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Mayor Menino and the Future of Climate Action

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino will not run for re-election; where will this leave climate action in Beantown?

Clean Air-Cool Planet’s local climate initiatives report (2012) includes a brief snapshot of nine community-based climate and energy initiatives. Some of the highest-profile efforts enjoying the most momentum are indeed headed by elected leaders and staffed by municipal governments (e.g., Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle).

Climate change action in Boston has benefited from a “thumbs up” from Mayor Menino – a  mayor whose cup of political capital runneth over.  A 5-term  mayor – a “populist”, “mayor of the people” with not a whiff of scandal for the 20 years he has been in office.

Menino’s governance coupled with focused and generous attention from the Barr Foundation  are leading to meaningful actions on both the climate mitigation and adaptation fronts.  Hizzoner established Renew Boston.  The Boston Harbor Association released “Preparing for the Rising Tide ” (commissioned by Barr).

Political leadership is heavily Democratic  One thing worth noting from Clean Air-Cool Planet’s report is that all nine community-based climate initiatives in the table emerged from efforts started by people in the Democratic Party, with one (NYC) exception. Seven of the nine initiatives exist in states with two Democratic US Senators, suggesting places which have supported progressive politics for some time.

Are we missing something?  Are there initiatives to lower greenhouse gas emissions from government, business and residential sectors in any cities lead by Republican mayors, or benefiting from conservative leaders?    Areas on the metropolitan fringe tend historically to be conservative or moderately so.   Is there a suburban region somewhere in the country with an active climate initiative?

In his NYT Op Ed How Green was My Lawn (Sept 20 2012)  celebrating Rachel Carson, Stony Brook University Professor Christopher Sellers reminds us that the environmental movement and civic engagement on the environment was born in the suburbs.

Sellers states that “today’s environmental leaders have steered their imaginations and energies away from where their own movement was born.”

According to Sellers, the environmental movement’s early success started with activists picking up on local issues like drinking-water safety and smog, concerns that directly affected suburban dwellers but had been largely overlooked by civic leaders, from health and planning experts to homeowner associations to conservation groups.  I’ll be at the National Adaptation Forum in Denver this week where I’ll be looking for examples of activists and civic leaders picking up on the new local issues: frequent coastal flooding, deer ticks and drought and place-based preparedness in the face of more frequent and severe storms.  Adapting to a changing climate, being prepared, doing what we’ve always done (land use planning for instance), but doing so with the best information available … sounds conservative.

Back to Boston and the future of climate action:

  • Will climate change and preparing for a rising tide be a part of any campaign dialogue in the coming months leading to the November election?
  • Will the new mayor be able to continue to elevate these issues, or will the energy necessary to invigorate local climate action be sucked away to support other city imperatives?

One local, asked about Menino’s legacy, replied, “Hopefully it’s not these bicycle lanes”.

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