Menino, Aoun pledge green Hub

By Marc Larocque

Two major proposals to combat global warming both on and off campus were announced in Boston Thursday.

At Northeastern University, President Joseph Aoun signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, joining 175 other college presidents. The university commitment is modeled after the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which has secured the signatures of more than 400 mayors around the country.

The commitment calls for Northeastern to take clear, comprehensive steps to become “climate neutral.” This includes completing an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, and within two years, developing a plan to mitigate emissions as much as possible.

“Sustainability will factor into … all of our decisions and plans for new services, building designs, and product choices,” Aoun said in a statement. “I appeal to all faculty, staff and students to take their own individual steps toward making Northeastern an exemplar in sustainability.”

At the Children’s Museum, Mayor Thomas Menino presented his goal for reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. He signed the United States Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and announced an executive order to raise Boston’s rank from its current status as the nation’s seventh most energy-efficient city. By reducing emissions seven percent before 2012, he intends for Boston to become the country’s foremost city in energy efficiency.

“Despite what the White House says … global warming is real,” he said during the event, which was attended by politicians and energy conservation proponents. “If we don’t take action now, we could face severe consequences.”

Amidst the declarations, four panelists – a Northeastern environmental law professor, two spokespersons for non-profit city groups and the director of the city of Boston’s Environmental Department – united at the Curry Student Center for a F.O.C.U.S. (Forming Opportunities for Collaboration, Understanding and Service) forum on the environment and public health.

“The mayor’s announcement today is really going to put us out on a front, and maybe, a limb,” said Bryan Glascock, Environmental Department panelist. “But we have to pull through.”

Though Boston has been doing its part to clean the air, other cities have been passing their smog to the Hub, Glascock said.

“Half of the air pollution we are getting is coming from someone else,” he said. “Upwind states are sending all their dirty air our way. It makes you wonder who the Federal Clean Air Act is serving.”

There is a lot of pollution coming from Lowell, said Lee Breckenridge, professor of environmental law at Northeastern. The greatest emissions of green house gases are coming from power plants – specifically Lowell’s smokestacks, she said. Next in line are smaller scale manufacturers.

And air pollution isn’t just a global problem. It’s hazardous to health on a local level as well, she said.

“But never talk small. Think global and act local,” Breckenridge said. “And vote early and often. It can affect our health.”

Air pollution coupled with political neglect has harmed community citizens before, Glascock said.

“Environmental justice is a tough thing to get a hold on,” he said. “Industries had pumped noxious gases into communities of color for years. They knew what they were doing, too.”

Now, living near airports has big health implications, Glascock said.

“There is something coming out of Massport [Massachusetts Port Authority] that is hazardous to the air and health,” he said. “The horse is out of the barn. We’re really got to catch up on it.”

Throughout the forum, there was discussion of whether pollution caused by automobiles could have an increased the asthma in inner city areas.

“Despite the lack of causal information on the effects of emissions from buses, there are efforts to clamp down on them, along with the smokestacks,” Breckenridge said.

Sophia Bielenberg, a sophomore environmental studies major who moderated the forum, had other concerns about the global warming debate.

“Not many people hear the facts about how much greenhouse gas comes from land used to grow food to feed animals and to pasture them,” she said. “People are not being educated strongly enough about solving these problems and I think it is related to the financial interest the governments has in meat.”

But it is wrong to demonize industry, said Panelist Trinidad Rodriguez, special projects coordinator for the Esplanade Association Green Team.

“They are giving people jobs and contributing to the economy,” she said. “There are a lot of green industries and companies that neutralize their carbon emissions.”

Many companies are actually divesting from businesses that are eco-unfriendly, Glascock said.

“It may be interesting to see, in the future, companies losing money because of the negative effects of global warming, and then finding the historical source of the problem and impose a liability or file a lawsuit against them,” he said.

This kind of backlash could be similar at major universities, he said.

“You see repercussions for universities that were dealing with companies affiliated with African countries involved in genocide. A student group protested and trustees divested from the business,” he said after the forum. “In the future, you could see these types of student groups push universities to sever ties with greenhouse gas emitters.”

Some students at Northeastern have been doing their part to be active about this issue, Breckenridge said. She has seen improvement at the university regarding air pollution during her tenure, and is delighted by the work of the environmental student groups.

“Years back, there was this great black plume over Northeastern’s power plant, coming from the smokestacks,” she said. “But now, it seems like they cleaned that up. It is a more clear cloud.”

That was done through “retrofitting,” or replacing existing parts with modified, modern and eco-friendly ones.

“There is a lot of retrofitting that can be done in government buildings,” Glascock said.

He sees “all sorts of efficient modifications” that could be implemented in his work building: daylight sensors, fluorescent light bulbs, low-flow water fixtures and more calculated pop-up reminders for idle computers on whether to shut down automatically or not.

But it’s not just his building. He sees more than 120 buildings, many schools, sports arenas, public parks, the library and all BHA public housing that could use modifications to become more green. He’s also enthusiastic about people outside the government being creative in their energy efficiency projects.

“We shouldn’t be behind this just because the mayor is making it an issue,” he said. “You can lead by example, reducing green house gases, saving money and having a healthy, clean place to work and live.”

There is a lot to do, he said.

“But this is exciting. We can do it together,” he said.

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