Blog Post | GRC | 11.15.17

GRC Fall Meeting: Critical Questions Dialogue

The City of Boston is beginning the process of developing a suite of strategies aimed at its target of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

It’s an ambitious and laudable goal, but swirling around it are questions about what Boston and Bostonians will need to do to achieve it. Who will need to collaborate?  Which aspects of the city can stay the same, and which might need to change? What expertise can be leveraged?  How do we consistently implement radical change over multiple decades?

Questions revolving around those broad themes – and drilling into deeper details – were on the table during the Boston Green Ribbon Commission’s fall meeting on Nov. 15, half of which was devoted to a “Critical Questions Dialogue” on Carbon Free Boston.

“Asking good questions is at the heart of innovation…it opens up our thinking,” said Beth Tener of New Directions Collaborative, which facilitated the strategic brainstorming session for GRC Members.

Splitting into small groups, Members tackled the questions assignment, which will inform work underway at Boston University aimed at advising Boston’s decarbonization effort, including the technical modeling required to make effective strategic decisions. Speaking at the Nov. 15 meeting, Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres and chair of the GRC’s Carbon Free Boston Working Group, noted that Boston’s carbon-free by 2050 goal is “audacious.”  And, she added, “none of us wants to be doing work that isn’t framed with the right questions and the right assumptions.”

And so, Members rolled up their sleeves, exchanged ideas across their various industries and interests for a half hour and came up with a series of questions, big and small, that should be considered. Among them:

  • Should we revisit the base assumptions, such as the rate of the City’s growth?
  • What would it take to develop the political will to support the lifestyle changes needed to be carbon free?
  • How could we make the City’s commitment to carbon neutrality legally binding?
  • Who pays for these transitions?
  • How do we support and incentivize radical innovation?
  • How dependent is the City on state and federal action?
  • How do we get beyond incrementalism?


Throughout the discussion, the umbrella theme of how to weave carbon neutrality with social and environmental justice and economic equity surfaced repeatedly.

Clearly, much more discussion and collaboration will need to take place as Boston moves to decarbonize everything from the electric grid and heating systems to transportation modes and fuels and solid waste disposal. That we aren’t afraid to name the challenges and figure them out is equally clear.

In the weeks ahead, the GRC will explore ways to assure that the Carbon Free Boston report addresses the questions raised at the recent meeting, as well as others critical to ensuring that Boston in 2050 will be not only carbon neutral, but also a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous city for all.

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