Natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy demonstrate that climate change will be a very real priority for the next mayor of Boston. We need all Bostonians to be part of the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transition to a clean energy economy, and prepare for the unavoidable consequences of a warming planet.
The latest scientific evidence underscores the urgency. Measurements from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii taken earlier this year showed the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million for the first time in 3 million years. In response to the milestone, Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climatologist, best summed it up: “We are a society that has inadvertently chosen the double-black diamond run without having learned to ski first. It will be a bumpy ride.”
In 2009 and 2010, I was proud to serve on the city’s Climate Action Leadership Committee, a panel convened by Mayor Menino to develop strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation. In our final report in April 2010, we called for citywide reductions in GHG emissions of 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
Boston is already moving forward to reach these goals. In 2010, I led the passage of the “stretch” energy code in the city council, a nation-leading energy efficient building code that can cut energy use by 20 percent compared with the base code. Earlier this year, I supported an ordinance requiring large property owners to track and disclose their buildings’ energy and water usage. I believe both measures will help catalyze market-based efforts to cut energy costs.
With the threat of climate change growing more pronounced, and as our city looks forward to a new mayor, I believe now is the time to set ambitious goals to establish Boston as an unquestioned global leader among cities in responding to climate change. In my campaign for mayor I have already outlined a number of ideas for greening Boston. Today, I am building on those ideas by identifying five new goals that I will take on as mayor:
First, I will commit to honoring the 2010 goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions of 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. These are the overarching goals that will guide our city’s efforts.
Second, let’s commit to a new goal of installing 100 megawatts of solar by 2020. This represents a quadrupling of Boston’s existing solar goal. Massachusetts has one of the best solar markets in the country and Boston should be leading the way. We should look to city-owned properties and iconic buildings like the Convention Center as priorities for solar power installations.
Third, let’s commit to making Boston’s municipal buildings zero net energy by 2025. That means the city will generate or purchase energy from clean renewable resources in a quantity equal to or greater than what city buildings consume. Accomplishing this will require universal energy efficiency retrofits of city operations, maximizing renewable energy installations on city properties, and only buying renewable energy for what we can’t save or generate ourselves. From City Hall to police stations to Boston Public Schools, we can have the greenest city operations in the nation.
Fourth, let’s divert 80 percent of all waste – residential and commercial – from landfills by 2020. That means a dramatic boost to recycling and fostering a whole new industry to take advantage of the energy potential of yard and food waste. San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee announced last fall that his city had already reached 80 percent diversion. Boston needs to respond and become the East Coast leader on green waste management, reducing emissions in landfills and through combustion.
Fifth, we need to enable all households in Boston to take responsibility for reducing their energy bills. As mayor, I will use the bully pulpit of the office to seek universal utilization of programs intended to help households audit their energy usage, weatherize their homes, improve energy efficiency, and lower energy bills. We must support all Bostonians in reducing their home energy usage, and particularly low-income families that struggle with utility bills.
While we should never see climate adaptation as an excuse not to be aggressive on mitigation, we do have to fully prepare for climate change’s impacts. That’s why I also propose convening a panel of climate scientists, civil engineers, and other leading experts to do for the Boston area what Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently unveiled for New York City: a sweeping, detailed plan to examine our critical infrastructure and offer concrete recommendations for changes we must make to become more resilient.
According to the Boston Harbor Association, had Superstorm Sandy reached Boston at high tide, 83 million square feet of the city could have flooded, “with floodwaters reaching City Hall.” Improving our resilience will not be cheap, but we’ll be looking at billions in flooding damages if we don’t act.
As we take on these challenges, Boston has a remarkable economic opportunity. For generations, we have been reliant on fuels like petroleum, coal, and natural gas that are not found nearby. In tomorrow’s clean energy economy, the work of insulating homes, putting solar panels on homes and schools, and recycling creates jobs that can’t be outsourced to another state, region or country. I’m committed to boosting employment opportunities, including good green jobs, for all Bostonians.
With innovations like the Hubway bike share program, with leading clean energy companies like Next Step Living, First Wind and EnerNOC, and with environmentally progressive residents, Boston is already rightly considered part of the green vanguard. But there’s even more we can do. With these five goals, combined with other efforts like transit-oriented development; stronger investments in transit, walking, and bicycling infrastructure; expanded urban agriculture; and support for our innovative green companies, we will assure Boston’s position of environmental leadership.
I hope you’ll share your ideas with me in the comments below, or by emailing me at email@example.com. You can also read more of my platform at ConnollyforBoston.com/ideas.