Many people across the United States have lost their faith in the government and are convinced that their voices don’t matter to those in power, so why care? We should care because democracies live off public input and participation which are crucial parts of policy and law-making processes, especially on the state and local level. Public opinion can be an effective tool when voiced by members of the community because it puts pressure on policy makers to introduce bills that address issues raised by the people.
Massachusetts’ Governor Charlie Baker announced his commitment to reach the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 for Massachusetts in the State of the Commonwealth he delivered in January. While this sounds like a positive message, the question remains what policy makers will do to reach that goal.
Researchers from UMass Boston and the MassINC Polling Group presented their research on public opinion of Massachusetts residents’ and their perspectives on climate change and global warming in front of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change in the Massachusetts State House on February 5th. Committees exist both on the federal as well as the state level and have the capacity to propose and write legislation on particular subject matters, such as global warming and climate change (Ginsberg et al. 483). Committees play a very significant role in the law making process, which is why input from interest groups, organizations, as well as the public can be effective to force members of the House and Senate to introduce bills that will represent and address the concerns of the people.
The survey presented by MassINC Polling was conducted from October 10th to November 8th, 2019. The study found that almost 80% of the surveyed Massachusetts residents think that climate change will be a “serious problem,” if left unchecked while over half of them said that the problem will be “very serious.” More than half of the surveyed residents indicated that climate change and global warming is a “high priority for [the] state government” and that most people supported Baker’s policies such as the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). The research revealed that residents seek leadership at the state and local level when it comes to introducing and implementing legislature to counter climate change. The survey further showed that most participants agree that improving public transportation will reduce car trips and have a positive effect on reducing carbon emissions. Interestingly but not surprising, the survey discovered that while 63% of residents who live in high-income neighborhoods feel prepared for consequences of global warming, only 22% of residents in low-income areas feel prepared.
Global warming and climate change are serious issues we are facing today and they will have real consequences if nothing changes. The research supports the notion that residents feel strongly that their government, on the local, state, as well as the federal level should see global warming as a top priority and work on policies to reduce the consequences we will most definitely see in the next decades.
After the event was over, I was leaving the hearing room and one of the Senators who was listening to the presenters from MassINC Polling happened to be on the same elevator as I was. He was talking to another staff member of the State House and I overheard him comment that the hearing was “worthless” after his colleague noted that the event described sounded interesting. Quite honestly, it was disappointing to hear this from someone who I thought would be concerned with and cared about the issues discussed by the researchers. While this seems more discouraging than encouraging, voicing concerns and issues is still crucial to the process of law making. The same Senator did not make any comments or ask questions during the presentation and generally seemed like he didn’t want to be there.
During the questioning session after the presentation, Marc R. Pacheco, Chair of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, indicated that the Senate Committee will work with the House and the executive branch to implement actual policies to reach the requirement to meet net-zero in 2050. Pacheco also noted that the House and Senate have not allowed legislation to go beyond the issue of meeting the goals for this particular policy. Sen. Pacheco seemed like he was concerned with the results of the study and it sounded believable when he said that his committee was working with the House to introduce other policies. He further expressed that he would be interested in proposing a bill that would look at a ten-year goal and requirements that might be met by 2030.
Political participation is probably the most crucial driving force of a democracy. Without it a democracy simply cannot thrive. In light of developments visible in American politics, especially over the past two decades, political participation appears to be more important than ever. The American Public and those who represent their interests play a crucial role in the process of expressing needs and demands to policy and lawmakers. If interests are voiced by larger groups rather than individuals, it is more effective and more likely to get heard by those in power to make policy changes. State and local level governments offer great opportunities for citizens to get involved, especially in matters such as climate change and global warming. Whether it’s writing a letter to a senator, member of the house, or the mayor, attending meetings, or participating in organizations like MassINC Polling, voicing one’s concerns is extremely important and can lead to the representation of citizen input in the legislative branch.
Ginsberg, Benjamin, Theodore J. Lowi, Margaret Weir, Caroline J. Tolbert, Andrea Louise Campbell, and Robert J. Spitzer. We the People: An Introduction to American Politics. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019.