BOSTON — A majority of Massachusetts residents feel that climate change is a “serious problem” but few believe their region or neighborhood is fully prepared to tackle it, a new MassINC Polling Group survey revealed.
Over 50 percent of the residents surveyed considered climate change to be a “high priority” for the state government and 56 percent wanted the state to act ahead of most other states.
The results of the survey, conducted between last October and November, come on the heels of Gov. Charlie Baker’s call to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and the state Senate’s passage of a climate policy package that addresses energy efficiency codes and a green transit system.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton and chairman of the Senate Global Warming and Climate Change Committee, said the survey illustrates the need for tactical action on climate change.
“Sometimes you don’t see leadership until it’s safe to move forward,” he said in a Senate committee hearing on the survey Wednesday. “That’s unfortunate because we really need to have a more aggressive view in what we need to be doing.”
While urgent state-level intervention dominated much of the survey, nearly half of the residents also wanted to see their city or town respond to climate change before other places did.
Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, and Sen. Rebecca Rausch, D-Needham, who represents much of the Attleboro area, said the Senate’s legislative package could go a long way toward empowering cities and towns to mitigate climate change and help residents feel adequately prepared.
For Rausch, a energy-efficient building bill she filed last year with Rep. Maria Robinson, D-Framingham, could help make communities energy-efficient locally.
The bill, which made its way into the climate policy package, sets standards for large buildings in the state and asks owners to report each building’s energy usage for a statewide database. Based on the database, energy efficiency standards can be set for building owners from 2021.
“Existing large buildings are a major contributor to carbon emissions and we do not have anything on the books currently addressing that particular aspect of pollution,” Rausch said. “That’s a problem if we want to meaningfully get to net-zero by 2050.”
The building code bill was a part of her campaign before she was elected into the Senate.
“Many municipalities throughout the country, including Boston and Cambridge, have tracked data on the energy usage of existing large buildings,” she said.
In Boston, residential, commercial and industrial large buildings are responsible for 71 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. But between 2005 and 2016, the city recorded an 8 percent decrease in emissions.
“Just by virtue of tracking that data, getting the information out there into the public and research-related reporting, the energy usage has declined,” Rausch said.
But that kind of data is not currently collected in her district.
A successful amendment that she filed during the Senate debate mandates the state to collect energy data of large buildings and transmit it to towns and cities. This will allow “resource-strapped” local municipal bodies to act, she said.
Meanwhile, Feeney, although optimistic about the legislation, worried about the disproportional impact that climate change might have on low-income communities.
According to the MassINC Polling Survey, 40 percent of respondents felt that low-income neighborhoods were significantly unprepared to deal with severe weather events.
For instance, 92 percent of high-income households in the survey said that they had property insurance to alleviate the risks wrought by severe weather, but only 50 percent of those in the lowest-income households could say the same.
“My district is made up of blue-collar, hardworking families,” Feeney said. “One of my priorities is making sure that while we’re doing everything we can to limit carbon emissions, we’re not doing it on the backs of working people.”
An amendment he proposed in the current climate legislation would provide displaced workers in the fossil fuel industry with a way to transition into the green energy sector through workforce development and training programs.
“I don’t think it does us any good to take these bold actions and at the same time have families wondering how they’re going to eat or how they’re going to send their kids to college,” he said.
Devyani Chhetri is a reporter with the Boston University Statehouse Program.