Today Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced a $63 million investment to retrofit 4300 public housing units. The plan trumps Chicago’s $43 million project as the nation’s largest energy efficiency investment in public housing.
Mayor Menino’s announcement comes after Massachusetts finalized a three-year plan to triple utility investments in energy efficiency. Boston and the State of Massachusetts are moving toward a clean energy future. But will it be enough?
An emerging coalition of faith, business, environmental, and workforce development groups are joining The Leadership Campaign in challenging the Massachusetts State Legislature to double-down on recent clean energy and energy efficiency investments by creating a task force to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2020. The campaign – The Commonwealth Challenge, launched on March 4th – is not your typical political initiative.
The motto of the Commonwealth Challenge is “When the people lead, leaders will follow.” 40 years after the first Earth Day, the people of Massachusetts are putting down their phones, pens, and signs and picking up caulk guns and home retrofit contracts. Residents of the Commonwealth are demonstrating a real solution – hire local workers, including workers with barriers to employment, to make homes more energy efficient and pay them family supporting wages and benefits. Following in the footsteps of Van Jones, Green For All, and the Green Justice Coalition of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth Challenge is creating a green collar economy that works for people and the planet. And along the way, people are measuring the results and holding themselves and their leaders accountable.
The Commonwealth Challenge aims to engage 3,000 residents by Earth Day, April 22nd, in saving 100,000 KWh of electricity. If each person saves 5% of their electricity the goal will be reached. 100,000 KWh is enough to power the homes of Beacon Hill, home of the State Legislature, for a full day. It’s also enough to create 2200 job hours for local workers, save residents $20,000 on their energy bills, and remove more than 370 tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
By retrofitting their homes to make them more efficient, residents are taking the first step toward clean energy revolution. But more has to be done if the planet is to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid dangerous climate change tipping points. On April 22nd, residents will present the results of their actions as a challenge to the State Legislature to lead the nation toward the next American Revolution – an energy revolution for good jobs and climate security. The way to get there – pass An Act to Create a Repower Massachusetts Emergency Task Force, a bill introduced on December 7th that would create a task force to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2020. At the same time, residents are challenging Massachusetts Senators Scott Brown and John Kerry to lead Congress toward finally putting a national price on carbon pollution.
It is not enough to simply promote home energy retrofits. Without a signal from customers or government that they should act differently, many companies will continue to weed out job applicants with barriers to employment such as the disabled, women, people of color, people from marginalized communities, and people who have ever been convicted of a crime. Contractors serving the Commonwealth Challenge must sign on to, the Green Collar Hiring Pledge, a promise by employers to pay fair wages and benefits, hire people with barriers to employment, and choose environmentally preferred products and practices. So far, three companies have signed on and are serving homes through the Challenge.
Before April 22nd, Neighborhood Captains across Massachusetts will organize “Energy Retrofit Parties”, phonebanks, canvass their neighborhoods, and show up at community events to sign people up to retrofit their homes. Thanks to significant subsidies and a group discount from Commonwealth Challenge Service Partners, a home retrofit is an easy sell for anybody in Massachusetts whether they own or rent their home. In fact, the initial energy audit and air sealing work is free. This flier explains what I am talking about.
After Copenhagen many people lost faith in the willingness of political leaders to step up to the plate to address the climate crisis. The question now becomes – what are we going to do about it? With coastlines eroding in the Maldives, fires and droughts raging in Africa, and desperate farmers turning to suicide in India, I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to take this challenge into our own hands. If governments won’t adopt a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty, we the people, have to use whatever power we have to decarbonize our economy and demonstrate the way forward.
Actions speak louder than words, but they also often begin with words. I have one question for people reading this.
Who do you know in Massachusetts? If you are inspired by what we are doing, I urge you to tell your friends and family in Massachusetts about the Commonwealth Challenge and encourage them to retrofit their home. 3,000 people might not seem like a large number; but the difference between 3,000 people signing a petition and 3,000 people signing up to schedule someone to come work on their home is significant.
It is time to lead.