[UPDATED] Walsh, Council, students take climate action


climate change time capsule

Charlie Wolfson

One day after Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced the launch of Carbon Free Boston, a plan for the city to be carbon neutral by 2050, the Boston City Council voted unanimously to ban the use of plastic bags in stores Nov. 29. These two measures come as Northeastern students continue environmental activism years in progress.

“These things have long been in the works on campus because of advocacy and strong pushing from HEAT [Husky Environmental Action Team],” Paulina Ruiz, executive vice president of the Student Government Association, or SGA, said.

The first step in the city’s Carbon Free initiative, according to a Nov. 28 release from the mayor’s office, is a report analyzing the costs and benefits of various policies and technologies that could allow the city to reach its goal.

The city is partnering with a group of business, institutional and civic leaders called the Green Ribbon Commission, the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy and their Department of Earth and Environment to produce the report.

“[Carbon neutrality] is no small feat, and we have to be smart about how we get there,” Walsh said in the release. “Carbon Free Boston will start by ensuring that we understand all of our options before we decide on the right near and long-term solutions.”

Lauren Zingarelli, the communications director of the city’s environmental department, said the report is a continuation of one of Walsh’s long-term objectives.

“This is a long-standing goal for the mayor,” Zingarelli said. “He’s clearly stated the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, and this study will help us achieve that.”

Boston has already invested in climate change preparedness. In 2016, the city published a report called Climate Ready Boston, which includes data and projections on the damage climate change could cause in Boston, as well as concepts and ideas to increase the city’s climate readiness.

“We’re proud of our steadfast commitment to combatting and preparing for climate change and the partnership we have with cities and towns across the Commonwealth who are working to reduce emissions and build resiliency at the local level,” said Matthew Beaton, the Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs in the same release.

Another potential step toward sustainability came Nov. 29, when the City Council voted 12-0 to ban the use of plastic bags in Boston stores. City Councilor Matt O’Malley was the lead proponent of the measure, which would ban the use of thin, single-use plastic bags, and businesses would charge five cents for thicker, compostable bags or paper bags.

Walsh has yet to sign off on the ordinance. A spokesperson said the mayor is still reviewing it and has not made a decision. David Clark, a second-year bioengineering major at Northeastern and the student senator representing HEAT in the SGA Student Senate, hopes Walsh signs off on the bill, which was unanimously approved by City Council and could be susceptible to a veto override.

“I think it’s so important that Boston joins the fray on this issue,” Clark said. “Cambridge already has a ban like this, as well as Brookline. Even my hometown in Cape Cod has one. Right now it’s important for Boston and Massachusetts to be strong on these issues and be together on these issues.”

Walsh opposed a similar measure last year, but Will Poff-Webster, a spokesperson for O’Malley, said City Council members are hopeful Walsh will green-light the measure this time.

“There’s been a lot of work and discussion since last year,” Poff-Webster said. “A lot of concerns have been addressed.”

The measure parallels an SGA referendum passed last spring and several ongoing HEAT initiatives. The SGA referendum would ban the sale of plastic bottles on campus and was approved in the student body direct election, but has yet to be enacted by Northeastern administration.

HEAT members are working on several similar initiatives on campus, such as banning plastic bags and promoting composting, creating a program to teach children about recycling and replacing paper towels on campus with hand dryers, said Max Wagner, the vice president of HEAT and a third-year finance major.

“I’d like to think that the [City Council] bill will encourage everyone to reconsider how wasteful they’ve been in the past,” Wagner said.

Ruiz said she thinks the administration has generally been receptive to climate initiatives put forth by HEAT and SGA.

“They’ve already been pretty receptive to removing bags, especially from off-campus dining locations, which is the primary source of bags on campus,” Ruiz said. “I supposed there could be even more incentive now [in light of the City Council vote].”

Correction: This story was updated Dec. 7 at 4:40 p.m. to correctly identify David Clark, who was misidentified in a an earlier version.