STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 04/17/2014
By John Dixon Mirisola ’11
Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, addressed the Gordon community this past November. She is a New Englander, and her Boston memories are inextricably linked with its history of environmental distress: McCarthy recalled how, as a child, she routinely needed to clean oil off her skin after swimming in the waters around Boston. The Merrimack River ran green one day, yellow the next, depending on what dyes the textile factories were using. While working for her hometown’s government, she discovered toxic deposits in the same neighborhood
where she grew up.
She reminded her Gordon College audience, however, that the environmental history
of the Massachusetts Bay is also one of rejuvenation. Due to an upwelling of public concern and decades of hard work by policymakers and community members alike,
today Boston’s water is clean, the Merrimack is clear, and her old neighborhood is safe.
McCarthy noted that the environmental, economic, and public health threat Americans face today is harder to see, because it doesn’t cloud the air with smog or clot the rivers with oils and dyes. That threat is climate change brought about by unsustainable carbon dioxide emissions, a threat which McCarthy urged the audience to take seriously, and to take action against. She spoke optimistically about the democratic, cooperative civic process, which she witnessed bring dramatic change to her home region years ago.
“My father used to chase me around the house shutting off lights,” McCarthy said. “He didn’t do that because he was worried about carbon emissions; he did it because he was worried about the bills. Well, do the same thing, only now worry about carbon emissions.”
Responding to questions, McCarthy addressed topics including the impact of hydro-fracking, and the United States’ ability to partner with countries such as China that lag behind the U.S. in addressing emissions and pollution issues.
When not in Washington, McCarthy lives with her husband in Jamaica Plain, and she holds to the unmistakable Bostonian affinities: Dunkin’ Donuts, the Red Sox, and, sparingly, the word “wicked.”