the grassroots level in terms of getting to the neighborhoods, getting them to actually talk to each other and educate on a peer-to-peer basis starts to build the momentum that’s going to take the message and move the message higher,” Kennedy said.

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