In the US Capitol, where 100 Senators work through our biggest challenges, none shines more brightly than Maryland’s impactful senior Senator, Ben Cardin. He is the ultimate mensch. Sadly for those of us who live in Maryland and have been deeply proud of both the values he brings to public service and his accomplishments, he is set to retire this cycle. Serving as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and holding a prominent position on the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, Senator Cardin has significantly contributed to fostering a safer and more just world for all. It is with great enthusiasm that I present this interview with him, as his insights will undoubtedly ignite inspiration for your own leadership journey.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi: Senator there are so many challenges facing people in Maryland and around the world. You have chosen to do deep and impactful work on climate issues. Why did you prioritize this, and what is at stake?
Senator Ben Cardin: There is no choice but to act. Climate change is real, and it will continue to cause irreparable harm to our world. The extent of that impact is up to us.
Climate issues affect every facet of our lives – in the US and around the world. The implications span from national security – where climate-related challenges like famine, resource conflicts, and migration can heighten tensions and create climate refugees – to public health, as extreme heat and diminished air quality can have devastating effects on our communities- especially the elderly and those who already experience respiratory and cardiovascular challenges. Climate change has and will continue to have profound economic consequences as well. Natural disasters and extreme weather disrupt supply chains and increase costs, while putting lives and livelihoods at great risk. At the neighborhood level, climate change has challenged our local small businesses. As a long-time advocate in Congress for small businesses, I have seen first-hand how extreme flooding events have harmed our state’s small businesses.
Lastly, climate change is an issue of social justice. Winds, rains and temperatures do not have any ability to differentiate race or ethnicity, but their impacts are disproportionately felt among our most vulnerable populations of color. This worsens existing inequities, creating an undeniable need for immediate action.
This past year alone we’ve seen record-breaking summer heat, wildfires that darkened skies across the nation and extreme weather events that wreaked havoc on our communities. It is urgent—now more than ever—that we take action to save the earth and ensure that it is habitable for generations to come. We are late to act, but it is not too late to make a difference. If we act now, we can reverse the effects of climate change and secure a healthy planet.
Q: There are so many aspects to climate work. How do you focus your work?
CARDIN: As the senior senator for Maryland and a lifelong Marylander, much of my climate work is centered around protecting the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure. It is North America’s largest estuary and one of the most productive fisheries in the United States. A healthy Bay means clean air, clean water, and healthy soil for the watershed region and beyond. The effects of supporting the health of the Chesapeake Bay extends to habitats and ecosystems across the country. And climate change threatens the health and stability of the Bay’s marine ecosystems which in turn hurts Marylander’s livelihoods and the safety of our communities.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is like a microcosm for climate issues and can show us how to best approach science-based, collaborative policymaking at every level of government. The unique Chesapeake Bay Program, led by EPA but includes 18 other federal agencies as well as 40 state level agencies and other expert stakeholders, serves as a model for regional watershed restoration efforts across the globe, largely because it recognizes the need to work across every-level of government. When all levels of government team up, great things can be accomplished. The program not only enhances water quality in the Bay and its tributaries but also safeguards shorelines, provides crucial habitats for fish and wildlife, cools cities, and bolsters our resilience to climate change. This collaborative approach serves as a blueprint for policymakers elsewhere seeking effective strategies to combat climate change. Given the pervasive nature of climate change, a multifaceted approach is essential.
In my time in Congress and as a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I’ve worked to ensure that environmental laws are protected and threats to clean and safe water and air are addressed.
Q: You have made major changes for good. As you get ready to retire from the Senate, what do you hope the next person sitting in your role will make a priority of when they work on environment and climate issues?
CARDIN: I expect my successor to share my dedication to the health and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and other critical habitats, and a desire to ensure that our nation’s drinking water is affordable and free of lead and other harmful contaminants. Working towards healthier and more equitable communities has been a core mission of mine as Maryland’s Senator. These important issues will only be exacerbated by climate change, and it is essential that every Maryland senator stay at the forefront of this effort.
Q: How can people help you and other policy leaders on climate issues?
CARDIN: One of the most impactful things anyone can do to address climate issues is to use their voice to complement their actions. Positive political engagement is crucial in the fight against climate change. It’s important to call your state, local, and federal representatives and make sure your voice is heard on environmental matters that affect your community. Those of us who represent you and make decisions on your behalf benefit from understanding how our action or inaction impacts your daily life. I cannot underscore enough the importance of the preservation of democratic values in our society to progress on climate. Your opinions and ideas matter.
Climate actions also include making climate-smart spending decisions. Ours is a consumer-driven economy and the more spending decisions are made based on economic impact, the more manufacturers and producers will need to pay attention to how they can provide lower-impact alternatives to the goods and services available.