Blurred silhouettes of cars surrounded by steam from the exhaust pipes in a traffic jam. (LanaElcova via Shutterstock)
(LanaElcova via Shutterstock)
Susan Bigelow user avatar

It’s sometimes hard to remember, what with all the other crises in the world going on right now, that the inexorable march of climate change is still the greatest threat humanity will have to contend with this century. The pandemic, inflation, the war in Ukraine, and the decline of democracy worldwide seem much more immediate, but sea level rise, stronger storms, unpredictable seasons, and all the chaos and trouble those things bring will define the next 80 years more than anything else happening now.

Thankfully, sometimes dealing with one crisis can give us the tools we need to fight another. For instance, the pandemic has pushed us much more towards a work-from-home culture than we would otherwise have been. Working from home can be a lot more environmentally friendly than commuting every day through traffic to an office in a gas-powered car; in some cases, studies have found that working from home can reduce the emissions a person causes by up to 80%. That’s incredible. 

The pandemic gave us a chance to really test out working from home on a massive scale, and we found that it works. If employees can be just as productive working from home as they are in an office, and studies suggest that this is the case, then why not allow them to do so? And in fact this is looking more and more like a permanent change in our work culture, rather than just a response to a crisis.

Inflation and Russia’s war in Ukraine have helped push gas prices up, but it’s also given us another much-needed reminder that we need to rid ourselves of our dependence on fossil fuels. Germany, which is heavily dependent on gas imports from Russia, is moving to accelerate their conversion to green energy. The sooner democratic nations can move away from depending on foreign sources of fossil fuels, the more independent and resilient we all will be.

Here in Connecticut, high gas prices have led to two emergency actions from the government: both the gas tax and public transit fares have been lifted until the end of June. One of these is a lot more useful than the other! A three-month gas tax holiday would only save consumers an average of about $30, which doesn’t seem like a lot considering all the hoopla about it. I mean, you could take the kids to Arby’s, I guess? Just don’t get anything too pricey. 

Making public transit free, however, could and should end up being a much bigger deal. It’s a lot more environmentally friendly to take the bus or train instead of a single-passenger gas-powered car. It’s less stressful, too! And making transit free both encourages people to use it and, in some cases, makes it more efficient. If a bus driver doesn’t have to deal with passengers trying to pay the fare, including the inevitable people who have lost their card, want to pay with nickels, or aren’t sure what to do, they don’t have to idle as long at any given stop. Less idle time means faster transit.

The legislature should make public transit free permanently. Fares are a relic of a time when transit in the form of trolley lines was run by private, for-profit companies, not the government. If transportation is a public service, it should be wholly paid for by taxes and free at the point of use.

There are several other bills that could make a small but not insignificant difference when it comes to climate change. SB 10, for instance, would set a 2040 target for all energy supplied to Connecticut to be carbon-neutral. SB 4 would make it easier and more economical to purchase electric vehicles. HB 5039 would adopt California emissions for medium and heavy duty trucks. SB 176 would increase caps on community solar generation programs. While none of these by themselves will make a major difference, together they could hopefully start adding up to something. I’d really like to see the state spending more money on installing more and better electric charging stations for EVs, as well as investing in renewable energy sources like nuclear power. That will have to wait for a braver legislature, or for the crisis to get worse.

The climate bill with the most promise this session, though, is HB 5285, a bill that would add climate change to the science curriculum in the state’s public schools. The more the next generation understands about climate change, the better prepared they will be for the world we’re leaving them.

Because when the crises that seem so huge right now are just distant memories, they will be the ones to face what we’ve left undone.

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Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.