Delegate Dana M. Stein of Baltimore is a climate hero. With degrees from Columbia and Harvard, he has long been a major leader as Executive Director of Climate Works and in service to many Jewish and other organizations. A published author of a novel on climate change, and an outstanding award-winning legislator, he was just sworn in as Speaker Pro Tem of the Maryland House of Delegates. I was fortunate to be able to bring you this exclusive interview with him on key climate issues, how to make things happen in politics, and the relationship between the Jewish and African American communities.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi: You have an incredible background as a lawyer, nonprofit CEO, and civic leader. You could choose to focus on so many issues. Why has climate change become such a big part of your focus?
Speaker Pro Tem Dana M. Stein: There’s no greater threat to our country’s future – to the world’s future – than climate change. Drought, shrinking water supplies, rising sea levels, heat waves, intense storms – these will only get worse until we significantly reduce emissions.
In 2023 alone, eight of your bills — and many more of the bills you cosponsored — became law. That is a stunning achievement. How did you do that?
In each case, I was fortunate to partner with advocates who made a strong case for the proposed legislation and met one-on-one with members of key committees. They laid the groundwork for the success of each bill.
When it comes to working on climate issues, what has been your biggest success?
I’m most proud of being the House leader on the Climate Solutions Now Act that the legislature passed in 2022. At the time, it was the most ambitious climate legislation that any State had enacted. I helped craft the final bill and I was the “floor leader” for the extended debate on the bill.
In 2010 you published Fire in the Wind, a book that educates about the threats of climate change. What was your goal in writing that book, and what did it achieve?
I wrote the book (a short novel) mainly out of frustration with the lack of national policy on climate change at the time. I knew I couldn’t contribute to the technical debate, but I thought a novel could help show how climate change would affect everyday life. For the next few years, the book gave me a platform to speak to college and high school students and activists about climate change.
Both the Maryland Commission on Climate Change and the Maryland’s new climate plan call for public education and a campaign around incentives to transition to clean energy. What do you see happening in the upcoming legislative cycle to help turn those ideas into a reality?
Two of the Commission’s recommendations are to establish a well-funded public awareness campaign and to declare a “climate education week” during the first week of April. Hopefully, legislation will establish both. A key issue for the public awareness campaign and for increased incentives for the clean energy transition is generating revenue for these programs. There will be a couple of bills this session that would generate more revenue or require study of specific revenue-generating ideas.
Outside of the government, how can we educate and activate the public to take personal actions to reduce the risk of climate change?
Advocacy and grassroots groups should do significant outreach to communities about the incentives for electrification that the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provide. Many residents are unaware of these incentives, and more broadly are unfamiliar with the pocketbook benefits of buying electric cars and electric appliances.
You were appointed recently as Maryland’s Speaker Pro Term by House Speaker Adrienne Jones, who is an African American woman. You are a strong supporter of our Governor, Wes Moore, who is the first African American to serve in that role. You are also a Harvard grad. So clearly you are familiar that there has been some recent friction between the Jewish and African American communities after decades of allyships. Can you offer some insights, advice and solutions on those issues?
The key reasons for the historical partnership between the Jewish and African American communities – advancing civil rights and combating racism and anti-Semitism – are as relevant today as they’ve ever been, with the rise in hate crimes and public expressions of bias.
In the greater Baltimore community, the relationships between the Jewish and African American communities have been strong. There has been strong support from the Black community for the concerns of the Jewish community and vice versa, both among elected leaders and faith leaders.
The current strong relationships speak to the long-term, authentic relationships that have been nurtured over the years. Congressman Elijah Cummings set the standard with his establishment of the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel. Over the past 25 years, that program has produced more than 200 future leaders – mostly students of color – who are committed to Black-Jewish relations.
In the Baltimore community, members of the Jewish and African American communities are neighbors and we work together. Rather than leave any concerns unaddressed, we try to address them, build dialogue and partnerships, and build for the future.
You are an active member of the Jewish community. How has that impacted your role as an elected leader?
The principles of tikkun olam, repairing the world, and shomrei adamah, responsibility for protection and renewal of the earth, have always motivated me. It’s wonderful to have the Baltimore Jewish Council be a leader on legislative and community matters. The Council has led in seeking support for Associated agencies, advocating for vulnerable and older adults, and emphasizing the plight of the hostages since October 7th.
What are your key goals regarding climate in the upcoming legislative session and how can the public help?
I’ll be supporting (and potentially introducing two related bills) that generate revenue to address climate change. I’ll also support bills that put into law further electrification of our transportation and energy systems. The public can help by lobbying their legislators to support these efforts and testifying in support of bills.
What advice do you give to people who want to make an impact on climate issues?
Families and individuals can have a great impact on climate through their choices at home. The next time one’s heating/cooling system needs to be replaced, install an electric heat pump. I have a geothermal system at home and at the non-profit I run, and they’re incredibly efficient and cost-effective (in addition to being good for the environment). The next time one needs to buy a car, buy an electric vehicle. I read that Israel expects that 30% of its cars on the road will be electric by 2030. We should follow Israel’s model!