By Lurene Heyl
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
U.S. Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes held a town hall meeting in Towson last Thursday to get public feedback on how to deal with climate change.
During the meeting at the Towson branch library on Thursday, the two Maryland Democrats emphasized the impact of climate change and the plans that the new Democratic House majority have to better protect the environment.
“Climate change is a major issue that we have to deal with in our district, in our state, in our country and also in the world,” said Ruppersberger, a member of the House Defense Appropriation Committee who used to serve on the Intelligence Committee.
Ruppersberger said the major droughts in Africa – some of the worst in over 900 years, he said – are evidence of climate change. These droughts, he said, are leading to a multitude of problems.
“When you have drought, people can’t grow crops, they have problems getting water. There’s a lot of disease, there’s a lot of problems,” he said. “A lot of times when you have those situations, that really stimulates bad young generations going into the areas like ISIS and it’s really causing a big problem.”
Sarbanes, who is also the co-chair of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Task Force, said that Maryland residents care about climate change and want Congress to do something about it.
“We have an incredible turnout, which I think shows not just how critical this issue of climate change is but how engaged the citizen rating here is in the Baltimore area,” Sarbanes said.
Sarbanes said it’s important to build broad, diverse, bipartisan support for protecting the Chesapeake Bay.
“The impact of climate change on the bay is something that we see every day,” he said. “We know that the higher temperatures are leading to nutrients coming into the bay every year, creating dead zones, which has an impact on our fisheries and marine life. That goes to the part of what makes us strong in terms of our economic liability in this region.”
Sarbanes said that although the solutions needed must be structural and high level, they should also come from the public.
“The solutions and the ideas that come from people at the local level are just as important in terms of addressing climate change,” he said.
Alex Horn, a high school freshman from Columbia, said the country should start investing in mass transit.
“Cars are some of the biggest polluters in our nation,” said Horn, who aspires to be an urban planter. “We don’t have a very good train of work in this nation. Some of our lines that run across the western part of our country only run once a day from Chicago all the way to places like Los Angeles. We have slower high speed trains then countries like Uzbekistan, Turkey and Poland.”
Horn asked the congressmen: “What will you do to ensure that we have a high-speed train that is environmentally friendly at the respect of China, Japan, France and Germany?”
Sarbanes, who also shared how he always wanted to be an urban planter, said that this is an area where there can be a lot of progress made.
“The state of our transportation infrastructure in this country is scandalous when you compare it to peer nations around the world, that’s for sure,” Sarbanes said. “This is something where I think you could get tremendous amount of bipartisan cooperation. You do need some leadership from the president at this point.”
Ruppersberger said this is a big issue that needs to be a priority and also involves more investment on the East Coast.
“A lot of the money goes to Kansas, Nebraska and every member of Congress wants their train out there too,” he said. “We’re having serious problems as far as getting the infrastructure. Even our trains are in really bad shape, so we also have to budget our priorities.”
Sonia Shah, a member of Indivisible Towson, who has been working with neighbors and friends to try and back the Green New Deal, said she is concerned about climate change.
Shah, who started writing about climate change about 15 years ago, said everything is only getting worse.
“All the predictions I used to write about were like, ‘This is what’s going to happen in the future if the temperature rises,’ and it all sounded really terrible. But they were predictions and now those predictions are coming true and that is so scary,” she said.
Shah said more needs to be done.
“I’m glad that our political representatives are actually trying to reach out and talk about this now, but honestly what they’re saying is not quite enough yet,” she said. “We need more than just politics as usual because that’s what got us here. We need a new solution because we’re facing a really big new problem.”
In terms of resolutions, Shah is looking at the economy being worked on, which ultimately revolves around climate change.
“I mean, I think we need something on the scale of the Green New Deal,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be that exactly, but it needs to be on that scale where it’s really transformed the entire economy top to bottom: transportation, agriculture, how we work, how we live, housing, the industry in mining, everything. We need to change all of it to being more resilient to climate change and to reduce our emissions so that we’re not making it worse.”