Massachusetts residents have less climate anxiety this year than in past years, according to 2022 data from The Boston Globe. Climate urgency or anxiety, the view that the climate crisis and accompanying natural disasters are causes for concern, impacts issue prioritization among constituents. The Globe article compares the present lack of climate urgency to Massachusetts residents’ feelings three years ago. Although most residents acknowledge climate change as a threat, they are still less likely to name it as one of their top priorities than before. Most Massachusetts residents are not single-issue voters, voters who determine which candidate to vote for based on one issue, when it comes to climate change. A representative from the MassINC Polling Group argues the 34% of Massachusetts voters identifying as single-issue voters for climate change is surprisingly low compared to past years.
Massachusetts residents altogether view economic and healthcare issues as higher priority than climate change. 48% of Massachusetts residents view climate change as a “serious problem for the state,” and this number is higher for Black and Latino residents, according to MassINC. Massachusetts residents cited concerns over the impacts of more extreme weather, including location-specific issues such as coastal flooding. Although the 48% of residents who cited climate change as a top priority is a significant proportion, only 16% of voters nationwide consider climate change as their most important concern in U.S. politics according to FiveThirtyEight. And, despite climate change perhaps not being the top issue for U.S. voters, about three-fourths of citizens polled across 19 different countries view global climate change as a major threat. This data illustrates that while a large group of people consider climate change a major issue, they are unwilling to make it their top priority.
Propublica, a nonprofit and data-based news organization, analyzed data from the Rhodium Group which demonstrated that the most habitable and moderate climate areas––areas with the least amount of climate-related risk––in the United States will shift northward and away from the Atlantic coast by 2070. Boston, for instance, will no longer be in a low-risk area. Additionally, extreme weather and sea-level rise both disproportionately impact Massachusetts, especially along the coast, more than other populated centers. ProPublica designated Boston as one of the three population centers estimated to be most affected by sea-level rise. Along with Miami and New York, these three centers are all along the coast and house about 50 million Americans. Sea-level rise due to the rapid melting of glacier ice caps could devastate coastal communities, posing risks of flooding and forcing people to move. ProPublica also warns of a possible climate scenario where the relatively safe places in North America shrink and move inland, which causes migration of people out of their homes and loss of farmland.
Massachusetts, especially the Boston metropolitan area, is at high risk for storms and floods. The Boston area is also at lower risk for fire and drought but at increased risk for extreme heat. While Massachusetts residents may not have been impacted by the summer’s worst climate disasters, the looming threat of hurricanes and rising sea levels is becoming increasingly prevalent. Additionally, Massachusetts residential buildings are not all built to sustain extreme heat; this location-specific infrastructure problem can cause more residents to rely on public structures for cooling during extreme heat, inciting increased concerns for residents’ health in the face of surging heat risk each year. Though the climate issues over the past summer may have disproportionately impacted the West Coast, the shoreline state of Massachusetts will be severely impacted by the climate crisis.
In MassINC Polling Group’s 2022 survey, 68% of Massachusetts residents saw “jobs and the economy” as top priorities for the state and ranked these over climate change. Other economic or business-related issues, like energy costs and taxes, also rank above climate change. By prioritizing economic issues like inflation, voters risk climate change never being addressed at the federal level. On a more local scale, however, it may be easier for state legislators to consider Massachusetts residents’ concerns. Subsidizing renewable energy and adding jobs to the field could help address energy costs, economic implications, and climate-related concerns in the state.
By shifting focus to tangible climate policy work at the local level, activists can ensure a green future for Massachusetts. Boston is home to major research centers, including Boston University’s Center for Climate & Health, which examines health-related environmental justice issues in Boston communities. Localized research centers can produce work that emphasizes the importance of climate change mitigation in policy action. To be informed, Massachusetts voters should be aware of the issues that impact them more than other American residents. Some of the most transformative political change is made at the local level. Taking the time to address Massachusetts’s specific weaknesses regarding climate change is an opportunity to utilize local policy to residents’ benefits. People who care about the impacts of climate change on their communities have no obligation to be “single-issue voters”—economic and infrastructure issues also tie heavily into climate issues in more indirect ways. To facilitate climate policy progress, constituents can ask what their legislators are doing to support renewable energy efforts and improve infrastructure in the face of climate change’s local impacts.
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