Climate change fight requires practivism

Massachusetts is leading the way

What does it take to change the world? Almost four decades after the phrase “global warming” was first used, and eight years after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, you could say that battle fatigue in the war against global warming has set in. For every behavioral change that is working, such as the trend toward hybrid vehicles, there are predictions that cast doubt on our efforts and make global change seem insurmountable.

In recent weeks, a report from the UN study on climate change warned that time is running out to bring greenhouse-gas emissions under control. Major changes are needed, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and needed quickly.

Everything we do to reduce our carbon footprint today, collectively, will help our grandchildren and great grandchildren live cleaner, healthier lives. In a culture that is very much about the here and now, we should adopt the concept of practivism, the combination of practical get-it-done approaches with activism on behalf of the planet. If the question is, can we help the environment without making unreasonable sacrifices, the answer, clearly, is yes.

Nowhere in the country has the landscape for practivism been better seeded than in Massachusetts through the landmark Green Communities Act (GCA). The six year-old GCA is transforming the energy sector in New England by encouraging large-scale investments in renewable energy and by offering incentives to homeowners to adopt energy-efficiency measures.

The GCA anticipates everyone — utility companies, cities and towns, businesses, and individuals — doing their part to make positive change. It is practivism in practice.

Large utility companies run energy-efficiency programs and are constructing major grid-connected solar panel systems across the state. Long-term contracts with wind-powered generation sources have also been approved and will add to the diverse mix of renewable energy sources in Massachusetts.

The positive effects of these large- and small-scale actions are unmistakable: Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and mercury emissions have all been reduced, as has overall demand for power. And now there’s new data showing that the GCA is providing economic benefits to Massachusetts. A recent report by the Analysis Group of Boston found that the first six years of GCA investments alone contributed $1.2 billion in net economic activity and will create more than 16,000 jobs over a study period through 2025. That’s great news for legislation that was not even meant to be an economic stimulus bill. Its benefits have far outweighed any costs.

Economic activity spurred by the legislation includes investments in renewables and energy-efficiency programs, manufacturing, and construction activities that will continue to provide benefits for years to come. The report also shows the GCA has a profound effect on localizing the Massachusetts energy economy, meaning fewer dollars are leaving the state and more are going toward local clean-energy businesses and other related local spending.

Here’s another way to look at what is nothing short of a transformation: Since 2008, our 70,000 home-owning customers, through their collective actions, have saved more than $16 million in energy costs and reduced carbon emissions by more than 65,000 metric tons per year – the equivalent of taking more than 13,000 fossil fuel-burning cars off the road. By working with utility-sponsored program partners, such as Mass Save Home Energy Services, to make it easy for homeowners to take action, we’re creating over 1,000 green-collar careers for Massachusetts residents. And that’s just our part of the puzzle.

The environmental movement is a long-term commitment. But the more we educate people about the benefits of energy responsibility, the more people will join the effort – and the better off we’ll all be, both environmentally and economically.

Meet the Author
Massachusetts is proof of that, and we must continue to lead the way.

Geoff Chapin is founder and CEO of Next Step Living, a Boston-based provider of home energy solutions.