Columnist Darcy Dumont Local and Green: Amherst, 2030, the new paradigm

  • Amherst Town Hall

Monday, October 21, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part column. The second part will appear in the Nov. 8 edition of the Bulletin.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report makes it clear that we must cut our emissions 50% by 2030 to have even a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophic climate impacts.

And that every nation, state, municipality, business, institution and individual needs to participate in that effort. That means reducing our emissions by half in 10 years, through conservation, switching to renewable energy and/or carbon sequestration.

But it’s one thing to know what the science indicates and what the report says we must do, and another to understand and digest what that means to us as a town, as businesses or as individuals.

What does it mean to cut our emissions in half? Over 10 years, that means we need to reduce by an average of 5% of our current level each year. What are the easiest things we can start with? What is the low hanging fruit? And what are the harder things that need to be done within 10 years and how can we get them done?

In order to make the changes necessary, we need a very basic paradigm change. And we can’t do it without widespread support. There are few examples in history when such dramatic shifts have been accomplished. One is during World War II, when the U.S. citizenry pulled together on a massive scale. That’s what we need now on every level.

The Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee has been reaching out this month, providing forums where we, as residents and businesses, can envision how and when meaningful climate action can be accomplished.

That got me thinking about my own vision for 2030. What could this look like? Let’s go into the future to take a look.

It’s 2030 in Amherst. The town is perceived as the model U.S. municipality for climate action. It has achieved its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Most of the town has bought into the new paradigm. We take tremendous pride in having organized neighborhoods (with neighborhood captains), businesses (with business captains), and youth to cooperate on climate action and compete to have the smallest carbon footprint.

It’s popular to have an “I’m on board” sign on your lawn and in the window of your business, to take the bus, to hang your wash out to dry, and to eat “Beans not Beef.” People are excited about what we’ve accomplished and proud of Amherst.

As for the town, it is dedicating a portion of the town budget to climate action initiatives, and hired a climate action director and staff as well as a waste management and refuse, recycling and compost coordinator. Amherst loudly advertises all of our conservation and green living programs on the town website and on signs around town.

It uses a “climate awareness screen” for hiring town and school staff. Schools teach K-12 students how to live lightly. Our zero-energy buildings are touted as some of the finest in Massachusetts, with many other towns following suit. Municipal purchasing policies have advanced the adoption of efficient vehicles, appliances and equipment. We have of course taken full advantage of the grants and incentives available.

We have a growing population. We are dealing with an influx of residents from the coast who are threatened by rising seas and attracted to our model of green living. We have developed moderate priced and sized zero-energy housing in our village centers to house the newcomers. We are also an ecotourism hub, which contributes to our tax base.

As for electricity, we have adopted the program that took California by storm in the teens, called Community Choice Aggregation 4.0. What started with Amherst, Northampton and Pelham has expanded to 15 towns regionally and has taken over energy efficiency services from MassSave, which scales the CCA program up exponentially. Everyone is opted in (though anyone has the right to opt out).

Customizing our local energy efficiency services where they are needed evens out our electricity load and brings down costs. Part of the savings is being invested in new renewables and energy efficiency. Eversource and National Grid have resisted the CCA movement, but are at a point of giving over the purchasing of electricity to the CCAs entirely (as the major utilities have done in California). Our energy is becoming more and more local and energy democracy is unfolding.

Next up: Part II of Amherst, 2030 — The New Paradigm. Transportation, Agriculture, Waste, Jobs, Resilience, and Higher Ed in 2030.

Darcy DuMont is on the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now MA, is an Amherst Town Councilor representing District 5 and the lead sponsor of the legislation to establish an Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee. (Councilor Evan Ross co-authored the legislation.) Views expressed are hers and not those of the Town Council.