Former EPA chief spreads hope to UVM students

Former EPA head Gina McCarthy. Photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger
BURLINGTON — Young Americans should remain hopeful and take action, but they’ll need to use persuasion and “suck it up” to accomplish change, the leader of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama told UVM students Friday night.
Gina McCarthy, a former community health worker who went on to lead the nation’s top environmental organization, spoke of optimism, law and science to throngs of students who filled the university’s Davis Center.
“The only thing we can’t let ourselves do is to be hopeless, or annoying to one another or despondent,” McCarthy told the crowd. “We have to pull up our pants, ladies and gentlemen… You don’t have to pull up your big girl pants, you can pull up your big boy pants or your gender-neutral pants, just pull up whatever you’re wearing and suck it up and get things done — that’s what we do in this country.”
McCarthy urged the students to retain faith in the American system of governance, but she counseled them to trust as well in the basic values that all Americans hold in common.
Republicans and Democrats alike wish to secure this world’s advantages for their children, for themselves and for their fellow citizens, McCarthy said, and these fruits of civilization aren’t cultivated by even the most powerful individuals on their own.
“Young people: as you’re going into government, if you’re going in there thinking you have the right answers, I’m going to tell you that you do not, unless you bring other people with you,” McCarthy said. “You don’t have the answers, you should go with an open mind, and with science and the law, and figure out how you advance things — not answer them yourself — because that’s what public service is about.”
The American system of governance is a “slow and deliberate” one, and that’s often a good, she said.
For instance, news reports have suggested that rules protecting Americans’ health and their environment are falling before an administration hostile to their effects, McCarthy said, but that’s not the case.
Those rules were put in place through an extensive and public process, and American courts won’t permit them to be reversed “by fiat,” she said.
“Think about what the world would be like if you could do a final rule, like the Clean Power Plan, that sends a signal out to 2030 to the entire country about how we’re going to reduce carbon pollution, and you tell all the utilities, and you tell all the states, ‘Make your plans, you’ve got all this flexibility, go for it, and this is going to be great,’ and everybody can come in in the next administration and say, ‘I don’t like that anymore’ — you can’t do it. It creates an uncertainty that is untenable in the United States. The rules don’t allow that to happen.”
And while it’s true that presidential administrations often choose Supreme Court justices who’ll reflect their political inclinations, she said, the justices themselves often rule in support of science and law, despite their political affiliation.
“You have to have faith in the system,” she said, “and the second thing is that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has her own personal trainer, she is probably healthier and in better shape than you and I, and I wish her well.” Ginsburg is 84.
McCarthy also called on scientists to present their findings to Americans intelligibly.
“Scientists: speak English,” she said. Scientific topics are often complicated and hard to explain in simple language, but with enough effort even complex ideas can be communicated, she said.
“Here is what I would say if I were all of you scientists, I would say three crisp things: Climate change is real, man-made emissions are causing it, which is why women need to rule the world.
“So listen, my message to you, other than ‘Scientists: speak English,’ is that all of us need to get over ourselves a little bit,” she said. “So we’re disagreeing, many of us, with things that’re happening in Washington, D.C., but this is still a country of, by and for the people, and the one thing we cannot do is let our hope or our commitment wane at the very time when our voices need to be heard.”
Read the story on VTDigger here: Former EPA chief spreads hope to UVM students.