Cambridge Holds Climate Congress

Local community gathers to discuss climate emergency

In light of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, Cambridge called to order its own Climate Emergency Congress, convening over 150 community members Saturday to discuss the potential climate challenges facing the city.

Delegates—representing a wide range of ages, socioeconomic statuses, and occupations—attended the Climate Congress in order to provide specific recommendations to the City Council for how residents, businesses, and institutions can adopt more environmentally friendly practices.

In her opening speech, Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons said that 10 years have elapsed since the city first publicly acknowledged the consequences of climate change. This past May, the Cambridge City Council officially recognized climate change as an “emergency,” and plans to hold a city-wide climate congress has been in the works since Thanksgiving.

“We all understand that tackling the climate crisis is an ambitious venture,” Simmons said. “It is going to take a sustained effort on all our parts.”

During the congress, delegates divided into small groups to discuss tangible solutions to the climate emergency. Recommendations included eliminating all street parking by 2020, raising the price of parking permits, and working with nearby institutions to research and publish reports on green initiatives in an effort to educate the public.

The congress also featured various Cambridge officials as speakers, including city councillor Henrietta S. Davis, who will represent the city of Cambridge at the Copenhagen summit. At the Cambridge Climate Congress, attendees were also given the opportunity to submit ideas for Davis to consider while she is in Copenhagen for the international talks.

“This Congress showed that it is possible to have this conversation with people from different backgrounds to find what we have in common and what we can agree on,” said Quinton Y. Zondervan, a member of the steering committee that organized the Congress and founder of a biotechnology company that advises the City Manager on climate issues.

“[We’re here] to create a feasible future for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren,” said Steve Morr-Wineman, a board member of the Cambridge Home Energy Efficiency Team. “Step out of the box of hopelessness and really believe we can make a difference.”

He pointed to the Harvard University Office for Sustainability—which aims to decrease the University’s carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2010—as an example of good goal-setting.

“We need to look at what we can start getting done now, as people who are coming together to make a movement,” Wineman said.

According to Zondervan, the most important point to take away from Saturday’s Congress is the efficacy of devising short-term goals and integrating them into long-term plans.

The public will vote to finalize recommendations made to the City Council and the Cambridge community at a follow-up congress on Jan. 23, 2010.

Recognizing that tangible changes can happen gradually through small steps, Simmons said that she has already made personal changes in her life by teaching her children to behave in more sustainable ways.

She and her children ride bicycles, have changed their fluorescent light bulbs, and have asked their building managers to use programmable thermostats.

In 1999, Cambridge was the 55th community to join the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an international association of local governments that have made a commitment to sustainable development. Today, there are a few hundred communities involved in the United States and a few thousand internationally.

“The hard work does not end [today],” Simmons said. “We need you all to act as ambassadors from the Congress in the next month.”

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at xyu@college.harvard.edu.

Tags