LISTEN LIVE: Loading...



Little Attention Paid To Climate Change In Brown-Warren Race

This article is more than 10 years old.
Members of the group "Massachusetts 350" stand vigil in Boston, hoping to increase attention to climate change in the U.S. Senate race. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)
Members of the group "Massachusetts 350" stand vigil in Boston, hoping to increase attention to climate change in the U.S. Senate race. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

In the U.S. Senate contest between Republican incumbent Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, climate change has not been one of the hot topics. But a group of activists is holding an eight-day vigil on City Hall Plaza in Boston to try and bring attention to the cause.

'Climate Silence'

Sunday was day six of the vigil, with two more to go. A bedraggled group of 50 or so climate change activists huddled under hooded raincoats and umbrellas. Marla Marcum stood a few steps above the crowd in front of a cardboard sign that read, "Hey Senate Candidates: End Climate Silence."

"We can use our bodies out here during a hurricane," Marcum shouted into a megaphone. "We can stand out here and say, 'You know what, this is so important, I'm going to feel really uncomfortable for a couple of hours.' "

Marcum, the director of Christian Education at Lexington United Methodist Church, admitted that continuing a peaceful protest on Boston's City Hall Plaza right through Hurricane Sandy will be more than just "really uncomfortable." But Sunday night, volunteers with Massachusetts 350, which began a round-the-clock vigil last Tuesday, vowed to continue through Tuesday at noon. They want the issue of climate change to become front and center in the race between Brown and Elizabeth Warren.

"Climate change poses the greatest threat to global stability in history" said Ben Thompson, a graduate student at Boston University who came to City Hall Plaza for one of several rallies during the vigil.

"Unfortunately, the Senate race has fallen into a rut of negative slandering back and forth and is not focusing on the real issues," said Michele Gielis, of Cambridge.

"In fact," Mary Dewart, of Brookline, added, "our economy will be seriously threatened if we don't address the problems of climate change."

"The earth is so precious and [it's] so completely easy to assume that what we have now we will always have," said Jep Streit, a priest at the Episcopal Cathedral in Boston. "And that's not the case."

These activists aren't satisfied with what they're hearing from either Brown or Warren, and said both candidates are virtually silent when it comes to climate change on the campaign trail.

Rarely Mentioned On The Trail

They're mostly right. Climate change rarely gets a mention during the stump speeches of Warren or Brown. When Warren is asked, she says, "Climate change is a huge issue, I mean this is the issue about whether we have a future."

Brown's standard response begins, "Obviously I do believe in climate change and I believe it’s a combination of man-made and natural [factors.]"

And his solution? Brown brings the issue back to his daily life.

"I just filled up the truck, OK, it was $4.09 [a gallon]. If we don’t do something quickly to step back from our dependence on foreign oil, we’re going to be paying higher and higher costs. And that’s a huge difference between my opponent and me," Brown said.

The huge difference, as Brown sees it, is that Warren would prioritize wind, solar and other green technologies over taxpayer support for U.S. oil production.

Oil companies don’t need the current tax credits, Warren says as she ticks off her list of climate change remedies.

"Our economy will be seriously threatened if we don't address the problems of climate change."

Mary Dewart, environmental activist

"The first one is, let’s stop the oil subsidies. The second one, make the investments in clean energy and in conservation and the third, make sure that we have a strong Environmental Protection Agency," Warren pauses. She has a fourth remedy which we’ll get back to after a closer look at the EPA.

Brown's Senate Record

Major environment groups in Massachusetts praised Brown when he was a state senator. "But when he went to Washington," said George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, "he seemed to become a captive of the Tea Party. He seemed to become a climate change denier."

Bachrach says the proof that Brown doesn't care about climate change is in his votes to undermine the power of the EPA.

"The Supreme Court upheld the authority of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It is a critical step towards combating climate change. The senator had three votes to support the EPA and three times he voted to take away that authority," Bachrach said.

But a former Massachusetts secretary of environmental affairs, Bob Durand, says Brown’s record on the environment in the U.S. Senate is more complicated and demonstrates his independence. Durand mentions a proposed tax on offshore oil drilling that would fund open space and urban parks.

"Scott Brown not only stood against his own party, but he co-sponsored the legislation," Durand said. "On the Clean Air Act, Scott fought his own party, when they tried to gut the mercury rule, which would have taken away EPA’s ability to regulate mercury and other toxins from power plants in the Midwest."

And by the way, Durand adds, the oil subsidy bills Brown voted for included tax credits for wind and solar power.

Now back to the final item on Warren’s plan for dealing with climate change.

"The fourth one, the really big one," Warren said, "is to make sure the Republicans don’t take over the United States Senate. Because if they do, Jim Inhofe will take over supervision of the Environmental Protection Agency, and he's written a book claiming that climate change is a hoax. That would be a disaster."

"You're not running against Jim Inhofe, you're running against me, professor," Brown responded one of the few times climate change has come up in the U.S. Senate race — during a debate on WBZ TV.

"If we're going to look at the so-called energy producers and attacking them, we need sit down in a room, in a bipartisan manner, and find a way to do it so that it doesn't get passed along to people at the pump," Brown said.

Whether it's Brown or Warren in the U.S. Senate come January, if history is any guide, they'll have to find a way to bridge party lines to make headway on climate change. Many major environmental protections became law only after Republicans and Democrats joined forces.

This article was originally published on October 29, 2012.

This program aired on October 29, 2012.

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



Listen Live