Climate Policy for Cambridge

Burhan Azeem
4 min readJun 17, 2019

Here’s the problem

We are far too optimistic when we talk about climate change. We aspire towards a 1.5°C temperature rise instead of 2°C, hoping that this might allow some island nations to survive (1). This is wishful thinking. We imagine our world is currently heading towards decarbonization; we think, with all this energy for change, we are taking strong action on climate change.

We 👏 Are 👏 Not 👏.

In the last 40 years — even after successive IPCC panels and Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth — we’ve produced half of humanity’s total emissions. On top of that, emissions are rising, and they are rising faster than ever (2).

We know what will happen if we let this continue. Cambridge winters will be without snow or ice. Our city will feel like Florida (3). We’ll endure six times as many natural disasters as we do now. Our oceans will acidify. Several animal species will face mass extinction (4). The science is bleak, but our future is in our hands.

We can prevent this climate crisis if we act now and fight for transformative change. Here in Cambridge, we are the most progressive, prosperous, scientific, and resourceful community in the Commonwealth. Progress can and should start with us. And if we are to succeed, we must be bold.

If we don’t lead, who will?

What we can do:

The two most important factors — by far — are transportation and housing.


Transportation accounts for 20–30% of a family’s emissions. We need to invest in green, efficient forms of transportation. We need to make it so easy to get around Cambridge no one feels the need to own a car.

We need to invest heavily in transportation at every level.

This means ensuring that every sidewalk is well maintained, easily walkable, accessible to people of all ages and abilities, and free of obstructions like snow and ice. This means investing and doubling down on services like snow removal so that it is always easy to get around.

This means clearing up our streets and ensuring it is easy and simple to get around. We need to invest in protected, separated bike lanes and build proper bike paths. It is safer and easier for everyone — pedestrians, bikers, and drivers all stand to benefit from quality pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. We also need to complete our bike network quickly. The Cambridge Bike Plan is a great start, but we need to make sure that we have a vision for every street in this city.

This means investing in public transit. We need to get to a place where the entire city has reliable transit access and that we are never waiting for more than a few minutes. The City doesn’t control the MBTA, but we do control roads and traffic signals. This means investing in dedicated bus lanes and transit signal priority to ensure faster, more reliable, and more frequent service.


Housing is the #1 contributor to climate change. In the most direct sense, housing policy is climate policy. We need to build more housing and build it greener. Fortunately, the City controls land-use policy — by and large, this is really in our hands.

This means allowing for the construction of more homes. It is better for the environment if you live in a dense, transit-oriented community like Cambridge. This is the single most important policy. We can cut our emissions by half — or more — just by where you choose to live (5). We should let far more people choose Cambridge.

Urban regions like Cambridge are greener (5). We should allow more people to live here.

This means making those homes multifamily. The emit a fraction per person as compared to single-family homes. We should allow for the construction of multi-family homes and apartments throughout the city.

This means making new housing green. We should push to be more aggressive on net zero policies and provide adequate funding to support such projects. The new 2050 Climate Roadmap bill, passed this year, grants municipalities the power to adopt a net-zero stretch energy code (6). As soon as this option becomes available, Cambridge should opt-in, to decarbonize our buildings and put natural gas firmly in the past where it belongs. By making is possible to build, and holding new buildings to the highest allowed standards, Cambridge will truly show what it means to be a 21st-century City: dense, fossil-fuel-free, walkable, innovative, affordable, and thriving.

P.S. We should use the microphone of public office and the court of public opinion to hold our biggest emitters accountable. We should push our universities to divest from fossil fuels and to our big tech and biotech companies to become net zero.


  1. NYTimes report on the effects of 1.5 and 2 degrees warming.
  2. Bloomberg articles on the rise of CO2 emissions
  3. Citylab article on the temperature change of Cambridge
  4. We know a lot about the effects of Climate Change from historical events that were very similar. The PETM is such an example.
  5. Map of Emissions from UC Berkeley. Zoom into the Cambridge Area.
  6. MAPC Brief, Next-Generation Roadmap Bill: What You Need to Know.