New England is a veritable hotbed of activity when it comes to responding to the challenges posed by a warming planet.
So much so that at the end of last year, the White House named the City of Boston a Climate Change Champion, recognizing Beantown along with 15 other communities, for “… stepping up to cut carbon pollution, deploy more clean energy, boost energy efficiency, and build resilience in their communities to climate impacts.”
The White House also commended Boston for its climate change plan. Entitled “Greenovate Boston,” the plan lays out steps to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals of 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 for municipal operations, and requires the City to plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change, such as rising tides.
In his introduction to the plan, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, refers to Boston’s coastal vulnerability, recalling hurricane Sandy’s devastation of the New York and New Jersey shorelines.
“Had the storm hit just five hours earlier, Boston could have experienced similar losses. We were not better prepared than New Jersey or New York — we were lucky, and luck is not a policy we can count on. The climate continues to change, resulting in rising sea levels and more extreme weather. Boston must focus its collective will on making sure we do everything possible to be ready, and we need to take the lead on reducing the well-documented human contribution to climate change.”
The plan lays out five priorities. In addition to aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals and preparing for the impacts of climate change, it also calls for promoting healthy and equitable communities, measuring progress, and increasing community engagement.
Indeed, that final priority and Mayor Walsh’s comment about focusing Boston’s “collective will” make clear that success in reaching those climate change goals goes beyond what leaders say and do, it also requires everyone’s participation.
Recently, Walsh himself was convinced to take action when residents from Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood got together and raised safety concerns about a Houston energy company’s proposal to place a natural gas pipeline gas line near an active blasting quarry.
According to a recent Boston Globe article, “US Representative Stephen F. Lynch has written letters to the chairwoman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, citing ‘grave concerns’ about the project. Walsh and Boston councilors have joined the opposition chorus.”
Community engagement is also the goal of a group of residents living on islands off the Maine coast, as they work to switch their communities’ power sources from expensive fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Several of these Mainers traveled to Samso, Denmark, a small Danish Island about four hours from Copenhagen that achieved green energy independence in 2005. In addition to getting a feel for what its like to have a windmill nearby, for example, the Maine residents also wanted to learn engagement strategies from Samso.
Suzanne MacDonald, the community energy director at the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine, which is helping oversee the Mainers’ Denmark program, told the New York Times that while switching small island environments to renewables are useful test cases, they won’t work without community participation and buy-in.
“We can’t just put steel in the ground and technology on the grid unless people are a part of the process.”
According to the article, the engagement strategies learned from Samso seem to be having an effect: When their Danish advisors went to Monhegan Island for a discussion, most residents joined in and were still talking about it the next day. As Marion Chioffi, the bookkeeper at Monhegan’s electric company told the Times, “… it got people talking about renewable energy again.”