Saturday, July 20, 2024

The Cambridge Citywide Senior Center ballroom was packed Oct. 24 as more than 100 residents came to hear candidates for City Council answer questions about how they would address climate change on a local level. All candidates were invited, and we are grateful that 16 candidates (and one spokesperson) attended. All candidates got the questions, along with background information, before the event, which helped ensure that their answers were substantive and revealing, making for a civil and productive event. If you missed the forum but would like to know where your favorite candidates stand on climate, you can watch a video recording here.

We started by asking candidates about emissions reduction in our city. In Cambridge, 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings and most of that is generated by large institutional and commercial buildings. In June, the Council voted to amend the Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance, requiring large commercial and institutional buildings to begin reducing their emissions gradually. When asked about their stance on Beudo, some candidates proposed an expansion, for example by finding incentives to support the decarbonization of residential buildings. Others were more cautious and favored monitoring Beudo and focusing on the implementation of the policy we have. None of the candidates present suggested scaling back Beudo.

When it came to using fossil fuels in new buildings (Cambridge is part of a 10-city pilot of a near-total ban on the use of fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction) almost all candidates would maintain the state pilot, citing that having fossil fuels in new construction simply doesn’t make sense. Yet others were cautious about the costs and the impact on businesses, and one candidate questioned the inclusion of major renovations in the pilot.

We also asked about encouraging non-car travel by continuing the current policy of placing separated bike lanes on our major streets and intersections. Responses varied, from those in support of the current Cycling Safety Ordinance to those who think the city should pause implementation to evaluate the current system. Almost all the candidates present stressed the need for ample community consultation as part of the process to roll out more bike lanes.

All the attending candidates stated that they are in favor of planting more trees in Cambridge, with one suggesting that the city should be more ambitious and have one city tree per resident. Only a few candidates spoke about tree equity and the uneven distribution of trees in our city and suggested that new plantings should prioritize areas where the canopy is more scarce.

In terms of housing equity and its intersection with climate, candidates agreed on the need for more affordable and middle-income units, but their views on how that should happen differed. Several candidates cited the Alewife plan and moratorium as an example of good urban planning, while others called for more consultation with the affected communities, especially environmental justice communities, and highlighted the need to negotiate robust community compensation plans. Converting offices into mixed-use residential units, preserving squares from lab construction and building in ways that don’t damage our environmental infrastructure were among the other strategies supported.

Finally, we asked the candidates what they would do to advance climate justice in our city and support those who are disproportionately affected by climate change. Some candidates called for planting more trees and expanding access to green areas, such as Jerry’s Pond. Others focused on education, resilience and preparedness, for example making sure residents have air-conditioning to protect themselves from extreme heat. Strengthening public transport and investing in green jobs were also offered as climate justice solutions.

Given that three councilors are not seeking reelection and a total of 24 candidates are on the ballot, this election is a crucial one if the city is to press ahead with a vigorous approach to addressing the climate crisis. While we can’t endorse candidates, we urge everyone to vote with climate on their mind, because the climate crisis intersects with social, economic and racial justice.

Times and places for early voting can be found here. And you can find your regular polling place here.

The forum was co-sponsored by Cambridge Mothers Out Front, 350 Mass-Cambridge Node, Green Cambridge, the Mystic River Watershed Association and Cambridge City Growers.

Elena Fagotto, Cambridge Mothers Out Front; Sage Carbone, Cambridge City Growers; Cynthia Hibbard, Green Cambridge; Michelle Liebetreu, Mystic River Watershed Association; and Steven Miller, 350 Mass-Cambridge Node