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Cambridge Climate Congress panel discussion
What would life in an American city look like if it required its residents go green to combat climate change? Would it be all trees and gardens and bicycles, or would it look more like oppression under Big Brother’s green thumb?
Cambridge, Mass., home of Harvard University, may be giving the country a glimpse of the answer.
Last May, the city officially adopted an order recognizing that there is a climate emergency; but after nearly a year, officials discovered the city’s carbon footprint was nonetheless growing worse.
Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons, therefore, brought together nearly 100 activists and concerned citizens under the endorsement of the city council to convene a “Climate Congress” to make recommendations on how Cambridge can meet its green goals.
The official report of the Climate Congress provides a sneak peek at how life in Cambridge may be about to dramatically change.
“This emergency is created by the growth of local greenhouse gas emissions despite the urgent warnings of climate scientists that substantial reductions are needed in order to reduce the risk of disastrous changes to our climate,” the Climate Congress reports. “This proposal is made in the belief that an effective local response is, if anything, made more urgent by so far inadequate global agreements and federal policies for emissions reductions. It is made in the belief that our City should lead by example.”
Leading by example comes with many suggestions, including dozens of incentives and subsidies for “going green,” along with dozens of taxes and penalties for parking, driving SUVs and even using paper and plastic bags at retailers. It also includes several ideas for new restrictions and ratings systems, including posting street signs that advertise a residence’s utility bills, banning cars from shopping areas and even requiring restaurants and schools to observe “Meatless or Vegan Mondays.”
“It has become clear to me that Cambridge needs to do more,” Mayor Simmons told the Cambridge Chronicle. “We can and should be a leader in regional and national efforts to protect the climate. The City Council has already taken some important first steps to recognize the great urgency of this situation.”
In September the City Council held a meeting to hear from four scientists about “climate change” and were convinced the city needed to get proactive.
“Their testimony made a compelling case for action at all levels to respond to the climate emergency,” Simmons said.
The Climate Congress proposed many environmentally-friendly programs and changes, including the following:
- Building infrastructure for recharging electric cars
- Providing citizens and businesses with 100-percent renewable energy within 20 years
- Tax breaks for landlords to make efficiency upgrades
- Contests between neighborhoods for climate prizes
- Dozens of workshops, training seminars and even potlucks to teach citizens how to “go green”
- New bike paths, gardens, parks and protected urban forests
- A “solar census” to alert property owners of opportunities to capture sun power
- Subsidies, grants, no-interest loans, internships and incentives in several proposed environmental programs.
To make those changes a reality, the Congress also suggested a number of new taxes and fee increases:
- A carbon tax, perhaps in the form of a supplementary property tax
- Taxing paper and plastic bags at retailers
- Taxing car owners through “congestion pricing” on heavily trafficked roads
- Higher parking meter rates, fines on parking tickets, residential parking permit fees and an extra tax on “SUVs and other gas-guzzling vehicles.”
Finally, the Congress proposed a number of new regulations and restrictions, including the following:
- Encouraging building owners to turn off the heat or cooling in the spring and fall
- Rating rental units, allowing greener apartments to rent for more
- Street signs posting residents’ yearly energy bills, so more efficient homeowners can publicly boast of their savings
- New mandates for efficiency in building codes on individual units and developments
- Reducing or eliminating curbside parking to compel people to walk or bicycle
- Banning cars from shopping centers
- Zoning ordinances protecting trees from being cut down, whether on public or private property
- Mandates requiring grocers to carry locally grown or produced food options
- “Environmental disincentives” against eating meat
- Mandating restaurants and schools have “Meatless or Vegan Mondays”
- Banning meat from meals provided to the City Council and limiting the amounts of dairy served.
How Cambridge residents will receive this redefinition of life in their city remains to be seen, and none of the proposals have yet been approved by the City Council itself, but opinions on the Climate Congress are already divided.
Richard Rood, a professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan, told Fox News he supports several of the measures, such as turning off heat and cooling in the spring and fall, advocating vegetarianism and taking the initiative on a carbon tax, especially if the idea spreads.
“In general, if you look at how policy develops, it often starts on regional and local scales and then advances forward,” he said. “Cambridge is full of really smart people, so you know, it has the potential.”
Dr. Ken Green, a resident scholar on environment and energy at the American Enterprise Institute, however, told Fox News the multitude of taxes and fees would hit residents from too many directions at once.
“That’s just a revenue-raiser for the city,” said Green. “There’s an overall incoherence of having a carbon tax and three or four indirect taxes.”
He continued, “If they do the [carbon] tax, they should get rid of almost all of the other things. … If you had your carbon tax, you don’t need your congestion pricing because people are already paying the tax in their gasoline.”
Green also said some of the new regulations were as “heavy-handed as government can get.”
The Climate Congress, which has met twice already, is planning yet a third summit to finalize its recommendations to city officials.
City Councilor Sam Seidel told Fox News it will take a joint effort of city government and individuals taking ownership to make any of the changes a reality.
“The challenge in broadest terms is to figure out what makes sense, what’s doable, but all of that in the context of how much ground we have to cover,” he said. “We have to be realistic on what we’re going to be able to accomplish.”