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Cambridge finds it ain't easy being green

Greater Boston's Gas-House Gang
By TOM MEEK  |  January 13, 2010

The hype leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Congress in Copenhagen last month reached near tsunami proportions, but in the end, the gathering went out like a neap tide. A planetful of critics tagged its COP15 Accord as a cop-out, arguing that it did not go far enough to make any sort of difference.

Surely, things would be handled differently in the People's Republic of Cambridge, which held its first session of the Cambridge Emergency Climate Congress (CECC) on December 12. After all, isn't Cambridge the city that has most organically embraced the phrase "think globally, act locally"?

Outgoing Mayor Denise Simmons initiated the CECC last fall as a response to the acknowledged global climate crisis. The goal was to enlist the aid of volunteer delegates from neighborhoods, businesses, faith organizations, and schools to come up with a composite list of actions for the City Council to act upon. (Disclosure: I am a participating delegate of the CECC.)

During last month's session, the 100 delegates broke into small caucus groups to discuss such germane issues as the crisis's significance, how seriously it's being taken, and what can be done to change the current course. Additionally, City Councilor Henrietta Davis was sent as an unofficial envoy to the COP15 Conference with a list of suggestions and recommendations from the delegation.

But if it seems easy for feisty Cantabrigians to set an example for the rest of the world to follow, think again. This CECC is not the first time Cambridge has made a charge at global warming. In 2002, the city adopted a Climate Protection Plan designed to reduce its carbon footprint to 20 percent below the 1990 level by 2010 (a goal very much in line with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol). By December 2009, however, as stated in the CECC materials, the city's greenhouse-gas emissions levels were 27 percent higher than those in 1990. Clearly something went wrong with the 2002 plan.

Many delegates cited a lack of accountability, incentives, and changes in leadership at City Hall. "The city has made scant progress since 2002," said Mark Jaquith, a delegate and long-time Cambridge resident. "Maybe this will be an incentive to make some effective legislative progress at last."

That opportunity may arrive in the second session of the CECC on January 23, when the items compiled from the first gathering get spun into concrete resolutions coupled with dates and checkpoints. Still, the matter of making real progress in an arena that has stymied nations and international coalitions lingers. "I hope we can do better over the next eight years," adds Jaquith, "here and everywhere."

For more information about the CECC, go to

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