Can the Granite State break out of the Stone Age on climate?

March 22, 2023 2:00 am
Six smokestacks in a row release smoke into a gray sky.

Fifteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from large energy and industrial facilities, which are then emitted in communities where most people are either low-income or nonwhite. (Getty Images)

We didn’t realize it at the time, but when my family and I moved from California to New Hampshire in 2021, we also traveled back to the Stone Age on climate policy. Amongst its New England neighbors, the Granite State has the worst record on climate resilience, is the only state absent in the U.S. Climate Alliance, and is the only state with no functioning climate action plan (CAP).   

State climate action plans do a few things. They place gradually reducing emission targets on heat-trapping pollutants and provide detailed actions to meet those goals over time. CAPs also typically include goals and actions to ensure states are appropriately resilient to physical, economic, and social shocks from climate change. In 2009, New Hampshire published a CAP that has never been adopted, and is wildly out of date given our current scientific understanding.

I’ll be the first to admit that my family’s prior home state is an outlier. California’s 2022 CAP highlights all the ways it is leading the U.S. on climate issues like electric vehicles (100% sales by 2035), carbon markets (statewide cap-and-trade program), and renewable energy standards (carbon-free by 2045). Comparing the two states is clearly not fair. But, I didn’t know it was possible for a state – in this day and age – to be as much of a straggler on climate as New Hampshire was. It baffled me. 

Two years later, after volunteering with local climate advocacy groups, testifying on climate bills in Concord, and getting to know my representatives, I’m starting to see a clearer picture. When it comes to climate, it seems that our governor and many of the state legislators are afraid. They are fearful of: 

  • Accountability. “Acknowledging climate’s impacts makes me accountable to the state’s citizens.” 
  • Reality. “If I ignore the increasingly visible signs of climate change, they will magically vanish.” 
  • Complexity. “Climate is multi-layered. It’s complicated and requires too much hard work.”
  • Disapproval. “Discussing climate is a third rail in my party. I can’t afford the risk.” 

Our representatives provided a masterclass on these fears at the State House this winter. Votes for both House Bill 372, which sought to study the economic impacts of a federal price on carbon for New Hampshire citizens and businesses, and House Bill 208, a bill to draft a CAP that included greenhouse gas reduction targets, failed along party lines. 

Carbon pricing refers to the concept of assessing a fee on polluters for each ton of carbon emitted, so that society doesn’t ultimately bear the costs. In Washington, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act has gained bi-partisan support due to its revenue neutrality (fees collected are paid back as dividends to citizens every month) and business benefits (imported goods are assessed carbon fees if they do not have a comparable carbon price in their home country). Given the momentum of this and similar efforts, and Canada’s successful implementation, carbon pricing seems inevitable, and preparing for it in New Hampshire is the prudent thing to do. . 

Similarly, implementing state emissions targets with an up-to-date climate action plan is critical. The longer we wait to do this, the harder the transition will be for our economy. Importantly, federal grant money from the Inflation Reduction Act  would have funded the CAP’s creation. Also, accessing the billions of dollars in federal grants earmarked for states’ climate-related infrastructure requires an up-to-date CAP, so instead it looks like we may be giving New Hampshire’s fair share of federal funds to other states. Talk about being fiscally irresponsible.  

Numerous Granite Staters are pushing their representatives every day to do more on climate. But, I’m concerned that too many others have become complacent being in last place. Not to mention those who falsely twist these bills into examples of the “government telling me what kind of car to drive.” Coming from California with still relatively fresh eyes, I feel an indignant almost desperate voice inside me screaming: “The Granite State is in the Stone Age on climate!” Then, the calmer optimist in me takes over, and I can’t help reframing the situation: 

What would it take for New Hampshire to lead the pack on climate related issues in New England? 

And, then I get excited. This, I believe, requires a completely different mindset. One that replaces fears with possibilities and opportunities. One that embraces wrestling with – and not avoiding – difficult issues. And, one that considers the needs of New Hampshire’s citizens, who during the last couple of months, testified almost unanimously in favor of HB 372 and HB 208. In short, it requires our elected officials to do their jobs. And, if they can’t, then the growing multitude of voters who are impacted by climate and becoming tired of the state’s lack of action will bring in new ones who can. 

Matt Stein is a North Hampton resident and CEO of climate analytics company Salient Predictions.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Matthew Stein
Matthew Stein

Matt Stein is a North Hampton resident and CEO of climate analytics company Salient Predictions.