Submitted by Johann Patlak
In this season of intense political struggle, there are matters of such grave importance that they should not be political at all. This list includes the Covid-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and climate change. While all are in some way intertwined, I am writing here to discuss the last of these, which is the most overarching threat to humanity as a whole. Specifically, I wish to discuss the differing views of our candidates for state representative and senator on the issue of climate change and how I believe this might influence the voters in our town.
Like many younger people and young parents, I am deeply concerned about the impact that climate change will have during the lifetime of my daughters. Rep. Justine Caldwell and Sen. Bridget Valverde both have detailed, issue-based platforms on their websites that affirm the threat of climate change and commit to addressing it at the state level. Their challengers, Anthony Giarrusso and Charles Callahan, both fail to even mention climate change in their online materials, which are notably short on actual policy discussions across the board.
With half the candidates not yet weighing in on the defining challenge of a generation, I turned to the EG News candidate forums for further insight. Rep. Caldwell reaffirmed that discussions around the use of plastics and renewable energy production are ultimately about climate change, and that we need to listen to the expertise of climate scientists. She confirmed that even a small state like Rhode Island needs to take steps to address this crisis. Mr. Giarrusso claimed to be confused. He appeared unable to grasp that prevention of unmitigated deforestation and a transition away from fossil fuel derived plastics and energy are complementary goals. He then repeated that he is really confused about the whole matter, because of the trees. It is unclear to me if he is feigning cluelessness to cover for the Trump Administration’s fossil fuel agenda or if he truly is confused. Either way, it is negligent for any candidate seeking a position as a lawmaker to have such a poorly formed climate change position. Young voters and young parents aren’t confused. This issue matters to us.
The Senate candidate forum was more detailed on climate change. Sen. Valverde provided a substantive discussion on the issue, addressing the human and economic challenges that Rhode Island will face if climate change continues unchecked. She made a clear argument in favor of local renewable energy generation and the economic and employment benefits thereof. She endorsed the goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Her opponent, Mr. Callanan, fell back on his time as a communications officer supporting Antarctic ice core sampling a quarter century ago. He states he was privy to “science talks at all times,” and based on this outdated exposure he wrongly concludes that scientists do not yet have a handle on the drivers of climate change. He conflates local air quality, coastal clean-ups, and wetland preservation with global CO2 emission-driven climate change. Mr. Callanan claims Naval Intelligence work on his resume. In this case, however, he either thoroughly fails to provide a comprehensive threat assessment or is being intentionally misleading in support of the fossil fuel industry.
I came away from this forum with a renewed favorable opinion of Rep. Caldwell and Sen. Valverde based on their detailed and nuanced answers on multiple issues, especially climate change. Unfortunately, I also came away with a lessened opinion of Mr. Giarrusso and Mr. Callanan. Fighting climate change should be the ultimate conservative position. It encompasses economics, national security, and job creation. Climate change hurts fishermen and lobstermen, farmers and foresters, skiers and beachgoers alike. The only beneficiary is the fossil fuel extraction industry. Like any problem, fixing it will cost money, but ignoring it will cost more. America builds some of the most advanced electric vehicles on the planet. American wind farms are providing competitively-priced electricity to the national grid free of any international entanglements. Rhode Island should insist on being a part of this process for both sea level and economic reasons.
I have faith that the voters in House District 30 and Senate District 35 will not be easily misled. We may not all agree on everything, especially the political stuff, but anyone who believes the Earth is round should be able to support the fight against climate change. Rep. Caldwell and Sen. Valverde can’t fix these issues singlehanded, but they have given them serious thought and are exploring all the ways our little state can do its part. Mr. Giarrusso and Mr. Callanan, unfortunately, are confused and are stuck either in the past or in the sphere of the oil industry. Either way, they fail to win not only my vote, but also my respect as serious candidates for 21st century political office.
Johann Patlak, an anesthesiologist, lives in East Greenwich with his wife and two children.