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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

One on One with State Senator Jamie Raskin

Jun 29, 2016 10:21PM

An Interview with State Senator Jamie Raskin

Jamie Raskin, the three-term State Senator from Maryland’s District 20 and Senate Majority Whip, is known as a fierce champion of the environment and has the legislative victories to support that claim. He serves his constituents in Silver Spring and Takoma Park addition to teaching constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law where he is a professor. His most recent challenge is to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, seeking to represent Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.

Recently, publisher Robin Fillmore, had the opportunity to chat with Raskin about his views and commitment to the environment.

Climate change seems to be at the root of your work. Where does your concern for the environment come from?

I have always been passionate about the Chesapeake Bay. I grew up here and spent my summers on the bay at a summer camp called Echo Hill. I went to visit a few years ago and they had to close the Bay for a week because of the pollution, the extreme heat, the spreading dead zone in the water.  They were taking kids to the movies instead.  But I have always been a Chesapeake Bay person and I will fight forever to bring it back. That is where my environmentalism started but I have been concerned about climate change since I read Bill McKibben’s first book, The End of Nature.  Bill is a friend of mine from college and that book shocked me. Rather than talk about climate change as an issue, I view it as the overarching context in which we need to decide every other issue, whether it is trade policy, war and peace or agriculture. We are in a civilizational emergency with climate change. We should view it as an opportunity and an imperative to mobilize the whole world.

I don’t need to tell you that there is great resistance to the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. In your opinion, how do you think this got so politicized?

Cognitive scientists talk about “motivated reasoning,” which means ideas and beliefs that are motivated by particular interests or goals. There is a whole industry organized around the denial of climate change and human impact. It is to be expected that there would be industrial denial, but fortunately, we have scientific evidence that is indisputable about what is taking place and why. I am dismayed that many politicians take an ostrich position, by sticking their heads in the sand. When asked about it, they say, “Well, I’m not sure. I’m not a scientist.” Well, if you’re not a scientist, your job is to look to the scientists—that is what you can do. There is simply no scientific debate anymore.

Do you see any glimmer of hope? Are there constructive steps that can move the issue forward?

The carbon industry has dug in its heels. We need to overwhelm them with science and then overwhelm them with politics. The inner sanctum of the gas and coal industry understands perfectly what is going on, but they will be implacable until they can figure out a business model to allow them make as much money getting out of carbon as they make in it.  But the rest of us need to act now.

Who or what else inspires you to act? McKibben is an old buddy from college. I love reading what he has to write. It is a little bit lurid but nobody is better than him at picking up the contemporary manifestations of climate change and telling us what is going on around the world. I was very impressed by Naomi Wolf’s book, This Changes Everything. She has an excellent structural analysis of the politics of climate change and makes the powerful argument that a recognition of climate change forces a broad discussion about social justice and economic inequality around the world.  We have amazing environmentalists here in Maryland, people like Mike Tidwell, Ed Hatcher, Melanie Choukas-Bradley and Sarah Lynch.  These people inspire me. The political challenge is that we face short-term problems that need our attention, from gun violence and over-testing in schools to the immigration crisis and agricultural problems. But we have this systemic threat facing us every single day from climate change. We need to figure out how to organize our public policies around climate change in a way that also allows us to address our other problems, including health care, immigration, terrorism and so on. We have to deal with immediate problems, but we should be thinking of climate change as a threat to all of humanity, a threat that has already arrived.  We should view it as an invitation to organize people and governments all over the world to get on the same side.  This is our crucible.

April 2020


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