After serving thirty-eight years in Congress, Ed Markey is completing his third year in his first term as United States Senator. As the son of a milkman from Malden, Massachusetts, Markey has emerged as the senior statesman of the Massachusetts delegation and has taken a leadership role in areas ranging from climate change to funding for Alzheimer’s research, to efforts that reducing the opiate addiction problem, which face both Nantucket and the country. N Magazine interviewed Senator Ed Markey on these subjects just before returning to Nantucket to be honored by the American Ireland Fund this July.
N MAGAZINE: Massachusetts is coming off the worst winter on record and there are people who wonder how could we possibly be experiencing global warming? You have taken a strong position on combatting global warming, however have recent weather events given you pause?
SENATOR MARKEY: The science is clear. The National Academy of Sciences in every country in the world has concluded that human beings are the major contributing factor to the warming of the planet. Just look at the waters off Massachusetts, and indeed, up and down the Atlantic coast. They have been at record warm levels. In 2012, the Atlantic Ocean off the Northeast coast was the hottest it has been since recordkeeping began in the 1850s. In January of 2015, in one case off of Cape Cod, it was 21 degrees warmer than usual. In fact, many scientists believe that part of the reason for the past winter’s historic snowfall was actually from climate change. This warmer water gives storms more moisture and that moisture has to drop at some point, and when it does, it means more snow.
N MAGAZINE: Erosion in Nantucket is a big concern. It is estimated that, plus or minus, Nantucket has five hundred years before it totally disappears. Based on what you’re describing, is Nantucket’s future a lot shorter than we think?
SENATOR MARKEY: We’ve been warned. We have a chance to put in place preventative measures that will help us avoid the worst, most catastrophic instances of dangerous global warming. I’m an optimist. I believe we can unleash the technological revolution in wind, solar, all-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and energy efficiency that will dramatically reduce greenhouse gases and avoid the frightening prospects that might otherwise happen — not just on Nantucket, but for the rest of the planet as well. I fundamentally believe that the same winds and the same waves that carried the first settlers to our Massachusetts shores can power a new generation of jobs in wind energy.
N MAGAZINE: Cape Wind looks as if it has stalled to the point where it’s not going to happen. What is your reaction to what appears to be the end of Cape Wind?
SENATOR MARKEY: Cape Wind is only one part of a dramatic revolution that is taking place in renewable energy and in wind energy specifically. There are other projects that are beginning off of the New England coast, installing wind generators offshore. Some of them will be completed within the next year or two. So as we look at the future, we have to be very optimistic. Last year, 50 percent of all new electrical-generating capacity installed in the world were renewables.
N MAGAZINE: Is it my understanding that you met with the pope to discuss environmental issues?
SENATOR MARKEY: Last May, I met with Cardinal Parolin and Cardinal Turkson, who are the pope’s two key advisors on climate change. I was invited to the Vatican, along with five other congressmen from around the world. We met briefly with the pope, and for three hours we met with Cardinal Parolin and Cardinal Turkson. They have drafted an encyclical that the pope is going to release this summer, which is going to spark a whole new conversation about climate change.
N MAGAZINE: Drug abuse is a major issue on the Cape and the islands, what have you done to remedy this growing epidemic?
SENATOR MARKEY: I think that statewide, but also nationally, we have to put in place policies that protect these victims. We cannot be ostriches with our heads in the sand any longer, as this crisis devastates people on Nantucket and in every city and town across our country. The epidemic is fueled by the over-prescription of opioid pain medication. It’s leading to heroine addiction and we’re seeing people die of overdoses at a rate never experienced before. And because the epidemic knows no geographic boundaries, our response should know no political boundaries. Nantucket has to be given the same, if not more, attention because of the unique nature of Nantucket and its isolated and long winter period that could lead to even greater incidences.
N MAGAZINE: Let’ s move to the presidential landscape. Hillary Clinton has had a difficult start to her campaign and yet she still seems to be the presumptive nominee for the Democrats. Do you see the likelihood of a viable challenge within the party or do you think that Hillary will be the nominee no matter what?
SENATOR MARKEY: Hillary is the favorite. She deserves that role. She is supremely well qualified. She also welcomes the process that a candidate has to go through to win the nomination and to win the presidency. I think it will be a good thing for her to have a vigorous primary challenge because I think it will strengthen her as a candidate when she takes on the Republican nominee in 2016.
N MAGAZINE: And who would be the most formidable Republican challenger to her?
SENATOR MARKEY: It is impossible for me to get inside the internal workings of Republicans’ cerebral mechanisms. I think we’re going to learn a lot about the Republican candidates that we do not now know. I think it is very early to be making a decision which of their candidates will be the strongest, because we know so little in reality, even amongst those who are well known. They are just beginning this presidential process.
N MAGAZINE: You’re mother was a victim of Alzheimer’s. What is your role in improving the research and developing a cure for this disease?
SENATOR MARKEY: My mother died in 1998 from Alzheimer’s. My father was a milkman for the Hood milk company. He felt that it was an honor that my mother married him and he pledged that my mother would never step foot in a nursing home. So for twelve years, the right arm of a milkman, which is the strongest arm you could have, insured that my mother would be taken care of. Caring for my mother only made him stronger. However, not every family is so fortunate. Not everyone has the arm of a milkman. We have to insure that we create the resources so that families have the help, which they need in order to deal with this disease. Five million Americans today have Alzheimer’s. By the time all the Baby Boomers have retired, fifteen million Americans will have Alzheimer’s. Unless we cure that disease we can’ t balance the Federal budget. It’ s going to exhaust our medical system, our nursing home system in America. After my mother died, I created the Alzheimer’s caucus. We now have about two hundred members in the House and the Senate, and we work to lobby for increases in the NIC budget for research of Alzheimer’s. I authored the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, and President Obama signed it into law in 2010. And because of my law we now have a national goal to prevent and cure Alzheimer’s disease in America by 2025.
N MAGAZINE: Finally, what are your thoughts about Nantucket?
SENATOR MARKEY: For a guy from Malden, Nantucket is a place where an ordinary person can be part of an extraordinary place. Whether it is once a year or once in a lifetime, Nantucket is a remarkable experience where open space, natural beauty and artistic creation are celebrated and protected every day.