Gina McCarthy

Gina McCarthy, whose environmental and public health expertise propelled her from Canton Town Hall to the White House, will discuss climate change as the Saturday keynote speaker at the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show on Jan. 20 in Boston.

A former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who most recently served as the White House’s first-ever national climate advisor, McCarthy has become one of the nation’s most prominent voices on climate change, the environment and public health. She will share her insights on climate strategies in a fireside chat with MMA Executive Director Adam Chapdelaine.

As climate change intensifies and the daily weather forecast increasingly instills dread, McCarthy wants the public to view climate work not as a depressing burden, but as an opportunity to make people’s lives better — to create new jobs, improve health outcomes and provide more resources to traditionally underserved communities.

“What we have to do is get people engaged,” McCarthy told CNN in August. “What we have to do is get them excited, and make them hopeful again. We have what we need to succeed. We need people to get excited about it, motivated, and understand what opportunities exist for them, and for the future of our kids. We can’t sit around thinking about this. We have to act.”

McCarthy got her first exposure to government and environmental work in her hometown of Canton. In interviews, she has spoken about the impact of her formative experiences while serving municipalities in the 1980s.

“I started at the local level in the town of Canton as the first full-time health agent, and it was the best experience of my life,” McCarthy said during a September 2022 appearance at the Aspen Institute. “It made me realize that government is all about responding to people, and how they see the challenge before them, and how you can reframe that challenge and make a difference in it.”

McCarthy served as Stoughton’s first environmental officer before going on to work at the state level. She held senior positions under five Massachusetts governors, including as deputy secretary of the Office of Commonwealth Development and undersecretary for environmental affairs policy. In 2004, she was appointed commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

McCarthy went to work for President Barack Obama in 2009, first as the assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation in the EPA, and then as EPA administrator from 2013 until January 2017. She then served as president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and was a professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she served as director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment. She was also a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

In January 2021, McCarthy returned to the White House to lead the Climate Policy Office under President Joe Biden for a year and a half. She was involved in critical pieces of legislation, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, both of which include significant climate and clean energy provisions. The difference between working for the Obama and Biden administrations, she has said in interviews, are the scientific and technological advancements that emerged in the interim, ones that will make climate goals more readily achievable.

“The Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are catalytic because we have the kind of technologies, and the kind of products, and the kind of processes that make people feel better about where they are in their future,” McCarthy said at the Aspen Institute. “We are not standing up on a podium talking about the ‘woe is me’ on climate. We’re just simply saying that climate’s here, you’re looking at the numbers, you’re looking at the engagement of states now.”

McCarthy has vowed not to “ride off into the sunset” while more climate work remains. She is now a climate fellow at her alma mater, Tufts University, managing co-chair of the climate initiative America Is All In, and co-chair of a group coordinating climate policies between the United States and India. She’s also advising private equity firms on climate and sustainability-focused investments.

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