Rhode Island business leaders hit the steps of the State House Tuesday to demand that the legislature pass a comprehensive climate change bill this year. Representatives from the education, tourism, architecture, and healthcare sectors attested to the economic consequences of a warming world, as well as the urgency of protecting local businesses from the impacts of climate change.
The press conference, Moving Towards a Resilient Rhode Island Economy, featured speakers from diverse sectors of the economy. Though their backgrounds differed, all the speakers focused on a similar message: dealing with climate change now will pay off significantly in the future.
Speaking at the event, Brown University President Christina Paxson noted that, “By reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a changing climate, the state can transform the challenge of climate change into an economic opportunity that will create local jobs in sectors such as construction, energy efficiency, and clean energy.”
Currently under consideration in the House and Senate are two of the most comprehensive state climate bills to date, H7904 and S2952. Both bills include measures such as setting reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions, supporting local communities in adaptation planning, and coordinating existing state agencies’ efforts.
Christine West, principal at the Providence-based firm Kite Architects, called the proposed climate legislation, “an investment with tangible value.”
“This bill clears the way through smarter planning and putting a high priority on saving energy, which will create jobs not only for architects and engineers, but also the construction trades,” she added.
Sponsored by Rhode Islanders for a Resilient Economy, a group of Brown University faculty, students, and outside consultants, the event emphasized the economic benefits the state could reap from comprehensive climate change action. Neighboring state economies are already seeing positive impacts from similar legislation. A recent study on the Massachusetts Green Community Act by Analysis, Inc. found that, after the first six years of implementation, the state saw $1.2 billion in net economic benefits, along with 16,000 new jobs.
Rhode Island is already feeling the burden of a changing climate, including sea level rise, more frequent and intense storms, and more extreme weather days.
“Anything that happens forty miles away can directly affect how much access people have to the Blackstone River, our major asset”, said James Toomey, Associate Program Manager for the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. “Last year, the Rhode Island Blueways Challenge had to be cancelled because changes to [the Blackstone River]’s flow literally shifted the landscape.”
While these impacts present a challenge, speakers underlined that Rhode Island can turn these threats into an opportunity for economic growth and diversification.
Over 60 Rhode Island businesses have signed onto an open letter endorsing the statewide legislation. Speakers emphasized that they and other business leaders understand the financial opportunities afforded in acting sooner rather than later on climate.
Other speakers at the event included Kenneth J. Filarski, chair of the Upper Northeast Regional Committee of the U.S. Green Building Council; Eric Beecher, founder of local solar company Sol Power; Kaity Ryan, public policy coordinator at the Historical Preservation Society of Newport County; and Dr. Paul Morrissey, a surgeon at Rhode Island Hospital.
“This legislation will help drive the creation of clean energy targets and help to grow our business,” said Beecher, whose firm opened in 2012. “It’s a good sign for green jobs in the state.”