An Equitable Climate Response.

Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege of being at the forefront of every major climate initiative in our city. Together we have turned Cambridge into a national leader on the issue, but it isn’t nearly enough. The science tells us we need to cut our collective greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and these next 11 years are critical to keeping the impacts of climate change from overwhelming our cities. The city’s own study (which I advocated for as chair of the city’s Climate Protection Action Committee) shows that flooding and heatwaves, in‌ ‌particular, are going to get much worse in the future. Our most vulnerable neighborhoods like the Port already regularly experience these effects, a reality worsened by their acute lack of tree canopy and the significant overall canopy decline of the last decade. We need to live up to our reputation as an innovation hub and accelerate our climate action plan to do what it takes to end the fossil fuel era in Cambridge and become the first net-zero city in the world. And we need to make that transition in an equitable way, ensuring environmental justice for all our neighborhoods. We also need to equitably end our addiction to single-use plastics, which is destroying our oceans.

City staff have acknowledged the need to set a more immediate goal in light of the recent IPCC report, but our city’s official goal remains an uninspiring 80% reduction by 2050 (from 1990 levels) and an unofficial goal of zero emissions by 2050, with no clear plan for how to get to either goal. We need to officially adopt a more aggressive long term goal, as well as an intermediate goal of at least a 45% reduction by 2030, as the science calls for. We also need to set an annual reduction goal to keep us accountable, because we can’t afford to discover in 2050 or even 2030 that we’re still moving in the wrong direction. Ashland, Oregon, for example, has set a goal of reducing total community greenhouse gas emissions by 8% annually in order to get to zero by 2050. Similarly, we should set an annual reduction goal that gets us to zero emissions no later than 2050.

Next steps: I will chair a meeting of the council’s Health & Environment Committee this fall to discuss our emissions goals and the need to adjust them, and based on that discussion (and in consultation with CDD and CPAC) will propose appropriate climate goals for the city to adopt as official policy via a policy order directing the administration to implement them.

We can’t manage what we don’t measure, and the most recent comprehensive Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for Cambridge that we have is from 2012. As recently as June 2019, the city’s website promised that another report would come out in 2018, but it never happened and that promise has since been removed from the website. I expect a report on a more recent year as soon as possible, and annual reports going forward. If it is not possible to do a comprehensive report every year, I expect at the very least annual reports on key indicators. Our total electricity consumption from buildings in Cambridge, for example, represents the bulk of our emissions and can be used to evaluate progress (or lack thereof). We have almost certainly increased our emissions since 2012 just based on the number of new lab and commercial buildings put into operation since then, which means we are moving completely in the wrong direction.

Next steps: I will chair a meeting of the council’s Health & Environment Committee this fall to to get an update on the status of the report that was supposed to be published last year, to get a better understanding of what, if anything, stands in the way of an annual GHG Inventory, and to determine what key indicators we can measure annually going forward in order to better track our progress if full annual inventories are not possible in the short term. If that turns out to be the case, we need to build whatever capacity it will take to do full annual inventories, as indicated in the Climate Action Protection Committee (CPAC) goals.

To end the fossil fuel era in Cambridge, we have to stop designing buildings that rely on fossil fuels to operate. New buildings must be built with zero on-site combustion and must meet deep green building energy standards. We’ve already proven this can be done through several municipal buildings, including the new King Open school complex that opens this fall. We can electrify our energy needs and avoid on-site combustion through air-source heat pumps, geothermal, and rooftop solar, as well as maximally efficient design. I understand the concerns from residents who have lived through expensive bills from induction (traditional electric heating), as well as those who do not want to give up their gas stove for cooking. Here are some things to remember:

  • This change would only apply to new construction, so nobody is giving up anything
  • Air-source heat pumps, which can be thought of as air conditioners in reverse, are much more efficient than traditional induction heating
  • Induction stoves are far safer than their gas counterparts, and most who make the switch end up very satisfied
  • Natural gas combustion causes significant indoor air quality concerns

In addition to all that, our aging gas infrastructure is an immediate and omnipresent safety hazard. Explosions caused by gas leaks happen routinely: we all remember last year’s tragedy in Merrimack Valley and recently a major gas leak on Beacon Hill caused folks to have to evacuate so quickly that they couldn’t even put their shoes on before they left the house. According to HEET there were 280 unrepaired gas leaks in Cambridge in 2018, and there is no reason to continue living in fear of gas explosions when we have much safer and cleaner technology at our fingertips.

I also appreciate those who point out that a building isn’t truly net-zero emissions if the electricity is sourced from non-renewable sources; currently, only 14% of grid electricity in Massachusetts is renewable, and that number is going up very slowly. But retrofitting an existing building is very expensive, and building energy efficiency can only be improved so much after design and construction are complete. Bringing our existing building stock to net-zero emissions as soon as possible will take enormous effort and investment; adding more buildings in the present that are not net-zero ready makes no sense at all. Furthermore, anyone can get 100% renewable electricity through Cambridge’s Community Choice Aggregation for a very comparable price to Eversource. That means in Cambridge, a net-zero ready building can be converted to a true net-zero emissions building with the stroke of a pen (have you signed up for 100% renewable electricity yet?)

Next steps: I will introduce an ordinance to ban fracked gas infrastructure in new construction this fall. In addition, we have been expecting amendments to the Green Building Requirements Ordinance (Article 22) for quite a while. I have asked draft language to be presented immediately, and I will shepherd these amendments through the Council as they are introduced.

LIDAR data shows that Cambridge’s tree canopy has shrunk by nearly 20% over the last decade, and the canopy tends to be the thinnest where the most vulnerable members of our community live. Especially in light of the city’s own study (which I advocated for ten years ago as a member of CPAC) that projects more extreme heat and flooding in Cambridge as a result of climate change, this is terrible news. Trees not only protect us from the dangers of heat and flooding, but also remove carbon from the air and improve the air quality and health for everybody. Here’s what I’ve done this term to try and reverse the destruction:

  • Passed a new permitting requirement for cutting a tree on private property wider than 8” in diameter, as well as a one-year moratorium on issuing such permits, with exemptions for dead or dangerous trees. This has had an immediate cooling effect on the destruction of healthy trees, as anticipated.
  • Tripled the tree planting and maintenance budget, successfully pushed for hiring an additional arborist at DPW, and pushed for even larger budget increases in the years to come.
  • Successfully requested new tree planting in public parks around known urban heat islands and areas where the canopy is thinnest, including 14 new trees in Greene-Rose Heritage Park in The Port.
  • Helped the council be more intentional about prioritizing the preservation of our canopy by scrutinizing curb cut applications and other proposals that would lead to further canopy destruction.

Next steps: The Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force deliberated for more than a year, ending in June of 2019. We are still waiting on the final report, but I will be introducing amendments this fall based on the working documents of the task force, any interim reports released between now and then, and conversation with staff, colleagues and the community, to strengthen our tree protection ordinance and begin to rebuild our canopy.

Eversource has proposed a major expansion to the electrical grid in Cambridge, including a new substation on Fulkerson Street in East Cambridge (right across from the Kennedy-Longfellow School) that could be 150 feet tall or more, as well as massive expansions to existing infrastructure on Putnam Ave and in Alewife. The proposed expansions are envisioned to serve our explosive commercial and lab growth, including the millions of square feet that the previous Council voted to allow at the Volpe site, but electric utility expansion is counterproductive to our climate goals. 86% of the electricity on the grid in Massachusetts is fossil fuel-derived, so any additional grid electricity consumption adds to our fossil fuel emissions, which need to be decreasing, not increasing! I’m working closely with Vice Mayor Devereux, the City Manager, and large property owners in East Cambridge/Kendall Square to ensure that Eversource does NOT build this transfer station in East Cambridge.

Next steps:

  • I have filed a zoning petition along with Councillor Carlone that would amend the special permit criteria to require the Planning Board to consider a project’s impact on our public utilities, including the electrical grid and its capacity.
  • I will not vote for any upzonings that add to our grid electricity consumption.
  • I will continue to object to the new infrastructure and will escalate the issue to a full moratorium on development if Eversource continues to pursue these misguided investments.
  • I will continue to push for more aggressive investments in energy use reductions in existing buildings , and in increasing local renewable energy deployments for existing buildings.
  • I will continue to push for net-zero ready and net-zero standards for new construction in order to reduce our emissions while adding new buildings. We have built several net-zero ready municipal buildings now, and it is past time to do the same in private development through energy efficiency, and local renewable energy sources like solar, geothermal and air-source heating.
  • I will continue to advocate at the state level to increase the RPS and for other ways to accelerate the timeline to a 100% renewable electricity grid and the elimination of natural (fracked!) gas.
Mode shift is essential to reducing our emissions from the transit sector, and I’m a champion for cyclist and pedestrian safety: if we make our roads safer, more people will get out of their cars. Our current direction is to prioritize and convenience cars and the people who use them at every step, from road design, to speed limits and other laws, to the two lanes of most streets that are devoted entirely to heavily-subsidized car storage. I pushed hard for lowering the speed limit to 20 MPH citywide, which will be implemented soon, and I am one of the only councillors to consistently call for prioritizing protected bicycle lanes and safety over the convenience of subsidized car storage. I’ve also pushed for the electrification of our municipal fleet, more publicly-accessible charging stations (coming soon!), and congestion pricing on rideshare vehicles. At the state level, I’m advocating to make the T free for all residents and demanding serious investment in our crumbling public transit infrastructure.

*A more comprehensive transit platform is coming soon!*

I’ve been advocating for climate adaptation in Cambridge ever since I joined the Climate Protection Action Committee in 2008 and began advocating for a climate vulnerability assessment. It took more than a decade, but that assessment was finally finished last year and shows that Cambridge can expect more extreme heat and flooding events caused by climate change in the coming decades. It also found that areas of the city where our most vulnerable communities live tend to be the areas that are most vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change. This is deeply concerning, and I strongly supported the citizen-initiated Climate Safety Petition last summer. Despite near-universal praise for many elements of the petition, which would have codified protections from heat and flooding in new construction, the council tragically voted it down out of concerns it would impact the rate of development, which means we won’t be able to re-file any similar petition for two years. Instead, the city has appointed a task force to discuss the issue. It should be noted that just 3 days after the climate safety petition was voted down, 11.9 acres in the Alewife Quadrangle were sold to a prominent developer (Cabot) for 79 million dollars. That parcel would have been impacted by the petition!

Next steps: As co-chair of the Health & Environment Committee, I will continue holding joint hearings with the city-appointed task force to monitor progress and accelerate any resulting proposals. Unlike the current council majority, I will never prioritize short-term developer profits over long term residential safety.

We can’t recycle our way to sustainability. I toured the Casella recycling facility in Charlestown last year and saw just how hopeless our commodified, for-profit recycling industry is firsthand. We simply produce too much stuff, and most of it gets discarded after just one use. Our plastic bag and polystyrene bans have been effective, so I’m proposing that we move away from ALL types of single-use plastic foodservice items. I’m already working with community advocates to develop language that won’t burden people with disabilities, and we will also spend plenty of time incorporating feedback from small business owners. Together we are crafting a policy that eliminates single-use plastic from our foodservice establishments while meeting stakeholder needs in order to advance our zero waste goal of 80% reduction by 2050 (from 2008 levels).

Next steps: I’ve already submitted a policy order (which passed unanimously!) that asks the City Manager to work with stakeholders and deliver draft language on a single-use plastic ban by the end of the year. I’ve already met with advocates from the community of people with disabilities, and I will continue listening to and working with stakeholders to advance the conversation.

We urgently need to divest Cambridge’s public pension funds from fossil fuels, but the city solicitor has determined that state-level approval is needed. I’ve worked with Vice Mayor Devereux to pass a resolution putting the council on record in support of H.3662/S.636, a bill that would allow city and county pensions to divest from fossil fuels. I have also long supported student efforts like Fossil Free MIT and Divest Harvard that push our universities to do the same. Fossil fuels are a bad investment for retirees and for the planet!

Next steps: I will continue supporting grassroots efforts to pass H.3662/S.636 as well as the campus divestment movements.