With strident voices and violent clashes in the news at the highest levels of government, recent weeks brought a welcome dose of collaborative and functional governance on Cape Cod. The Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates on Feb. 17 approved a framework for bringing climate change mitigation into virtually every aspect of regional planning.
The Cape Cod Commission is required to produce a regional policy plan every five years to guide development and protect the region’s resources. The most recent update of that plan was completed in 2018. It was submitted to the Assembly a year ago but met criticism from the community for its failure to focus on the known causes of climate change — while the commission had been collecting data to plan for sea-level rise, they hadn’t addressed greenhouse gas reduction.
A citizens’ petition was submitted to the commission calling for the adoption of explicit mandates to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80 percent below baseline by 2050. Such direct language was not in the updated plan. I voted with the Assembly minority against the plan for that reason, though it was ultimately approved.
But the Cape Cod Commission listened to citizens’ concerns and gave itself six months to return with an amended plan.
They held hearings with diverse stakeholders and what emerged is a comprehensive framework for viewing planning decisions through the lens of a changing climate.
An emerging inventory of our current emissions of greenhouse gases will be the baseline from which we can measure planned reductions. As it turns out, vehicles are the biggest contributors to these emissions on Cape Cod.
Planning will now address how the Cape can meet its future transportation, housing, and power generation needs cleanly. The role of carbon capture through reforestation will be given due consideration in all land-use decisions before the commission.
The new update also includes collaboration with eleven Cape and Islands high schools to further awareness and activism through student climate ambassadors.
The amendments were adopted, without opposition, by the Assembly of Delegates.
This was a fine example of how governing should happen. When the community brings an organized proposal for a better way, government must listen and respond. We are all part of the process when we engage. And the pandemic has actually made it easier for people on Cape Cod to take part in county government through virtual meetings.
As a lifelong political activist, I have developed a certain cynicism about government unresponsiveness to evident needs. But every time I see people engage this way, I am heartened. Consensus was built on this issue, with an outcome that everyone welcomed.
Most of us on this peninsula have the same hopes for a livable and sustainable Cape for ourselves and future generations. Those hopes can be the basis for finding agreement on solutions. Together we can confront the threat of climate disruption with eyes open and a clear sense of shared purpose.
Brian O’Malley, M.D., is Provincetown’s elected delegate to the Barnstable County Assembly. Write him at [email protected].