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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet


Local leaders returning from UN climate summit say MA needs local action for clean, green – Wicked Local

It’s clear to Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone that mitigating climate change is up to us; us, as in municipalities and the people who live in them.

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone

The out-going mayor who attended the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow, Scotland in November as the newly-named president of the North East Clean Energy Council, is convinced that it will be local and regional initiatives that will prove to be the catalysts for national action.

Curtatone was one of two local leaders, with Sen. Michael Barrett, (D-Middlesex), who talked about their time at the conference. Curtatone noted that while the experience was inspiring, especially seeing all the activism, it was also frustrating and alarming as it seemed that cities are doing more than nations.

“Where cities lead, nations will follow,” Curtatone said in a recent interview with Wicked Local.

The boldest leadership, he believes, is not found in capitals but in communities that are opting to make the green choices and to make those green choices the easy one for residents.

“The DNA,” Curtatone says of global warming, “has already been written. We can’t change that. But the outcome depends on what we do now.” He cited local and regional action that will dictate national response. “We’ve shown it here in Somerville: we can build a green, equitable economy.”

Clean, green and equitable for all

Curtatone points to initiatives launched in the past decade in Somerville, including increases in bicycle ridership through investing in the bike-share programs and creating bicycle travel lanes, the creation of bus-only travel lanes on the city’s connector streets and changes in the city’s zoning ordinance, the planting of more trees and a local initiative that limits city plantings to indigenous species.

These initiatives, enacted on a municipal level, can extend to regional action and collaboration; witness the new bicycle lanes on the Fellsway, connecting Somerville with Medford and Everett. The bus-only morning rush-hour travel lane through Medford and Somerville along Mystic Avenue, is also a good example as it reduced commute times for bus passengers, increasing ridership and reducing the number of car trips in the cities.

Somerville has launched six bus lane projects between 2017 and 2021, four of them through environmental justice neighborhoods. Curtatone was also a major advocate of the Green Line Extension project, and has pushed to electrify antiquated bus and train transports and implement regular, all-day service rather than rush-hour prioritization that benefits white collar workers at the expense of all other riders on the MBTA.

In the end, the investment results in a healthier, safer, more productive community, Curtatone said of the changes he is proudest of.  And they stem from the community’s vision of itself, of who Somerville decided it wanted to be, and is based on the collective values of the city.

“This is not linear, it’s all inter-connected; climate intersects with all,” Curtatone said. “We live at a local level; we have the ability to create initiatives.”

Barrett returned to Massachusetts with similar outlook. Reigning in climate change and keeping the anticipated temperature increase at the targeted, agreed upon 1.5 degrees centigrade, depends on local advocacy.

State Senator Michael Barrett

“The residents of Medford need to advocate for the municipality to support Net Zero,” Barrett told Medford residents and Tufts students attending a recent webinar sponsored by the city and the Tufts Energy Group, a student organization.

Barrett, the chairperson, of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, as well as the vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate change, was a key sponsor of the Massachusetts Net Zero climate action legislation, signed into law earlier this year.

The measure places Massachusetts among the world leaders in the fight against global warming; advancing clean energy, protecting low- and middle-income families and provides tools that will allow the state to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Net Zero in Massachusetts by 2050

Net-zero or carbon neutrality aims to balance out the amount of carbon dioxide produced and released into the atmosphere with the amount removed through carbon sinks and emission reduction efforts. Generating electrical power through the burning of fossil fuels, manufacturing consumer goods, industrialized agriculture and the cutting down of forests to produce farmland and for bio-fuel are all human activities that foster global warming.

As carbon dioxide blankets the earth, it traps the sun’s heat causing a greenhouse effect, leading to global warming and climate change.

“Net Zero may not do it,” Barrett admitted at the webinar, despairing that even if net zero were achieved by 2050 world-wide, it would still push world temperatures past the 1.5 degree mark. “We may need to advocate for absolute zero.”

November 12, 2021: Climate activists demonstrate outside of the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

Globally, agriculture and production of electricity account for about 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, Barrett said, citing statistics from the summit. He pointed out that the biggest emissions in the United States are caused by transportation; 29 percent, with electricity production a close second, at 27 percent.

Massachusetts emissions from transportation jumped to 41.9 percent and emissions from all structures, residential and commercial buildings together, were at 27 percent. Electricity production also caused high emissions, at 18.5 percent.

His remarks made the focus of where Massachusetts should concentrate its efforts to achieve carbon neutrality very clear. The greening of the electrical grid, weaning from fossil fuels in the production of electricity, greening of new construction, both residential and commercial and industrial and the transportation sector, is the state’s challenge.

“We have to go deep,” Barrett said.

In discussing the bill he sponsored, Barrett has said “is about getting down to brass tacks. It’s about getting the job done, one step at a time, starting now. The pace of climate change is picking up — so the pace of climate policy must pick up. The Next Generation Climate Roadmap law reflects the concerns of people of every age, from every part of the state. The grassroots climate movement of Massachusetts is a force to be reckoned with.”

Barrett said he was discouraged by the rhetoric at the summit and the lack of urgency and concern that human activity has already led to 1.1 degree of warming already.

“There was no mention or urgency or alarm,” Barrett noted of the discussions he heard in Glasgow. The best he heard was that countries affirmed their commitment to keeping warming to below two degrees centigrade; and there was no agreement to limit it to 1.5 degrees of warming. “The best they could do was say they would pursue efforts” to reach carbon neutrality.

Somerville’s 81,000 activists

Curtatone, who was tapped for his new job with the council believes it was his leadership as Somerville mayor, fueled by the 81,000 “resident activists” he likes to allude to, and his position as president of the Metropolitan Mayor’s Coalition for the past decade that earned him the nod.

“I think regionally,” Curtatone said of many of his initiatives in Somerville and in collaboration with neighboring communities and his establishment of an equity-based action plan to reduce Somerville’s carbon footprint by 2030.

Somerville Climate Forward

Some of Curtatone’s initiatives while in office:

  • Has pushed for fossil fuel divestment of local pension fund
  • Championed sustainable transportation efforts: introduced EV fleet and EV charging stations, advocated for MBTA Green Line Extension Project and Assembly Row MBTA stop
  • Negotiated a higher mix of Somerville’s electricity to be generated by renewable energy (currently at 30% and on track to be 50% by the end of the decade)
  • All new Somerville city buildings will be carbon-neutral (starting with new police HQ)
  • Built/renovated 50+parks in a city of only 4.1 square miles
  • Spearheaded the MBTA Green Line extension through Somerville, receiving more than $1 billion in federal funds for the project
  • Had the vision to recruit climate tech incubator Greentown Labs to Somerville to spearhead the development of leading edge companies that will spur future economic growth throughout the northeast
  • Built out a citywide bicycling network boasting 40 miles of marked bike lanes in a city of just 4.1 square miles, initiating a major transportation shift among local residents and turning Somerville into one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation
  • Kicked off the entire healthy communities’ movement of the 2000s with a program called Shape Up Somerville, providing the model for what became the Let’s Move! Initiative championed by Michelle Obama
  • Proposing to ban fossil fuels hookups in new residential construction
  • Just established the city’s first urban forest management plan

“There is,” Curtatone contends, “glory in planning, but the glamor is in the execution,” of ideas and initiatives. Cities, prompted by residents seeking a green, clean and equitable future, will lead the way.


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