Opinion guest column

Climate change and the terrifying cost of being young

We must set the price on carbon

“Refresh the page again!” Excited by the possibility of a snow day, my classmates and I huddle around a laptop in our dorm late at night. This time, the official announcement pops up on our school’s web page: classes are canceled tomorrow due to severe weather. The entire room erupts into cheers as we look forward to a day of antics in the snow. Throughout the Boston area, students will wake up to a welcome surprise: a snow day.

While Massachusetts students like us have hoped for a few snow days every winter for generations, extreme weather events have recently begun to interfere with students’ education across the world with unsettling frequency because of climate change. Thousands of schools recently closed in India due to unhealthy levels of air pollution, keeping millions of students out of school. The California fires shuttered schools as the state endured a winter blaze of unprecedented size. On the East Coast, we recently remembered the 5-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy and the shutdowns it caused.

Climate change is projected to cost my generation over $8.8 trillion in lifetime income. This means, if no action is taken to reduce carbon pollution, a 21-year-old today could be poorer by $126,000 in their lifetime. Even without school closures interfering with students’ educations, there is no amount of studying or hard work that can prepare millennials for the massive financial burden that we will inherit.

Study after study and article after article warn of the bleak financial future my generation will inherit. From debilitating student debt to stagnant salaries and a vanishing safety net, millennials are in dire financial straits. Human-caused global warming will only compound this problem. We must hold the older generations who dominate our political system to their obligation to act on climate change, and act fast.  

The economic decisions we make today must account for both the future and immediate impacts to ensure my generation inherits an economy marked by prosperity rather than climate chaos. Ensuring a stable climate future requires bold legislative action on climate change. In Massachusetts, we have the opportunity to take such bold action by setting a price on carbon.

At present, we heavily subsidize fossil fuels through tax breaks and economic systems that encourage fossil-fueled growth and discourage development of renewables. Even ignoring the climate and health costs of fossil fuels, we are not paying the full price of fossil fuels. Massachusetts currently spends $20 billion a year to import fossil fuels. Reducing our reliance on oil and gas will help keep the money in the Commonwealth and contribute our part to preventing the worst impacts of climate change.

A price on carbon accounts for the health and environmental costs of fossil fuels and would level the playing field in the energy industry and encourage both businesses and consumers to transition to renewable energy and adopt more energy-efficient practices. It would grow the economy and reduce the staggering cost of being young in the age of climate change.

There are currently two bills in the Massachusetts legislature that aim to put a price on carbon pollution, now supported by close to half of all the legislators. The bills return most or all of the revenue gained through carbon pricing to consumers and businesses as rebates. The remaining revenue would fund critical climate mitigation and adaptation programs to minimize pollution and extreme weather events.

Furthermore, accelerating deployment of renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions would also improve Bay Staters’ health at present and in the future. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the proposed legislation would save nearly $3 billion in health costs for Massachusetts by 2040.

In light of federal dismantling of the U.S. EPA and other climate change initiatives, state leadership is now more critical than ever for climate action. Massachusetts is a national leader on important issues — universal health care, marriage equality, and so much more. We have an opportunity to lead the country again in climate change legislation. For the sake of young people throughout Massachusetts and around the world, we have an obligation to lead the U.S. in carbon pricing.

Claire Halloran is a undergraduate at MIT studying materials science and engineering. She is a student leader in the MIT Energy Club.