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Note to self: Be prepared for extensive abuse emanating from this column.

The question I’m asking today is how much global warming should matter when we are considering whom to vote for in the forthcoming elections for City Councilors.

Please note, I am not asking how serious the climate change problem is. I agree with Noam Chomsky when he sets forth the three major challenges facing humanity today: Anthropogenic changes in climate and weather patterns; the threat of nuclear destruction; and the failure of civil societies to deal with these and other issues.

I believe that one can properly argue that municipal governments have a role to play in the first issue, (1) by taking appropriate steps to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases, both directly and as by-products of their production and consumption decisions; and (2) providing a thoughtful example that might stimulate other municipalities (and states and the country) to do likewise.

But, should concern about climate change dominate a Councilor’s viewpoint, advocacy, and voting in City Hall? For example, what if a program that might reduce emissions has the effect of increasing the cost of government and therefore limiting spending on essential municipal services like schools, police, and so on? What if the desire to enhance renewable electricity production by employing solar or wind production has its own negative local environmental impacts?  What if a permit issued by the City Council prohibits the use of natural gas in a residential and commercial development, resulting in higher energy use costs for the tenants of that project? 

I can already hear people saying that these examples are off-point, in that energy conservation and renewables will have a lower cost to society. Yes, someday, but not yet. Even cost-effective opportunities often require an up-front investment to achieve results over time. There is no free lunch if our goal is to reduce energy use or transition to renewables. Someone has to pay the piper now, and the “someone” is the taxpayers of our city. It’s one thing when individuals are left with a choice, like in the Newton Power Choice program, but another when the cost is passed along as a part of our tax rate. I’m not saying it’s not worth it. I’m saying that I’d like to hear from candidates how they would draw the balance.

(Note: I’m not even trying to address the dispute seen on these pages as to whether densification is or is not a surrogate for a candidate’s view on climate change.)

Let’s say that I like a candidate’s view on 75% of the municipal agenda but differ on climate change issues.  Or vice versa. I really like their view on climate change issues but disagree on their policies with regard to schools and the like. How much should global warming matter when I step into the polling place?

Your thoughts?