BOSTON – Changes in the climate will cause worsening air quality as fossil fuel emissions keep afflicting Bay Staters with something akin to a "sunburn on your lungs," health experts warned lawmakers and staff on Wednesday morning.
"If you have lungs, this is going to impact you," said Casey Harvell, of the American Lung Association.
Some lawmakers have proposed a dramatic change in how Massachusetts receives its electricity, advocating a complete shift to renewable sources. Gov. Charlie Baker and others have plotted a more moderate course that includes the provision of enough natural gas to keep the lights on while gradually adding sources of electricity from wind and hydropower.
Massachusetts has its own laws designed to compel reductions in carbon emissions, but pollution is an international issue. The International Energy Agency reported this month that fossil fuels met 70 percent of the growth in energy demand around the world in 2017 and global energy-related carbon emissions rose by 1.4 percent in 2017 to reach an historic high. The emissions increase last year equaled the emissions of 170 million additional cars, the agency said.
The biggest emissions declines last year came from the United Kingdom, Mexico, Japan and the U.S., where emissions dropped 0.5 percent, the report said.
Before a group of bipartisan House members, Harvell and two doctors issued warnings about the health impacts of global warming and local highway exhaust.
Lungs are "delicate organs" susceptible to ozone and particle pollution, according to Dr. Alexander Rabin, who said climate change will have a negative effect on air quality, extending allergy season and contributing to wildfires that can spread smoke across the continent.
"We really can't control the air that we're breathing outside," Rabin said.
Rep. William Crocker, a Barnstable Republican, said he is concerned about how climate change risks could affect municipal borrowing costs and he has seen the devastation weather can cause.
"This last series of storms has had an enormous impact on our barrier beaches," Crocker said.
The small gathering in the House Members Lounge was organized by the Clean Energy Caucus, headed up by Amherst Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, who left the Democratic party this year to become an independent.
"I think the House is going to act on energy and clean energy in some way this session," Goldstein-Rose told the News Service, though he doesn't think the House will take up an omnibus clean energy bill (S 2302) on the move in the Senate.
Some lawmakers have filed bills (S 1849, H 3395) calling for all of the state's electricity to be generated by renewable sources by 2035, though those bills have gone nowhere yet.
Rep. Denise Provost, a Somerville Democrat, told attendees she was working on a letter to build support for legislation (H 1213) to establish "health risk assessment guidelines and exposure standards" for particulates that are emitted by exhaust pipes.
Provost has filed the bill every session for more than a decade and it has never made it out of committee, she said. The deadline for the Public Health Committee to issue a report on the bill was extended to May 9.
Calling the Northeast the "tailpipe of the country" because of prevailing wind patterns and emissions from other states, Harvell said ground-level ozone produced by fossil-fuel burning is like a "sunburn on your lungs."
"Massachusetts can't fix the problem of climate change," said Dr. Ari Bernstein, who said the state can make limited positive change and set an example.
California has already led the way on addressing climate change, but Massachusetts could make important contributions, Bernstein said.
"If we don't do it, I don't know who else is going to," Bernstein said.