Gina McCarthy, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Obama administration, came to speak at Boston College on Tuesday in the wake of recent rollbacks by the Trump Administration of many Obama-era EPA policies.
McCarthy served as head of the EPA from July 2013 to January 2017. Her term began with an especially contentious confirmation battle—a sign of increasing political divisiveness over the topic of climate change and the environment.
She was introduced by Joseph Manning, BC ’14. He highlighted that the effects of climate change are no longer theoretical, but emphasized that there is still hope for the future. Manning lauded McCarthy’s innovative achievements as head of the EPA.
“[She] figured out how public policy can be used to better the lives of future generations,” he said. “During McCarthy’s tenure, EPA initiatives cut pollution, protected water resources, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthened chemical safety regulations that helped better protect Americans, particularly those who are most vulnerable.”
McCarthy spoke with a hopeful tone, often underscoring the need to keep fighting for action to be taken to prevent climate change. From the outset, she expressed the optimism she has for the future, thanks to the current generation of college students—especially women.
“I couldn’t have been more excited about … the way in which this school is preparing a generation of young women to be the leaders of the future,” she said.
Although McCarthy was a political appointee under a president who was a part of the Democratic Party, she stressed her bipartisan efforts. Giving a short history of her professional career, she noted her work for six governors before moving on to the EPA—five of whom were Republicans. McCarthy also recognized Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and George H.W. Bush as Republican proponents of a clean environment—she claimed the nature of environmental issues are non-partisan.
“Human beings, no matter whether you’re Democrats or Republicans, actually enjoy breathing clean air,” she said.
McCarthy then turned to the actions of the EPA under the Trump administration, denouncing the current practices of the agency. The administration’s attempts to roll back numerous policies and regulations McCarthy worked to implement has been widely publicized. McCarthy, however, worried more about how the administration has been trying to accomplish this.
“I worry much less about the rollbacks then I do what they’re trying to change” she said, “Which is to diminish our understanding and our appreciation for real facts and real science.
“[There is] some false premise that if we care about the environment and we accept climate change as fact, then we have to then cower in the corner with no lightbulb and a sweater. Give me a break!” she said. “Move! Act! That’s what we do in the United States!”
McCarthy framed environmental action through a frame of social justice. She pointed out statistics showing how the poor and other marginalized members of society are the ones suffering most from the effects of climate change.
“Over nine million people every year die […] from exposure to pollution,” she said. “But the vast majority of that damage is in low and middle-income countries. And the vast majority of people dying are women and children. That is not social justice. Pollution is not an equal-opportunity killer.”
McCarthy condemned the politicization of climate science—the issue even divides families—so she said staying focused on climate change being a matter of fact that requires constant work from U.S. citizens and further analysis from scientists is what will begin the process of improving the dialogue surrounding the issue.
McCarthy demanded that people keep fighting for their values and against the inaction of the federal government.
“The only political will that ever mattered to me or that I ever that made a difference in the world was the political will that started at the grassroots level,” she said. “Tough it up. Get over it. We have to keep working.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons