Net-Zero petition

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Thomas Olbert

Oct 22, 2013, 9:42:54 AM10/22/13
October 21, 2013

The Cambridge City Council heard statements from the public regarding the “Connolly Petition,” a hotly contested proposal by attorney and former state representative candidate Mike Connolly on behalf of Green Cambridge to require net-zero emissions standards for new large buildings with special permits in Cambridge. Such standards would require re-design of such buildings, emphasizing energy efficiency. Specifically, on-site renewable energy generation based on an “energy credit” system. Cambridge would be the first city in the nation to approve such a measure, and it has been opposed by local business interests, who claim the cost of the new requirement would be prohibitive to local development and business investment.
Mike Connolly himself put in an appearance, as did Quinton Zondervan, a leader of the Net-Zero Task Force. They both thanked the council for taking up this important proposal and both expressed great enthusiasm.

The speakers who followed them were equally exuberant and eloquent, collectively conveying a message of urgency regarding the climate crisis, and a vision of Cambridge as a model city for the entire U.S., emphasizing the intellectual power of Harvard and MIT in advancing a drive for technological innovation that could empower a national movement toward energy efficiency and net-zero emissions.


Ms. Patricia Nolan of the Cambridge School Committee was particularly intense in stressing the immediacy of the climate crisis, warning against foot-dragging or complacency. She lamented what she saw as a loss of momentum from previous such emission-reduction task forces, forcefully advocating a consistent, dedicated campaign of activism and education which would not only bring new blood into the Net-Zero movement, but also help to re-invigorate and re-energize veteran activists.

She quoted Dr. Martin Luther King in stating that time does by no means heal all, and is currently in short supply. She gave a rousing call to the climate awareness movement to push forward, and never let up the pressure.


Mr. Eric Greenbaum took a more economic approach by advocating a built-in funding mechanism aimed at insulating all existing buildings, in addition to upgrading public transportation and tree shade.

Mr. Eli Arden was delighted to see the Council taking up the issue, but warned he doesn’t trust “experts” to handle the issue (or, any issue.) He forcefully stressed the need to adopt a whole new mindset on the part of our decision makers, stressing the immediacy of the climate crisis and the catastrophes it spawns, as well as viewing recycling and conservation as civic duties.

Ms. Carolyn Shipley, while speaking in a gentle, jovial and neighborly manner, issued dire warnings of rising sea levels and flooding, stressing our community’s obligation to future generations. She said that recycling efforts, while laudable, are not sufficient, and lamented “missed opportunities” in past developments. She stated the need for concerted efforts on a national scale to implement zero-emission standards.

Ms. Sue Butler an intensive care nurse with a PHD in economics, gave the most unique and creative presentation, using a spinning top to illustrate the principle of a complex system in a state of “Acute Wobble,” comparing the Earth to a critically ill patient in desperate need of treatment.

She stressed her own considerable financial investment in energy efficient buildings, including geo-thermal heating. And, she challenged decision makers to correct a desperate situation.


Speakers including Sam Siedel and Jean Simevan gave optimistic assessments of a soaring trend of solar renovation and other home energy-efficiency modifications, but stressed the need to accelerate the net-zero movement, and not settle for half-measures.


Mr. Ben Pignitelli enthusiastically pointed out that energy efficient buildings are considerably more valuable from a realtor’s point of view, and can bring the city more revenue. He strongly advised the council to work with builders who strategize with this view in mind.

He echoed the sense of urgency voiced by other speakers, including Nadeem Mazen.


Mr. James Williamson warned of the ongoing obstruction from commercial industry against substantive emission standards. In starkly illustrating his point, he cited the first pollution law passed in 1285 and mentioned a thirteenth century bishop executed for obstructing industry. He stressed the need for alternative energy, but opposed any use of ethanol in Cambridge.


Ms. Kitteridge White voiced her view of Cambridge as a “cosmopolitan city” with enormous academic potential for job opportunity through technological energy innovation. She stressed the importance of educating teens and young adults in adapting to rapidly changing times and advancing technology.

Mr. George Mokray continued this train of thought, offering no specifics but stressing imagination in advancing a whole new national energy structure based on scientific innovation.

Ms. Monica Raymond enthusiastically continued the theme of Cambridge as a potential intellectual powerhouse, spearheading the U.S. pioneering in the field of clean energy innovation. She went on to say that fighting climate change with innovation was a movement that would have to be fought city by city, state by state. She compared the movement to the abolition of slavery.

Mr. John Pitkin, a veteran battler for climate awareness, said he was pleased the Connolly petition had put the climate emergency back on the City Council’s “front burner” of priorities, but said that more effort was needed to keep it there. He suggested quarterly round table sessions as one possible way.

He also said the council needed to precisely define its operational expectations for the Net-Zero Task Force, in order to establish solid standards, particularly in the form of a Carbon Budget, and provide a strong guiding hand for the Net-Zero effort.

He echoed the consistent theme of the earlier speakers in stating passionately that time was running out, and a new mindset was needed in our decision-making process.

Ms. Ellen Mass, a long-time local defender of the environment and advocate for the preservation of open spaces, spoke passionately in drawing a connection between Net-Zero emission standards and conservation of natural resources and environmental protection, stressing the need to curtail over-development and excessive construction.

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