As our City Council reviews adoption of the Climate Action Plan, I see a great deal of thoughtful and impressive work, but I have to admit to some reservations. I’ll mention one section to get the discussion going:

Existing residential and commercial buildings in Newton are responsible for a majority of the City’s GHG emissions. The City will work with homeowners to increase energy efficiency and reduce reliance on natural gas and heating oil in the City’s existing building stock. Moving the needle for existing buildings will require the City to put in place “carrots and sticks” to incentivize significant action by the private sector.

This clause apparently goes beyond the use of advocating for a change in the state building code to encourage new energy efficient buildings or renovations to existing buildings. I had trouble finding the exact nature of the “sticks” being proposed. Is it just this: “We will work with the City Council to adopt a requirement that sellers of buildings provide the previous year’s electric, natural gas, and heating oil bills to prospective buyers at the time of sale?” Or is it more? If more, I don’t think people will appreciate being told that the City will impose a cost on them if their house happens to be fueled by oil or natural gas. If just this idea, the goal would seem to be to drive down the relative market price of fossil-fueled homes, certainly a cost to those who would be selling.

I worry more generally that the folks behind the Climate Action Plan are misreading the public’s appetite to spend more in the cause of reducing greenhouse emissions. The take-up of the all renewable option for Newton Power Choice, for example, is only 7%, even with an extra cost of just a few dollars per month compared to the default service option. This after extensive publicity by the Mayor and other advocates for the all renewable option.

I’m talking both politics and substance here. I hear City Council members and candidates telling us what we “should” be doing as individuals in our homes, cars, and the like. I think such terminology invites backlash and resentment, especially if the general language in a plan gets translated into requirements that are viewed as burdensome by members of the public–or are viewed as insensitive to those on limited or fixed incomes.