“Say Her Name”: BostonCAN in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Boston

BostonCAN helped to swell the crowd during the “Say Her Name” march and rally, sponsored by Black Lives Matter Boston, on Saturday, July 4. The event was organized to “center and uplift the lives of ALL Black womxn [with] radical joy and dancing because, as Audre Lorde wrote, ‘it is better to speak/remembering/we were never meant to survive.’ Womxn hold up half the sky all over the world and have always been essential, yet Black womxn are too often overlooked, erased, and devalued.”

BostonCAN volunteers at the Say Her Name rally.
BostonCAN calling for justice for Black women

“Green Buildings” FAQ

On Earth Day 2020, we launched a petition drive as part of our “Green Buildings, Not Greenhouse Gases” campaign. The petition is aimed at accelerating the pace of energy retrofits of large, existing buildings citywide. Because the current applicable city law, BERDO, is not strong enough to ensure that these retrofits happen, the petition asks the City to amend BERDO with strict building emissions standards and to ensure that they are implemented and enforced.   

Since the petition launch, we have been receiving some great questions from our members and the general public. Read on: your question may be answered here. 

What is the big idea behind your “Green Buildings” campaign?

The ultimate purpose is to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change. The latest update to Boston’s Climate Action Plan includes steps to reduce carbon emissions in three main sectors: buildings, transportation, and energy supply. 

Why did BCAN decide to focus on buildings

Over 70% of citywide greenhouse gases come from buildings. While it is important to reduce carbon pollution from all sources, BCAN wanted to concentrate on the sector with the most emissions.

Why existing buildings?

An estimated 85% of the buildings that will exist in Boston in 2050 are already built today. (That said, it is also important to keep new buildings from adding to the emissions problem. The Boston Clean Energy Coalition, of which BCAN is a member, is leading a separate campaign to ensure the adoption of net zero standards for new buildings.)

Why large ones?

Boston’s largest buildings—less than 3% of the total number–account for about half of total citywide emissions. 

Which buildings are we talking about?

Specifically,

  • nonresidential buildings that are 35,000 square feet or larger,
  • residential buildings that are 35,000 square feet or larger, or have 35 or more units, and
  • any parcel with multiple buildings that sum to 100,000 square feet or 100 units.

This group of 2,200 buildings encompasses many types: hospitals, laboratories, universities, office buildings, hotels, multi-family housing, and more. Some are owned by the City, but many are privately owned. 

What is BERDO?

BERDO, the Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance, is a City law passed in 2013. It requires owners of large buildings (as defined above) to report annual energy and water usage to the City. It also requires the City to make the data public. Every five years, owners are required to do something additional about their energy usage: either take an energy action or get an energy assessment.  

What happens if building owners don’t comply?

The penalties specified under BERDO are light. The Air Pollution Control Commission, which is part of the City’s Environment Department, is authorized to fine non-compliant owners or tenants. However, the fines are capped at $3,000 per building annually, and applying them is cumbersome because it involves taking non-compliers to court. In actuality, the City has not been enforcing BERDO. BCAN believes the City needs to allocate more staff resources to the implementation of this law.  

Why do you say that existing requirements are not strong enough?

Every five years, owners of large buildings are required either to take an energy action or get an energy assessment.

To fulfill the “action” option, owners may prove their buildings are already energy-efficient by earning certain certifications, or demonstrate that they have achieved a 15% reduction in energy use. However, the worsening pace of the climate crisis necessitates a higher rate of reduction.

The “assessment” option, while a valuable start, does not alone seem like sufficient progress for a five-year period. 

What kind of changes would building owners need to make in order to make a difference?

There are many ways to reduce a building’s carbon footprint: insulation and air-sealing; more efficient heating, cooling, and lighting; producing or purchasing “green” electricity; occupant behavior changes; and more. What will work best is different for different buildings. 

Massachusetts’ cities and towns cannot specify how buildings must be built. They must adopt one of two building codes passed by the state. This is why Boston will update BERDO with a carbon emissions standard, setting limits that will probably vary by building size and type. It will be up to owners to decide how to meet the standard. That said, the City will offer guidance to owners and builders about ways to cut carbon emissions.     

How will this measure move forward at City Hall?

The Environment Department is leading a technical analysis that will use input from experts and citizens to decide on a new carbon emissions standard. By 2021, the new standard will be proposed to the City Council, who will be asked to pass it as an amendment to BERDO, replacing the old action/assessment requirement.   

How does my signing the petition help?

In its latest Climate Action Plan, the City has committed to a new carbon emissions standard for existing buildings. However, government plans can lose steam without support and demand from citizens. By signing the petition, you provide evidence that Bostonians want owners to fix their large buildings in order to protect our climate. 

Have another question that isn’t answered here? We’d love to hear from you. Email Andy, our coordinator, at andy@bostoncan.org.

Solidarity Strengthens our Movement: Black Lives Matter

Boston Climate Action Network understands that solidarity strengthens us rather than weakens us. Standing with movements that are not primarily focused on climate change expands our ability to envision and actualize a more equitable, sustainable world. As an organization focused on organizing City of Boston residents to speak out for climate justice, we know that anti-Black racism is one of the barriers we face to achieving our mission of climate justice; we also know that climate change continues to disproportionately affect communities of color.

In this historic moment when the flames of racist violence are being fanned by figures of authority, we join the majority in demanding societal recognition that Black Lives Matter and an end to systemic racism.  We invite you to join us in learning from the many Black activists speaking out about the links between police brutality, anti- Black racism, and environmental sustainability. Here are a few to get you started.

Dominique Thomas, 350.org Northeast Regional Organizer: “Black people in this country are being systematically suffocated, whether that’s with police officers using their knees to suffocate us, through the coronavirus attacking our lungs, or whether that’s through the fossil fuel industry…”

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: marine biologist and founder of the non-profit think tank Urban Ocean Lab: “…If we want to successfully address climate change, we need people of color. Not just because pursuing diversity is a good thing to do, and not even because diversity leads to better decision-making and more effective strategies, but because, black people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people (57 percent vs. 49 percent), and Latinx people are even more concerned (70 percent). To put that in perspective, it means that more than 23 million black Americans already care deeply about the environment and could make a huge contribution to the massive amount of climate work that needs doing….” 
https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/06/03/im-black-climate-scientist-racism-derails-our-efforts-save-planet/

Mary Annaïse Heglar, writer in residence at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and co-creator of the Hot Take podcast: “…it’s not just time to talk about climate — it’s time to talk about it as the Black issue it is. It’s time to stop whitewashing it. In other words, it’s time to stop #AllLivesMattering the climate crisis. It’s time to talk about how extreme heat exacerbates police violence and increases deaths from tasers. It’s time to talk about what happens in prisons, which often lack air conditioning and heat, as temperatures skyrocket. It’s time to talk about climate gentrification. It’s time to talk about the use of tear gas — which hurts respiratory systems during a pandemic that is already disproportionately affecting Black people — as environmental racism….” https://www.huffpost.com/entry/climate-crisis-racism-environmenal-justice_n_5ee072b9c5b6b9cbc7699c3d


Boston Climate Action Network is a member of Boston Clean Energy Coalition. We endorse its statement, posted to Facebook on June 12, 2020.

Statement of Solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives

The Boston Clean Energy Coalition (BCEC) stands in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and all those working towards racial justice. BCEC was established in early 2017 to address the growing existential crisis of climate catastrophe, with a particular focus on grassroots organizing.

The destabilization of our global climate has its roots in the same exploitative and extractive foundation of our nation and the heart of our economic system, and to this day is inexorably entwined with the culture of white supremacy. While we have always understood this underlying connection between social and environmental injustice, the current moment requires us to step up our anti-racist efforts. Systemic racism demands systemic solutions that are based on listening, learning, empathy, solidarity, and action. No matter what lane we occupy in building a sustainable future, we can and will find ways to center and support racial justice.

We know that systemic racism is directly tied to an undue burden of environmental pollution and public health risk factors. We have seen the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on folks identifying as black, indigenous, or people of color, and remain concerned about the environmental disparities that have contributed to this outcome. When “I Can’t Breathe” is again the horrible rallying cry against institutional racism, we also know that it is the awful daily truth for those who live in the most polluted areas of our city, in the sacrifice zones. We join the demand for justice for the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many others. We state loudly and publicly that Black Lives Matter.

Fossil Fuel, Health, and Inequality

Researchers at Harvard University have found a link between long-term exposure to air pollution and death from COVID-19. According to The Boston Globe, these experts compared different neighborhoods in the United States and found that those with higher concentrations of small particles in the air also had higher rates of death from the coronavirus. Statistics were used to show that pollution itself had an effect over and above that of other factors, such as socioeconomic status. However, it is well known that residents of polluted neighborhoods tend to be people of color and to have lower incomes.  

Although disparities related to COVID-19 seem especially shocking and unfair, it is not news that fossil fuel is associated with health risks, nor that those risks are borne unequally. Burning carbon-based fuel releases two types of pollutants, particles and greenhouse gases. Breathing particulate pollution had been known to cause many health problems long before COVID-19 was around. With particles, the risk is greatest for the people living closest to the source. On the other hand, greenhouse gases released anywhere affect climate everywhere, but effects on local communities differ with geography and infrastructure. With both types of pollution, it is the people with the fewest resources and the greatest social barriers that live in the most dangerous areas and pay with their health or their lives. For a great example of the connections between infrastructure, climate change, health, income, and race, read NPR’s article on urban heat islands.

The takeaways for climate policy are, again, not new, but critically important:

  1. Reduce our dependence on carbon-based fuels as fast as possible, and
  2. Do so in a way that shifts more benefit and less risk to historically vulnerable groups.

EEOS comes to BCAN to discuss the CAP update

On November 14, BCAN was fortunate enough to host special guests Kat Eshel, Ben Silverman, and David Musselman from Environment, Energy, and Open Space (EEOS), who presented on the work they are doing within Mayor Walsh’s office to combat climate change and its consequences for Boston. They provided us with a comprehensive overview of the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2019 update, and specifically of the City’s strategies for accomplishing the goal of reducing Boston’s total carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, and reaching carbon-neutral by 2050. Boston’s primary objectives are to:

  • decrease energy demand and increase efficiency,
  • replace fossil fuel burning technologies with all-electric alternatives, and
  • achieve 100% clean energy use.

The City’s strategy acknowledges that mitigation and adaptation efforts must occur simultaneously in order to effectively address the risks climate change poses to the health and resilience of our city and its constituents. While adaptation strategies, such as preparing our infrastructure for rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and other climate-related risks, are no doubt important, the EEOS department wisely noted that without meaningful and timely mitigation efforts, any climate adaptation steps taken will be rendered useless as the earth’s climate continues to change. In essence, making widespread efforts to adapt to an ever-changing climate (without actively combating the problem) would require constant updates using ever-depleting resources.

As you may be aware (we hope!), BCAN is focusing heavily on green buildings and strengthening BERDO (Building Energy and Reporting Disclosure Ordinance). Back in November some of our BCAN members volunteered to dig a bit deeper into the CAP update, and noted three particular concerns in a previous blog post: timeline for amending BERDO, lack of clarity around a plan for addressing buildings under 35,000 square feet, and no mention of enforcement penalties for noncompliance. In anticipation of our meeting with the EEOS team, we sent them these questions beforehand, and EEOS presenters thoughtfully incorporated them into their discussion.

Concern #1: the City’s timeline for amending BERDO seems too slow in light of our climate emergency, with a plan to develop standards in 2020 and propose an official amendment in 2021. While we appreciate the public process that must precede regulations of private buildings, we want the City of move faster on retrofits of municipal buildings. The Mayor deserves major props for announcing that all new municipal buildings being designed now will have to meet net-zero standards. Still, the City’s existing municipal buildings need substantial energy-saving retrofits and the City already has a dedicated program, the Renew Boston Trust, that could fund these projects at an accelerated pace.

EEOS reported that they are in the process of auditing the portfolio of municipal buildings to determine what measures they can take to establish a more aggressive timetable, and weigh the potential costs of retrofits with potential savings and emission reduction.

Concern #2: the update does not outline a plan for addressing buildings under 35,000 square feet. 

EEOS replied, Step 8 of the building performance standard strategy is all about identifying solutions for non-BERDO-regulated buildings. EEOS wants to work with experts and community groups and encouraged us to come to them with policy proposals, and identify buildings that might serve as good test cases for a whole-building retrofit!

Concern #3: the update does not address enforcement penalties for noncompliance with BERDO.

EEOS acknowledged the importance of enforcement strategies and penalties for noncompliance. They confirmed that as they develop the policies and regulations, they will also develop “accountability mechanisms” to ensure that building owners are not just incentivized to participate, but in fact face consequences if they do not.

Here at BCAN we feel fortunate for this presentation, and the opportunity for honest conversation and collaboration with EEOS. Knowing the City’s priorities helps organizations like ours to identify action steps that align with their initiatives, and provides increased opportunities for meaningful partnership. This is an encouraging example of healthy, substantive dialogue between a community organization and its political representatives.

We encourage you to read EEOS’ presentation to BCAN and join us in person at our next Action Team meeting to discuss our next steps! 

ACTIVISTS, OFFICIALS ASK FOR SWIFT APPROVAL OF CCE

An overflow crowd of climate activists, City officials, and others filled the Boston office of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) on Tuesday, August 20, for a public hearing on the City of Boston’s municipal aggregation plan. The hearing was one step in the DPU’s decision-making process regarding Community Choice Energy (CCE), the name of Boston’s proposed aggregation. In attendance were representatives of BostonCAN, Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), the Barr Foundation, Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC), Clean Water Action, Community Labor United (CLU), Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MassCAN), Mothers Out Front, Sierra Club, and 350 Mass.

The testimony covered a wide range of arguments supporting approval of CCE. For example, BostonCAN’s speakers stressed the urgency of reducing carbon emissions, the importance of price stability and protection from unscrupulous energy suppliers, and the contribution of aggregations to state-level as well as citywide goals. BSAC students testified about the transparency and inclusiveness of the City’s CCE planning process. Mothers Out Front volunteer Emily Arnold said of CCE, “This program offers the greatest single reduction of Boston’s greenhouse gases and opportunity for growth of renewable energy use—and all the while Boston residents will not have to change a thing.” As only a parent could, she framed this message between a tale about teaching her five-year-old son to “work smarter, not harder” and a fervent hope that climate change will not rob him of a full lifetime to use his problem-solving skills.

Attendees urged the DPU not only to approve CCE, but to do so quickly. David Sweeney, Chief of Staff for Boston’s Mayor Walsh, reiterated the request in Boston’s plan that CCE be approved by August 31 to allow for a January 1, 2020 start date. In written comments, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office had articulated concerns that could delay CCE’s approval: (1) that the simultaneous shift of so many customers from Eversource to CCE could create “market uncertainty” and affect electric rates for non-CCE customers, and (2) that Boston must educate its large, multilingual public well enough to enable informed decisions about CCE participation.

Addressing the first issue, Sweeney argued that the lack of a decision about CCE has already created market uncertainty, and that the best cure would be a timely implementation.  Responding to the second challenge, Sierra Club’s Michelle Brooks pledged that her organization would help “by informing our roughly 10,000 members and supporters residing in the City of Boston throughout each phase of the implementation process.”

Last to testify, BostonCAN member Mike Prokosch said he expected Eversource to claim that they would need more time to transfer customer data to the City’s supplier. “They should have seen this coming,” said Prokosch. “They’ve had two years.”

BostonCAN awaits the DPU’s decision on CCE. We hope it is both positive and timely.

Community Choice Energy hearing at the DPU: Aug. 20

We have been pushing for the last 2 years to increase the renewable electricity coming to all Boston households and businesses through Community Choice Energy (CCE). Now we’ve reached a crucial milestone: a hearing at the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). This state agency has the power to speed up or slow down our progress. Please speak out to ask the DPU to support the prompt implementation of Boston’s plan for Community Choice Energy.

When: Tuesday, August 20th at 2:00 pm 

Where: Dept. of Public Utilities, One South Station, 5th Floor, Boston, MA, 02110

If you can’t attend the hearing, please take advantage of this opportunity to to express your support for CCE by submitting a short comment. Comments must be submitted by 5:00 pm on Aug. 20th.

If you would like to submit a comment to the DPU, please email it to these email addresses:

dpu.efiling@mass.gov and Sarah.Smegal@mass.gov
and CC javery@pierceatwood.com and BostonClimateAction@gmail.com

The text of your email must include:

  • The docket number of the proceeding D.P.U. 19-65
  • Your name and telephone number.
  • Your title if you represent a specific group or agency.
  • It may be useful to identify yourself as a resident of Boston, if you are one.

Please use a clear file name for the attached comment letter that does not exceed 50 characters in length, for instance D.P.U. 19-65 comment (and your name).

We suggest you refer to our CCE website and the City’s CCE website for reasons you might include in your letter to the DPU. It’s fine to include just one reason that’s important to you. Please keep your letter brief.

If you prefer to send a letter via the postal service, note that your letter must be received by Aug. 20 (not postmarked by that date). Mail your comment letter to:

Mark D. Marini
Department of Public Utilities
One South Station, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02110

Also mail copies of your comment letter to the following two people:

Sarah A. Smegal
Department of Public Utilities
One South Station, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02110

AND

James M. Avery, Esq.
Pierce Atwood LLP
100 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02110

Heat Wave Hits Boston – And the World

Following the hottest June in recorded history, temperatures smashed records again in July.

Paris grabbed the headlines with an all-time high of 108.7 degrees, but the city of lights did not suffer alone. European weather maps showed much of the continent in the grip of a heat wave, along with the eastern United States from Texas to Chicago to Maine. In Boston, the temperature broke 90 degrees on 12 days in July, including two official heat waves (stretches of three or more consecutive days with highs in the ‘nineties). That compares with seven days last July, and an average of 4.3 days in July from 1981 through 2010.

As New York learned last month, our cities’ infrastructure was not built for such high temperatures. On July 13th, a blackout caused by a burning cable left 72,000 people in Manhattan without power for five hours. And on July 21st, as temperatures soared above 90 degrees for the third day in a row, ConEdison cut power to more than 30,000 customers in Brooklyn. The action was necessary, the company said, to prevent damage to transmission equipment overstressed by high demand for air conditioning.

Heat waves kill people, both directly and when air conditioning fails from loss of power. Expect many more blackouts—and heat-related deaths–in the future, unless we take immediate action to staunch the flow of greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere.

What can you do to help speed the transition to a low-carbon energy grid? Please join us at a public hearing on Tuesday, August 20, at 2pm at One Atlantic Ave., in South Station, Boston for a hearing at the Department of Public Utilities on Community Choice Energy. We’re organizing speakers from as many organizations as possible and need as many Boston residents as possible to show their support for the swift transition to fossil-fuel-free electricity.

New England waters warming quickly

A new study finds that New England’s coastal waters have warmed faster than anywhere else in the continental U.S. What does the future hold?

As satellite data show that June 2019 was the hottest June on record, a recent study has found that the coastal waters off New England have warmed more than those anywhere else in the continental United States. An analysis by the nonprofit Climate Central revealed that average sea surface temperatures off New England have risen by 2–3°F since 1901, compared to increases of less than 1.5°F elsewhere on the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Warming seas cause many changes to marine ecosystems, including acidification, reduced oxygen concentrations, increased incidence of toxic red tide algal blooms, and migration of marine species to cooler climes. In New England, many fish species are expected to move northeastward by 100 to 600 km over the course of the century, depending on how fast the climate warms. Such changes in marine life can ripple through the ecosystem, as when reduced foodstock may have led to the starvation of some 350 puffins and auklets on St. Paul Island in Alaska in 2016‒2017.

In New England, climate change has already led to the collapse of lobster populations and the lobster-fishing industry to the south, and the explosion of populations and catches farther north. Connecticut’s landings fell by 96% from 1996 through 2014, while Rhode Island’s declined by about 75% from 1999 through 2017. Maine’s landings, by contrast, have increased by more than 200%, and lobsters now bring the state over $450M annually.

What fish will be common in the waters of Massachusetts in 2050 or 2100? And how long will Maine’s lobster luck last? The answers to these questions depend on how quickly we can replace fossil fuels with cleaner sources of energy, staunching the flow of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Speak out in favor of speeding up the transition to renewably generated electricity for all Boston homes. Join BostonCAN as we practice giving testimony for the forthcoming a Department of Public Utilities hearing on Community Choice Energy. The hearing date is TBD, but we will start our practicing this coming Thursday, July 25, at 6:30pm at the  First Baptist Church, side entrance, 633 Centre St., Jamaica Plain. Or email Andy Wells-Bean to find out how you can get involved.

References

Copernicus Climate Change Service, “Record-breaking temperatures for June” (July 2, 2019). <https://climate.copernicus.eu/record-breaking-temperatures-june>

Climate Central, “In Hot Water: How Warming Waters Are Stressing Fish and the Fishing Industry” (June 26, 2019). <https://ccimgs-2019.s3.amazonaws.com/2019Fishing/2019Fishing.pdf>

Arnault Le Bris et al, “Climate vulnerability and resilience in the most valuable North American fishery” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 20, 2018). <https://www.pnas.org/content/115/8/1831>

James W. Morley et al, “Projecting shifts in thermal habitat for 686 species on the North American continental shelf” (PLOS One, May 16, 2018). <https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0196127&type=printable>

Jennifer Walter, “Climate change may have caused mass puffin die-off” (Discover Magazine, May 29, 2019). <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2019/05/29/climate-change-may-have-caused-mass-puffin-die-off/>

Emily Greenhalgh, “Climate and lobsters” (NOAA Climate.gov, October 6, 2016). <https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-lobsters>

Zoeann Murphy and Chris Mooney, “Gone in a generation: Across America, climate change is already disrupting lives” (The Washington Post, January 29, 2019). <https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/gone-in-a-generation/fishing-climate-change.html