Cambridge Climate Summit

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Thomas Olbert

Mar 13, 2014, 10:58:42 AM3/13/14
Hello, all -

Below is a summary of the Cambridge Climate Summit held at the Democracy Center last Sunday. 'Hope you find it informative (I'll be submitting a shortened version to the Cambridge Chronicle.

- Tom


Cambridge Climate Summit

On March 9, at the Democracy Center at 45 Mt. Auburn Street, was held the Cambridge Climate Summit, the city’s first such all-city gathering of climate activists since the Mayor’s 2009-2010 Climate Congress. It was an energized and focused multi-group strategy session aimed at stimulating and expanding local efforts to reduce carbon emissions and heighten public awareness of the growing threat of climate change.
Attending were distinguished representatives of:
The Sierra Club HEET
Green Cambridge TROMP
Mothers Out Front 350 MA Cambridge Node
City Sprouts Friends of Alewife Reservation
First Parish Climate Justice Task Force

The main topics of discussion were:
*Barriers to Climate Activism and how to overcome them
*Raising Civic Activism in 2014 and beyond

Moderating was Kristen von Hoffman, Assistant Building Manager of Cambridge Public Schools and a former candidate for Cambridge City Council.
The event’s opening speaker was Quinton Zondervan, president of Green Cambridge. Speaking as a life-long environmental activist, stemming from his College days promoting on-campus recycling, Quinton (now a family man) remarked that in his youth, he expected the problem would be solved by now. Looking back and ahead at the long road toward a safer planet, he remarked that the core problem of pollution still has not been addressed by a society composed largely of the “spoiled beneficiaries” of a fossil-fueled economy.
Reviewing past successes in raising public awareness of the climate crisis through activism and outreach which successfully prompted the Cambridge City Council to acknowledge and address the climate emergency, Quinton went on to stress the need for an across-the-board approach to the problem, including coordinated legislative efforts aimed at improving energy efficiency in building design, transportation, local food production, etc.
He proposed a long-term goal for Cambridge of an annual 5% reduction in carbon emissions, stressing the urgency of the problem in pointing out that while climatologists have advocated a goal of 3.5% reduction, the reality is that carbon emissions are going up, not down.
He went on to give an overview of Green Cambridge’s past efforts, including MBTA-advertisements aimed at heightening the public’s awareness of the problem of greenhouse gas pollution and ideals of “Ecological Integrity”, in addition to Green Cambridge’s efforts in promoting local recycling, rain barrels, responsible buying, and its hosting of Candidate’s Night in helping to keep the environmental issues in the local political races. Quinton went on to say that students and recent graduates have been active in the cause, and stressed “Lack of Understanding” in the public mind as the key problem.

Next up was a representative of HEET, the Home Energy Efficiency Team, stressing the importance of teaching hands-on skills in making residences more energy efficient, and of home-energy assessments. HEET has made 50 solar installations, and has helped promote a “race to solar” by non-profit companies competing for solar installation contracts. The speaker warned of the danger of methane leaks from old pipes under the streets and stressed the importance of careful neighborhood mapping and complaints from residents.
Next, a representative of the Sierra Club was heard. 1.4 million members strong, the Sierra Club is the oldest and largest non-profit environmental activist organization. The Club is presently advancing an anti-Fracking bill and a Carbon Tax bill. The speaker echoed concerns expressed by HEET in stressing the danger from methane gas leaks, calling them a greater ecological threat than coal.
Next up was Roseanne Kraus of TROMP (Travel Responsibility Outreach and Mentoring Project) whose goal is to make travel more efficient and to encourage biking and walking. TROMP’s activities include leafleting at busy intersections to improve enforcement of traffic laws.
Next, we heard from Mothers Out Front, a new but rapidly growing “mother and grandmother”-based activist organization committed to public activism for a “livable climate.” Their goal is a transition of our energy grid to 100% renewable sources. Through house parties and twice-monthly leadership training sessions, they are building an activist network, and through online outreach, they are encouraging people to switch their energy usage to renewable providers such as NSTAR Green and Mass Energy.
Next, Sara O’Connor of City Sprouts stressed the importance of “Eco-Literacy” garden-based education in the public school system, to attempt to instill a deeper appreciation for the environment in inner-city youth.
Next, we heard from Ellen Mass on behalf of the Alewife Reservation. She spoke of the importance of limiting development in the Alewife reservation, and of the need for more activism.
Next, Marcia Hamms of the First Parish Environmental Justice Task Force related her church-based organization’s efforts in pressuring government toward ecological responsibility, educating the public and supporting the protests against the Keystone Pipeline.

Addressing Barriers to Climate Activism

John Pitkin spoke with his trademark passion on the issue of how to engage Cambridge climate activists and put the question “Why aren’t we doing more?”
He categorized the lethargy of current public opinion into three groups, which were addressed in the subsequent course of the summit:

1) The “What can government do” group; people who believe in the severity of the climate crisis, but are unsure how to deal with so large a problem. This is the group John indicated had the most potential for mobilization, by reaching out to them and trying to get them involved in community activism directed at local government.

2) The “Is it a real problem” group; concerned, but unsure of the source or severity of the problem. Education, at both the school and community level is the way to approach this group. The importance of always speaking with a “local voice” and seeking connections through churches, schools and businesses was stressed overall as a means of effective public education.

3) The Deniers; those who probably will never come around no matter how much evidence is presented. The way advocated for dealing with this group overall is Seeking Common Ground. While this group may never accept the science of global climate change, they can still agree on basic, common- sense goals like saving money through energy efficiency, reducing pollution, community preparedness for floods and other natural disasters.
Group Sessions

The gathering then separated into three groups and brain-stormed about the obstacles to climate activism and how to work toward overcoming them.
Once the three groups compared notes in open forum, common themes emerged, largely along psychological lines:

1) A sense of hopelessness among the public, stemming from:

A) How to deal with so huge a problem?
B) It’s already too late; why bother trying?

It was suggested that a “mourning period” could lead to stages of recovery, first at an individual level, then a municipality level.
While it was pointed out that forms of individual action (personal conservation, home efficiency, etc.) were not enough in themselves, it was also pointed out that it only takes one to lead the way, for others to follow, and that this leads to a sense of community support which helps foster hope and faith in the importance of concerted effort.

2) Old Habits Die Hard

Proposed solutions:
A) Show the proof; storm-damaged areas, etc; the human cost
B) Public education based on mounting evidence

3) How to reach students - Lack of time and money

Proposed solution:
Shaping student mindsets through “environmental connectedness” (garden-based education.)

4) Need for More Communication between Activist Groups

Proposed solutions:
A) Cross-referencing mailing lists

B) Media outreach (It was suggested that the “Green View” might become a regular feature in the Cambridge Chronicle)

C) Event weeks – Ellen Mass suggested that one week be set aside (Climate Week? Green Week?) during which all groups could coordinate in one common effort or efforts, hopefully with the blessing of city government.

D) Community activities – the Cambridge Science Festival was suggested as a way to bring activist events into the community, and advance science education on climate change at the family level.

E) Common Brand – John Pitkin and others suggested the psychological importance of some common symbol or slogan to unify the varied groups of the activist community at a city level, and to emotionally stress the central issue.

F) Combined legislative efforts aimed at the City Council, on such issues as Net Zero.

G) Monthly emails, so all groups can list their activities and what help they need from other groups and make available recruiting links.

H) Ways of rewarding behavior; achievement awards recognized by all groups.

I) Common activities; letter-writing campaigns, farmer’s markets, etc.

J) “Simple Asks”; establishing a sense of connectedness by requesting a list of basic contributions (switching energy providers, volunteering, hosting house parties, telling friends, etc.)

Other Issues and Common Concerns:

1) Need for Greater Infrastructure in the activist community, achieved either through formally established communication/meeting networks, or a shared philosophy/vision, or both.

2) Need for greater diversity in the groups, to expand their reach into other communities.

3) Poor media coverage, and the need to seek more media contacts.

Other sources of information/inquiry:

Earth Day is 4/22/2014

Green Streets Initiative

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