Image by Scott Murry
The prevailing current logic around Beacon Hill is that despite the positive he’s yielded on some fronts, outgoing Governor Deval Patrick will leave Massachusetts more or less a mess. Between scandals at the Department of Children and Families, drug lab and casino shenanigans, and the commonwealth’s stillborn healthcare site, it’s unlikely many are lamenting Patrick’s expiring tenure.
Nevertheless, the governor has a chance to save face and help the planet by fulfilling requests made by the Better Future Project, an amorphous front comprised of activists addressing justice issues in the face of looming atmospheric havoc. Riding the crusade careening across Massachusetts–400-plus people protesting a proposed Salem power plant, the Harvard community calling for their college to divest from polluters–this month environmental advocates asked Patrick to issue a barrage of earth-saving executive orders. In short, they want Mass to “ban the worst”–natural gas fracking, coal burning, the use of tar sands oil–and build “only the best” in clean energy.
“We know that the governor has been a climate leader,” says Better Future Project Communications Coordinator Emily Kirkland, who I recently met up with near the State House moments after her group pitched Patrick in person. She continues: “We really want him to set an example for other states.”
In addition to the campaign aimed at Patrick and a tandem legislative push for the state to pull its own fossil fuel investments, Better Future Project and affiliated outfits like 350.org are exhausting all peaceful avenues–flooding lawmakers with calls, whipping up support on Beacon Hill. Their mission is in large part proactive; while fracking, for example, is yet to be a problem in the commonwealth, Kirkland says her group wants doors shut on such practices preemptively.
Whether business-friendly powers up on Beacon Hill act soon or procrastinate, it’s somewhat reassuring that some parties–a handful from within the public apparatus, others from the private sector–are brainstorming defense mechanisms to help residents endure catastrophe. As grassroots groups push from below, egghead post-grads and creative bespectacled types are identifying problems and pitching solutions. And so I joined several dozen of them last week at the firm of CBT Architects in North Station for a powwow about protecting the Bay State …
A lot goes into prepping for apocalypse. Tasked by the Urban Land Institute Boston to address “challenges … for both government and private industry,” architects, developers, and engineers offered ideas for improving “preparedness and response to the effects of climate change and rising seas” in four places: Back Bay, the Innovation District, Alewife, and the Revere waterfront. In their presentations, disaster planners discussed nagging current impediments like inland flood damage, but also recommended more than just new buildings and band-aids. Assuming a vulnerable future, architects suggested structures that can easily withstand extreme weather; think a resilient beach-side burrito stand on solid steel stilts that mitigate flooding, or pop-up retail built for two or three seasons.
Such work is only the beginning of a seeming exponential boom in activity; Boston, for one, is currently updating its climate preparedness plan, and hosts a community “Greenovate” forum on May 31. As for the state … Patrick ventured into uncharted territory just last Friday during his commencement speech at UMass-Amherst, where he vowed to put Mass “on a path to reduce our emissions by fully 80 percent by mid-century.” If that wasn’t enough, the governor essentially echoed the Better Future Project demands: “zero-emission electricity next–solar, wind, and hydro … high-emissions sources never,” and dropped an industry-crippling quadruple F-bomb in promising a “future free of fossil fuels.”
It all sounds like sudden sunshine. Still, asked if her group plans to wait for the end of Patrick’s term to twist the pressure up full-blast, Kirkland says they hope that he will wave his executive wand “much sooner than that.” “I don’t know of any other governor who has called for a future free of fossil fuels or invoked as clearly or explicitly that we need to move away from them,” she adds. “There’s a long way to go, but right now we’re holding him to that.”