At a mayoral forum on climate change and clean energy Tuesday, the nine candidates present pledged to prioritize environmentally conscious policy — including reducing the city’s carbon footprint, preparing for another superstorm, and encouraging the use of bicycles and public transportation.
Much of the discussion centered on how the city could meet its goal of reducing carbon emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. The forum’s first question, posed to each candidate, asked what first steps each of them would take to confront and adapt to climate change. Most stressed their commitment to reducing carbon emissions.
“We don’t want a repeat of Hurricane Sandy or the nor’easter,” said Charlotte Golar Richie, a former state representative from Dorchester who also served in the administrations of Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
The forum, held at Suffolk Law School and sponsored by a group of business leaders and environmental and clean energy advocates, was designed to be a “thoughtful conversation about serious issues,” said George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. Candidates were given a list of questions ahead of time, touching on topics from improving water quality on the Charles River to boosting Boston’s recycling efforts.
“We did not want this to turn into ‘stump the stars,’ ” said Bachrach, who helped organize the forum. “This was not so much a debate as a strong commitment by the full range of candidates to making Boston the greenest city in the country. We were impressed by how much the candidates knew about energy technology, public parks, and other serious issues.”
Moderators Doug Foy — a development secretary in the administration of former governor Mitt Romney and now chief executive of the consulting group Serrafix — and Derrick Z. Jackson, a columnist and editor for the Boston Globe, asked about dealing with common environmental problems, such as low recycling rates, air pollution, and traffic congestion. According to the global traffic data firm INRIX, traffic is growing faster in Boston this year than in any of the other 10 most-congested cities in America.
One of the best ways to reduce traffic is to make streets safer for bicyclists, said mayoral hopeful Bill Walczak, who rode his own bicycle to the forum. Walczak, best known for his work in health care in Dorchester, said he was glad he arrived at Suffolk Law 45 minutes early because he snagged the last parking spot for bikes on the street.
Fewer cars on the street also means cleaner air, said Walczak, among a dozen candidates hoping to succeed Menino, who has been mayor for 20 years. In its 2013 Massachusetts report card, the American Lung Association gave Suffolk County a “C” for air quality. In 2010, according to the same report, more than 15,000 children in Suffolk County suffered from asthma.
It is important to consider all areas of the city when figuring out how to adapt to climate change, said Councilor Michael P. Ross. In the most recent heat wave, it was hot on the coast, he said, but it was hotter in the inner city, where more asphalt and darker roofs trap the heat. Boston must not forget about those neighborhoods, he said.
After the discussion, Suffolk District Attorney and mayoral hopeful Daniel F. Conley said he was grateful for the opportunity to unveil some of his ideas for a greener Boston. In the forum, he floated a plan to provide loans to homeowners who want to make their homes energy efficient. Two of his siblings have solar panels on their roofs, he said, but not everyone can afford that cost upfront.
Edith Buhs, 44, of Jamaica Plain, who came to watch the discussion, said she recently retrofitted her home, more than a century old, reducing its carbon footprint by 75 percent. She said the candidates were more knowledgeable about climate and energy issues than she had expected.
Nikita Lalwani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.