“…but no one does anything about it” is lame humor, especially because it seems so obviously true. The apparent truth of that sentiment reflects the huge scale of the problem, but also the fact that all of the “action” seems to be on paper and in electronic media, not in the real world. It has been argued that people aren’t motivated to take action because they aren’t experiencing the problem personally, and there’s truth in that. But there’s a corresponding positive motivation that hasn’t been tapped – the experience and example of others taking action.

The City of Boston is an inspiring and effective example of “doing something about it”. Since creating its first climate change strategy in 2007, Boston under Mayor Menino[1] has been a national leader in developing and executing a comprehensive strategy that encompasses mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions), adaptation (planning and creating a more resilient infrastructure) and economic growth (seizing the opportunities to create a stronger and more vibrant economy).

Several months ago, I brought Brian Swett, Energy and Environment Chief for the City of Boston, to my suburban community outside Boston. The results were gratifying, summed up by one attendee who observed that “in the face of so much discouraging news, it was so energizing to hear this story and see the very real success that is possible when there’s leadership and commitment”.

Boston’s example is one that should resonate widely. Most of our population and productive capacity is located within the economic zone of influence of major cities.

The example of a city is effective because a city must think, plan and operate plan within the longer timeframes that are so hard for individuals to grasp when thinking about the impacts of climate change. More importantly, that thinking informs and affects actions being taken now. It’s that immediacy – the impact on people’s lives and the economy today – that may encourage more institutions and individuals to take action.

The combination of rising sea levels and more powerful storms will result in large-scale flooding as a matter of course. A map in the presentation shows the extent of flooding at the levels of mean high water expected by mid-century, but makes the point that those levels would have been reached had Superstorm Sandy arrived at high tide. A frightening future prospect, but it has an impact today. Consider a few examples:

  • A large rehabilitation hospital was recently built in the Charlestown Navy Yard. All the utilities and and mechanical equipment are located at roof level, and the emergency room is just below. All vital systems are above possible flood levels. In a flooding emergency, vital public safety resources will not be tied up evacuating patients and the hospital will be able to provide needed services.
  • The roof of the garage housing public safety and emergency vehicles is covered with solar PV and sufficient electric storage to operate for several days. When Sandy hit New York and the power went out, emergency and repair vehicles could not be fueled because there was no electricity for gas pumps.
  • Planning for the future allows Boston to continue to embrace the economic opportunities of its waterfront. The waterfront innovation district is attracting established and new companies and jobs, and spurring construction.
  • Building codes and planning guidelines are encouraging or requiring more energy efficient construction and renovation, and increased use of renewable energy. There is positive economic impact today from Boston’s housing and commercial stock in 2050.

Boston is a leader, but it is not alone. There are examples elsewhere. Whether your are committed to addressing the challenges of climate change, taking advantage of the opportunities it presents – or both – initiatives like Boston’s present a road map for action today.


  1. Nine of the candidates vying to succeed Mayor Menino, including the two finalists, expressed their support for these initiatives and offered some of their own ideas. See “Boston mayoral candidates express strong support for and creative proposals to meet climate and energy goals“.
Everyone talks about climate change…