Carbon Free Boston — Or How to Save the World in a Few Easy Steps

Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission has just released Carbon Free Boston, which outlines a pathway to a carbon-free city by 2050.  It’s a thoughtful and careful report.  My immediate reaction was two-fold.  Of course we have to do all this and of course this will be nearly impossible.

The transmittal letter to Mayor Walsh acknowledges the immensity of the undertaking:

The report’s analysis makes clear the great magnitude of the change needed to achieve carbon neutrality. It requires an electricity grid that is powered by renewable sources of energy and a large-scale reduction in the use of oil and natural gas for transportation, space heating, and hot water. It requires immediate and dramatic efforts to make buildings more energy efficient. It entails replacing travel in personal vehicles with greater use of public transportation, cycling and walking, while eliminating the use of internal combustion engines for remaining vehicles. And it necessitates sending zero-waste to landfills and incinerators. These necessary achievements will require innovation and transformation in our city’s core systems. And we will need to make these changes in a way that is cost effective, that equitably distributes benefits and burdens, and that does not unduly disrupt ongoing operations.

I can’t begin to go into all the details of what has to be done, but here are a few that highlight some of the necessary challenges:

  • In 2050, 85% of buildings will have been built prior to 2018 – and all of these will require “deep energy retrofits”
  • “A carbon-neutral transportation system requires fundamental changes to how people and goods move around Boston”  These changes include
    • The easy moves, such as completely electrifying our cars, buses, and trains, and
    • The more difficult moves, such as getting people out of cars to transit, biking, and walking
  • “Rethinking consumption” in order to eliminate waste generation

I noted recently that we seem to be near a tipping point in climate change belief among US citizens.  Even so, it’s a long journey from believing in climate change to deep energy retrofits of all buildings, getting people out of cars, and eliminating waste generation.

Time to start walking.

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