Green is good, economically

My fellow real estate developer David Begelfer misses the mark when he suggests Massachusetts’ forward-looking climate and energy policies are somehow too expensive and bad for our economy (“Out Front on Climate Change,” Summer ’12).

The truth is, that since the enactment of the 2008 Green Communities Act, average monthly energy bills have come down $38 for Commonwealth residents. And far from hurting our state, Massachusetts’ clean-energy policies are growing the economy through investment and creating jobs as well. Our state enjoys the second-highest concentration of venture capital investment in clean energy businesses in the nation. According to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center 2011 report, more than 64,000 of our neighbors already work in efficiency and renewable energy, and that number grew even during the recession.

This success shows how clean energy policies drive economic success. Over the years, our company has developed, owned, and managed millions of square feet of residential space, and thousands of residential units. Thanks to Massachusetts policies that encourage energy efficiency, we have boosted R-values with insulation and better windows, added motion detectors to limit unnecessary lighting, and installed a well that uses groundwater’s constant temperature to heat and cool rooms. We have taken advantage of state and federal incentives to put solar panels on nine buildings, buying the inverters and other equipment from manufacturers here in Massachusetts.

All this has helped us cut energy bills and market our buildings, while making a dent in greenhouse gases and pollution. And now, given the market opportunity made clear by Massachusetts’ continuing commitment to clean energy, we have started a new company that will install solar panels on buildings, and offer customers a supply of clean, renewable energy at below-market rates.

Also in the works is a solar array for Yawkey Station, a commuter rail station that will serve Fenway Park and the Longwood medical area. The project will be the first zero-net-energy train station in the country.

All that innovation is spurred on by Massachusetts’ ambitious energy and climate goals. Take our experience and multiply it by thousands of companies across the Commonwealth, all working on clean and efficient energy solutions, and you have a thriving market and a growing clean-energy sector.

Keep in mind that climate change —and the world’s response to it—is a tremendous economic opportunity. Worldwide, renewable energy alone attracted a record $260 billion in investment last year. Clean energy is a huge and growing international market, and Massachusetts’ pioneering efforts put us in prime position to earn a big and growing slice of that market.

Begelfer writes that “climate change is not a local issue.” But he’s wrong. The effects are felt locally, in communities around the globe. And some of the best solutions are local, too, bubbling up from innovative thinkers, creative companies, and forward-looking governments, in Massachusetts and around the world.

John Rosenthal
President, Meredith Management

Ceasefire needed

David Kennedy (“Hold your fire,” Conversation, Summer ’12) realistically notes that impacting all the entrenched conditions related to poverty and crime is a vision for a far-off future. He admits that the Ceasefire approach is a kind of triaging, a focused strategy that achieves the goal of reducing gun violence quickly and a secondary goal of affording police, other agencies, and community members a chance to build trust and begin to see each other as allies. As such, Ceasefire is eminently worthy of a community’s investment. It is also a lesson in how paying attention to human needs can pay off.

Three factors appear to underpin Ceasefire’s success and, from my perspective of having facilitated dialogues with at-risk teens and police officers in several cities, they’re all equally important. The first, is the threat of severe enforcement. The second is an offer of a real carrot—services such as help in finding a path to a job—to go along with the stick of enforcement. Finally, you have police who are willing to say to gang members, “We respect you enough to treat you like adults.” The key word is respect.

Straight talk-a/k/a “keeping it real”- is a form of respect. It’s part of the caring attention from adults that young people may not be able to admit they need. The impact of cops and prosecutors in a Ceasefire call-in showing gang members a genuine understanding of the issues and pressures they face, including hopelessness about finding a job, shouldn’t be underestimated. Up to this point in their lives, for whatever reasons, efforts by family members, friends, teachers, and ministers have not diverted these young people from involvement in gangs, guns, and drugs. But when law enforcement people and other Ceasefire participants jointly take the time to spell out the unvarnished options—stop the shootings or be harassed, busted, and sent away, or you can take advantage of services like counseling and job assistance—it is strong enough to change behavior.

Even younger at-risk teenagers express concern about jobs during our youth-police dialogues. Like their older gang-involved counterparts, they need someone—a parent, teacher, mentor, coach, sometimes a police officer—to help them see a picture of the future that includes legitimate work and a productive life with them in the picture.

Former Boston Police Superintendent James Claiborne once shared an insightful quote. It was by Dr. John Rich, author of Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Trauma and Violence in the Lives of Young Black Men and a physician at Boston City Hospital in the 1990s. Dr. Rich said, “There’s no such thing as a senseless crime. It made sense to someone.” When an act of deadly violence makes the headlines, people ask in exasperation, “Don’t they have anything better to do?” The answer is no. If they had something they thought was better to do, they would have been doing it. The question to ask is: Why was there nothing, in their mind, better to do than be in a gang and commit a violent crime? It’s likely that nobody ever showed them a picture of a legitimate future and a believable path for getting there or that the message didn’t get through. Ceasefire gives them another chance, although one wonders how much help in the job area is possible now during a recession with high unemployment.

Societal repair isn’t coming any time soon and probably not for a long while, given this country’s penchant for prioritizing military adventures and corporate profitability over education, universal health coverage, and other basic human services. Until some future time when we decide to devote sufficient resources to changing the school-to-prison pipeline to a cradle-to-college highway, we’ll continue to need police-community triaging approaches such as Ceasefire.

Jeffrey Stone, Milton
Former director of City-Wide Dialogues on Boston’s Ethnic & Racial Diversity

Halt church attacks

As a former member of the Massachusetts Board of Education and current president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, I have long championed a variety of innovative school models and public policies to create a world-class education delivery system in Massachusetts. Both charter schools and parochial schools face obstacles in Massachusetts. 

Instead of attacking the concerns of the church for the priority they place on strengthening the high-quality, values-based education that Catholic schools provide, reporter Jack Sullivan (“What Would Jesus Do,” Summer  ’12) could have identified policy solutions that have been largely ignored by the Legislature yet promise a greater set of education options for parents in communities such as Lawrence.

Charter schools compete with district schools by offering parents a limited choice of innovative learning environments free from restrictive union contract language. Similarly, parochial schools offer quality education and faith-based values as a part of the curriculum—a choice denied them in public schools. Families electing Catholic schools do so purposefully, but with the additional burden of paying tuitions that are not required of their charter school counterparts.

The Massachusetts Anti-Aid Amendments should be repealed and school choice policies for faith-based schools should be pursued. Nearly half of the states across the nation have programs that offer parents access to parochial or private schools under a voucher or tax credit program. According to a May 2012 poll conducted for the American Federation for Children and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, 85 percent of likely voters and 91 percent of Latinos in five key states—Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Nevada—support voucher or scholarship tax credit programs.

A voucher program would help the people who most need to be helped and should be seen as a way to level the “tuition” playing field among charter and parochial schools. Vouchers should not be seen as aid to private schools, but rather an equitable policy to enlarge the freedom of families to choose.

Christopher R. Anderson
Vice Chairman, Lawrence Catholic Academy