Mayor Ruthanne Fuller recently published an extensive Five-Year Climate Action Plan (http://www.newtonma.gov/civicax/filebank/documents/100191). Green Newton has also weighed in with its Citizens’ Climate Action Plan (https://www.greennewton.org/citizens-climate-action-plan-for-newton-now-available/), with some overlap and other distinctive features. Anyone who takes seriously the dangers of global warming would be well advised to review these proposals.
Both citizens and city government are already taking steps to meet the climate threat. For example, many of us have purchased electric or hybrid vehicles, and some homeowners have placed solar panels on rooftops. The city has promoted green energy, begun to make its buildings more energy-efficient, and placed solar panels on or near municipal buildings. These changes don’t arrive free of cost. The long-term benefits, however, outweigh the short-term price tag. In my case, our solar panels generate far more energy than required to supply my home’s electrical needs. Even with an electric car and electric dryer soaking up the surplus, we continue to amass credits with Eversource. Consequently, we have decided to purchase an electric stove and water heater, and we will soon install a mini-split, heat pump system for hot and cold weather.
As a homeowner, will I recoup the expenses for all these changes through energy savings? I have already done so, more or less, with the solar panels. My electric automobile is almost five years old, and because its engine has so few moving parts, almost nothing goes wrong with it. Its initial price, after tax breaks, was comparable with most other new cars in 2014. We have gotten our money’s worth, to say the least. More importantly, through these small personal steps, we have reduced our carbon footprint.
Though no one begrudges me the right to make these personal choices regarding my private property, the city’s efforts have generated more controversy. Sometimes, competing interests within the green movement claim the primacy of their particular approach. With limited funds, sometimes the city has to prioritize one method over another, to the fury of the slighted interest group.
For example, in the last several years city government has proposed cutting down some trees to place solar panels on public buildings or in the adjoining parking lots. These plans inevitably inspire pushback by some tree advocates, who decry trading any tree for a solar collector. The city almost always responds by revising plans, limiting the number of trees to be felled, and planting an equal or greater number of trees elsewhere. That’s the way politics should work: plan/pushback/compromise/progress. Unfortunately, bitter feelings sometimes linger in the aftermath. For some reason, solar panels become the target of anger for those “betrayed” by the city plan.
I am also involved in Bike Newton, a nonprofit that encourages citizens to ride their bikes whenever possible. That can be a tough choice in the Garden City, given that our major thoroughfares are decidedly unfriendly to peaceful coexistence between cyclists and drivers. The various climate action plans place some emphasis on creating safe conditions for cyclists and pedestrians as one way to reduce gasoline-consuming automobiles on the road. They also recommend, as noted, the proliferation of electrical vehicles and the construction of an infrastructure to encourage their use.
Sadly, the expense of redesigning Newton’s roads for bicycle safety seems too high for much progress. Washington Street and Needham Street, fortunately, will soon be renovated, and as of now, bike lanes are part of the plans. These projects will be exemplars of future improvements to crowded roadways.
But change takes time, and some cyclists attribute the slow progress to the emphasis on electric vehicles. Once again, one method of reducing the city’s carbon footprint gets pitted against another, and bitter feelings arise.
Good plans generally offer more than one approach to solve a problem. In some European cities, major roads have been reconfigured to the point that a third of their residents commute to work by bicycle. At the same time, many other residents use electric automobiles and mopeds. These phenomena are hardly antithetical. Both bicycles and electric vehicles contribute to the ultimate solution, not either/or.
Similarly, planting more trees certainly helps to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. But solar panels also help. Furthermore, local panels on rooftops and parking lots reduce the need to cut down trees for powerlines from remote energy-production sites like wind or solar farms (read Alan Nogee’s article: https://village14.com/2019/01/18/nogee-facts-about-newtons-energy-choices-and-trees/#axzz67uARSGVm).
Admittedly, I am disappointed that Newton’s efforts to improve biking conditions fall far short of those in Brighton, Brookline, and Boston. But rather than blame electric automobiles, I suggest that the city include funding for road safety for cyclists in the override now under consideration. All of us will benefit in the long run.
When it comes to fighting climate change, it’s both/and, not either/or.