Boston may not have white sand beaches or palm trees lining its coast, but that doesn’t mean the city is immune to rising sea levels and threats of global climate change brought on in large part by our own carbon emissions.
The City and its residents are surely responsible for a greater share of the United States’ contribution to global carbon emissions than say, a town of 5,000 people in North Dakota. Mayor Martin Walsh’s office released a statement Sunday that said cities account for more than 70 percent of global emissions.
We need to take responsibility to work toward a sustainable future not only for Boston residents, but for residents of other cities suffering the consequences of the way we live.
Boston will receive two years of support to help reduce its carbon emissions after winning Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge, an initiative supporting 20 United States cities to reduce their carbon emissions. The City will use the support to improve the energy efficiency of its buildings and reduce car dependency.
Climate change is an issue that seems to fade in and out of public attention. Right now, it’s in, after a United Nations report warned we have 22 years until climate change could reach catastrophic levels. It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to rapidly transform the world economy by then, but changing the infrastructure of major cities is a start.
Giving money and resources to the cities that are already doing the most they can to reduce their emissions won’t have a direct impact on the cities that don’t have the resources to fund their own programs.
But if Boston can use resources to innovate and find new techniques, they can be exported to other cities that haven’t come as far along in terms of planning for sustainable development. Boston can be on the frontier, and that can be emulated elsewhere. Climate change reform should be coming in big sweeping movements from the national government, but since that isn’t the case, we can do it from the bottom up, regardless of what happens at the national level.
One in every five of Boston’s new buildings falls in the bottom 50 percent of similar buildings across the nation for energy inefficiency, according to WGBH. With Walsh’s plan to build 69,000 new housing units by 2030 — the third biggest building boom of Boston’s history — the City has an opportunity to take action now to incentivize higher standards.
Buildings account for the majority of Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions. The City can’t “put the toothpaste back in the tube,” as City Councilor Matt O’Malley said, with the buildings that already exist. But it can make choices with new construction that require an energy efficient design. With resources specifically designated for this purpose by an outside business, there is no excuse for the City to invest money elsewhere.
Money will no longer be a limiting factor in some of Walsh’s plans. Now, it comes down to whether or not the City has the motivation to get the work done.
With the federal government reversing environmental protections, it’s easier than ever — and more dangerous than ever — for cities to exempt themselves from the fight against climate change. Cities like Boston, that bear a significant weight of the responsibility for global climate change, can choose to hold themselves to the highest standards possible.
Boston has a lot of skin in the game regarding climate change. Unless we want to be the Venice of the United States by 2040, we should take the initiative to put Bloomberg’s support to good use.