By Nathan Lederman
BU News Service
BOSTON — While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate public consciousness, politicians across the U.S.—including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh—continue to address another pressing issue: the effects of climate change.
On Tuesday, Walsh joined New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Dan Lashof, director of the World Resources Institute, in a panel discussion titled “Climate Mayors National Dialogue on Green and Equitable Recovery.”
Earlier this week, Walsh was named the new co-chair for Climate Mayors, a bipartisan coalition made up of over 400 members, which was co-founded by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2014. Tuesday’s discussion was held by Climate Mayors in tandem with the World Resources Institute.
The panel, which was moderated on Zoom by Time Magazine’s Justin Worland, saw Walsh and Cantrell discuss how their cities have continued to address climate change amidst the pandemic and their hopes for president elect Joe Biden’s coming administration.
“Climate action is the foundation for everything else we care about,” Walsh said in his opening remarks. “The facts are clear. We have less than 10 years to act on climate and prevent irreversible damage to our planet.”
During the discussion, Walsh pointed to a link between systemic racism and COVID-19. The mayor said the virus and the effects of climate change have a stronger impact on people of color and lower income communities in Boston and stated that recovery from COVID-19 must be rooted in environmental and basic justice.
“Climate action is not just an environmental issue,” Walsh said. “It’s a public health issue. It’s a public safety issue. It’s a human rights issue. And it’s certainly a racial justice issue.”
In regards to how Walsh plans to address these issues in Boston, the mayor said he would focus on reducing carbon emissions in the city’s largest buildings and helping to create pathways into “green jobs,” which the communities most impacted by climate change can benefit from.
He also pointed to the Resilient Boston Harbor project, which seeks to increase access to Boston’s 47-mile coastline around the harbor to deal with rising sea levels.
Cantrell has faced climate change in New Orleans and seen the potential threat of multiple hurricanes loom over her city in 2020.
Apart from the “unprecedented” number of hurricanes that threatened to hit New Orleans, Cantrell said her city had to file a lawsuit against many oil and gas pipeline companies for actions that she said harmed the southeast Louisiana coastline made it more vulnerable to flooding and hurricanes.
In regards to efforts Cantrell is taking to aid the city of New Orleans in its efforts to combat climate change, the mayor pointed towards pedestrianizing the French Quarter in order to cut down on emissions and a program titled “Solar for All,” which seeks to provide low to no cost solar panel installations across the city.
“All of these different things and initiatives I spoke on in my opening are really a result [of] bringing people along and [demonstrating] that we’re serious about facing this problem in order to fix it so that we can be safe and healthy,” Cantrell said.
One thing both mayors spoke about was the coming Biden administration and what it will mean for the continued fight against climate change.
When discussing the current Trump administration, Walsh said over the past few years, it was especially important for Climate Mayors to work together because Washington had no climate leadership. The mayor also questioned whether the current administration believes in science at all.
“Now we welcome the Biden administration, which is committed to climate action,” Walsh said. “We’re already seeing the work beginning to take shape at the next level.”
Both mayors expressed approval of the Biden administration’s commitment to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on day one, the promise of a stimulus package to help their cities, and a laid out COVID-19 recovery plan that works hand in hand with goals to address climate change.
While Cantrell said she was hopeful for the new administration in Washington, she rejected the idea that it was time for mayors to step back in the fight against climate change due to the incoming Biden presidency.
“Absolutely not,” Cantrell said. “We wouldn’t be where we are right now if cities, mayors, hadn’t continued to lead, even in the midst of, again, a lack of leadership.”