Thursday, July 18, 2024

After we’ve lived through the hottest summer on record, with wildfires, intense storms and flooding around the world, the climate crisis is palpably present. The most recent United Nations report presents a stark, dire warning that swift, multimodal action on climate is needed to keep us from global climate catastrophe. As UN secretary general António Guterres has said, “The climate time bomb is ticking.”

What can we do? Massachusetts has been opening multiple pathways toward lowering greenhouse gas emissions in ways that are equitable and grow green jobs.

Here in Cambridge, we recently passed important amendments to the Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance that set timelines for large existing commercial and institutional buildings to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions. The amendments require existing commercial and institutional buildings of more than 100,000 square feet to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035; commercial and institutional buildings between 25,000 and 100,000 square feet must do so by 2050.

These amendments set the city on a good path – especially since buildings account for more than 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Cambridge, and the largest buildings account for about 70 percent of this quantity.

But did you notice that the amendments affect only existing buildings? What about new construction?

To close this gap, an additional proposed amendment, to be discussed at the Tuesday meeting of the Ordinance Committee, would require newly constructed large commercial and institutional buildings to reach net zero on an accelerated 2030 timeline.

Importantly, this further amendment covers large labs, scientific research and medical facilities, which are exempt from the state’s 10-town Fossil Fuel-Free Demonstration Program in which Cambridge will be participating. The amendment would address this loophole and ask large contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in our community to do their part.

Is it feasible? Built Environment Plus, the local association of green builders and designers, reports that net-zero-ready projects can be built in Massachusetts as easily and with costs similar to conventional construction. And in terms of labs, research and medical buildings, local examples include the new Moderna lab facility on Binney Street, Boston University’s massive new computer science building, IQHQ’s 1-million-square-foot lab complex under construction in the Fenway and Boston Medical Center’s satellite behavioral medicine hospital in Brockton, which already uses geothermal heat and on-site solar-powered electricity. Note that having these buildings net zero ready from the start, which we’d expect to be the common approach, avoids the need for costly retrofits just a few years from now.

So the proposed amendment would have a significant impact on cutting the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, and its provisions are reasonable and doable.

We urge the committee and the council to approve it.

We invite readers to write to city councillors (all of whom serve on the Ordinance Committee) in support as well. Hearing from residents makes a difference in their decisions. Email them at: [email protected], cc’ing [email protected] and [email protected]. And if you like, bcc us at [email protected]. You can also come to the Tuesday noontime meeting at City Hall. We’ll be there! Thank you.

Hannah Mahoney on behalf of the Cambridge Mothers Out Front chapter leadership team