Monday, May 27, 2024

Dear councillors,

At the recent request of Jonathan Hecht, my state representative for the 29th Middlesex District, I met with citizens of Cambridge interested in the sustainability aspects of a proposal by MIT to develop portions of their east campus, a parcel referred to as PUD-5. I understand there is a zoning petition ordinance committee hearing April 2. I have had a very short time to become familiar with the proposal, and it is possible that detail plans include some of the aspects I am recommending. I was struck by the full extent of the development plans that MIT was considering, not just the sizable square footage proposed for PUD-5. Given the magnitude of all the projects that extends from the Charles River through Kendall toward Central and beyond, there is an opportunity for Cambridge to be a distinguished a civic leader for a sustainable community.

Opportunities abound. Requiring the new buildings to simply achieve LEED Gold is not aspirational and does not guarantee deep reductions in energy consumption, efficient use of spaces or material use. The designers for the new buildings would have to look no further than the MIT faculty to find innovation in energy, urban planning and transportation. For those who would say these academic advancements are years away from practical applications should know that universities that MIT faculty collaborate with such as EHT Zurich have built and are now operating a new campus above the city of Zurich (larger that the proposed PUD-5 proposal) powered entirely with geothermal and solar energy.

At this moment in time as you contemplate the massive development before you please consider the longer=term implications. The recent World Bank report “Turn Down the Heat,” (prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics), says that the world is on a path to a 4 degree Celsius (4°C) warmer world by end of this century, and current greenhouse gas emissions pledges will not reduce this by much. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, as he introduced the report, said,  “Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest.”

In a very tangible way, your decisions on this one development before you and those which will follow are your legacy to Cambridge and the world. Harvard and MIT, as members of the International Sustainable Campus Network, have committed to its charter principles.  Therefore, you should look to these academic institutions for leadership and inspiration – and expect more.

 Jack Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation and Harvard University, School of Public Health

Note: After publication of this letter, Spengler was asked for more information about MIT’s work overseas. He has refused to provide further information.