Monday, May 20, 2024

A sign over hand dryers in the Kendall Square Cinema note the devices' environmental benefits. (Photo: herzogbr)

Expect an aggressive rollout of environmental efforts from City Hall, officials suggested Monday after a report from the citizens leading the Cambridge Climate Emergency Action Group.

After two and a half years of researching and prodding in less formal ways, the group was invited by city councilors to give a report and suggestions on what the city could do to help fight climate change, and the brief report and responses were mainly enthusiastic and high-energy — as though refuting the group’s findings about public attitudes toward the fight.

In Cambridge, said group leader John Pitkin, it’s not skepticism about climate change that might complicate environmental efforts, but pessimism that government will get its act together and do anything of value.

“Do not expect an uprising,” Pitkin said, but councillors could be “confident the public would support far more action on the part of government.”

They had their own reasons to believe that, with Mayor David Maher noting the enlightened attitudes of students he visited as part of leading the School Committee and Tim Toomey telling of residents paying more than necessary for parking permits when being told it would go toward aiding the environment.

Toomey was opposed to raising the permit fee to $20 from $8 because it was unfair to those struggling to pay bills in a bad economy. But he supported the invitation to pay more if people felt up to it, “and those who could afford to pay more did,” to the tune of several thousand dollars this year, he said. “I tip my hat to those who could pay more and did.”

The use of that money wasn’t discussed Monday, but plenty of options were mentioned, starting with school renovations expected to take place through 2018. Vice mayor Henrietta Davis hoped would the schools would be made into cutting-edge examples of not just energy efficiency, but of small-scale energy generation. (She also hoped to see power generation incorporated into the plans of companies such as Novartis, which had officials in attendance to hear the fate of zoning needed to expand its campus in the Cambridgeport neighborhood.)

The councillors were certainly doing its part, said another group leader, Minka vanBeuzekom. Their agenda included a policy order to buy locally; a committee report about curbside collection of organic waste and cutting the use of plastic bags; and discussion of such topics as introducing a bicycle-sharing program.

But there was plenty more to do.

The city could fund nonprofits doing environmental work, make recycling mandatory to boost the current 45 percent rate  — including by putting recycling bins next to every solar-powered trash compactor on city streets  — and encourage meatless Mondays, said vanBeuzekom, a candidate for city council in the previous and coming elections.

The officials acknowledged the group’s good work and its own need to act more quickly, but also expressed a little of the pessimism of which Pitkin warned.

“We’re going to have to be more aggressive than meatless Mondays,” Craig Kelley said, admitting he had no concrete suggestions to take the efforts further.

Sam Seidel, who asked the group to give its presentation, was sunnier.

While he’d invited the group to drive home the point climate change is “real, that it’s massive and that it’s happening,” he also wanted to give the members credit for their work. The parking fee increase resulted from a group suggestion, resulting in money creating real change in the current budget cycle.

“That’s all because of you,” Seidel said. “Keep it up.”