The MIT community should support a Green New Deal for Cambridge

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stressed the need to keep global warming below 1.5 Celsius to avoid some of the worst impacts of the climate crisis, which will require a global effort to steadily reduce emissions. greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. In the United States, however, measures to reduce emissions are lagging behind. A bill that would put the country on track to cut emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2030 is stalled in the US Senate, and federal agencies’ ability to regulate CO2 emissions is challenged in court. In this context, local policies constitute an essential course of action. The policies currently being proposed to bolster our climate action plan – the Cambridge Green New Deal and the accelerated net-zero timeline known as B-2035 – are an opportunity for local climate action and provide a blueprint for how which a just and equitable energy transition can be achieved. on a city scale.

Together, these policies accelerate the timeline for existing commercial buildings to achieve zero operating emissions by 2035 instead of 2050 and require the construction and operation of new commercial buildings to be zero emissions from day one. A charge on emissions above these limits – called an Alternative Compliance Credit – will fund green jobs training programs for Cambridge residents, ensuring they can participate in the rapidly growing areas of mitigation and pollution. adaptation to climate change. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Climate Action Plan states that “the world will not solve the climate problem without solving the intertwined issues of equity and economic transition.” By using funds raised primarily from wealthy commercial landlords to fund programs that primarily benefit Cambridge’s working-class residents, these policies will help reduce inequality while simultaneously incentivizing lower emissions.

While debates at previous City Council hearings have focused on the accounting details, it is important to note that the Alternative Compliance Credit is a alternative reduce direct emissions from the operation and construction of buildings – the ultimate goal of these policies. New build is only a small part of Cambridge’s planned building stock, but these buildings will become the building stock of our future, and we will be stuck with their emissions for many decades. Addressing the current building stock is a complex and difficult task, which depends on utility providers in addition to building owners. It is precisely this complexity that compels us to aim early and start implementing zero-carbon solutions now. While the current 2050 timeline is less daunting than the 2035 proposal, Cambridge has the obligation and the means to rise to the occasion and lead America’s decarbonization efforts.

As members of the MIT community, we are particularly disappointed that our administration is acting to weaken these policies – and want the city council to know that this does not reflect the interests or opinions of the entire community here, including faculty and students in general support institutional action to address the climate crisis. The council’s first obligation should be to the thousands of Cambridge residents who would benefit from programs created by the Green New Deal and/or face growing climate impacts if emissions continue unabated.

It is well within MIT’s means to comply with these new policies. We estimate that its annual alternative compliance credit for on-campus building construction would be approximately $800,000, based on average annual construction and current emissions. The institute has already committed to eliminating direct campus emissions by 2050. If it makes no changes to the plans, the average annual alternative compliance credit by 2050 would be around $9 million. to comply with the proposed schedule for 2035. Of course, we hope that he will take this opportunity to accelerate his own plan to phase out campus emissions. These values ​​are well below the cumulative spending in capital projects ($475 million) and operating budget ($3.7 billion) in 2021. In addition to what would be paid for construction and operations on campus, these policies would add about $2 per square foot to the cost of its commercial real estate development projects in Kendall Square. The investments are ultimately intended to support a mission to advance knowledge and educate students to better serve the nation and the world. We expect this service to take priority over financial returns in the event of a conflict. Also, instead of seeing these costs as a burden on one’s financial interests, they should be seen as an investment in the future of our campus, our community, and our planet.

MIT highlights its research on climate change and clean technologies to present itself as a leader on climate issues. But much of that same research also shows that innovations in low-carbon technologies will be stifled unless policies, such as a price on emissions, are in place to support large-scale deployment. If the institute is serious about scaling innovations to materially affect the climate crisis, it should support policies such as the Green New Deal and B-2035 at the local level – as well as climate policies at the local level. states and at the national level.

These proposals are rooted in a recognition of the complex relationship between Cambridge residents, the city government and our burgeoning technology industry. The growth of this industry around MIT and Harvard brought jobs, money and prestige to Cambridge, but transformed neighborhoods and left many locals behind. The large commercial buildings that house these offices and laboratories also account for more than half of the total emissions here. If we want to continue to grow as a city – physically, economically, socially – we have to do it more intentionally and equitably.

The Green New Deal and B-2035 represent important steps towards creating a thriving low-carbon economy in Cambridge while reducing inequality. Although individuals may disagree with specific policy details, the costs of delaying climate action are too high to wait for full consensus. We urge the city council to adopt this proposal and encourage institutions such as MIT and Harvard to continue their collaboration with the city.

Ippolyti Dellatolas, Will Sawyer, Owen Leddy and Sara Sheffels, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


The authors are PhD students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Ippolyti Dellatolas and Will Sawyer of the Department of Mechanical Engineering; Owen Leddy of the Department of Biological Engineering; and Sara Sheffels from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

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