Commentary

Our climate, our actions, our homes

When it comes to climate change, it’s the decision we make as individuals, whether at the micro, mini or macro level, that ultimately will make a difference.

Photo by ANGELA BENITO on Unsplash
Participating Allies

Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.


Fifty years ago, the world was home to 2.7 billion people. We are now approaching 8 billion people – almost triple in our lifetime. How could that kind of growth, those kinds of numbers, not make an impact on our planet? Global warming, indeed!

But rather than sign up for the passenger list for Elon Musk’s Mars colonization mission, maybe we need to look at how we can utilize our current resources better.

In the Newburyport area, we are lucky. We are leaders at saving the planet. Let’s look at it from a micro, mini and macro perspective.

At a micro level, we excel at residents recycling – look at those containers chock full on garbage day – and the use of the compost program, even though it costs extra.

Another piece of evidence: Crowds every first Saturday at the recycle center swapping items, bringing in electronics, Styrofoam, used oil and metal. The success of the Repair Café at the Senior Community Center is another data point. Newburyporters are getting very good at the six R’s: refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, repurpose, recycle. But we can get better.

Now, let’s turn to examples at the mini level of environmental action. What other small cities have this many options for ridesharing or commuting?

The bus options at the Park & Ride (thanks, C&J!), the local MVRTA bus routes, even the fact that we are at the “rail’s end” and can take advantage of a train to Boston and beyond. Why drive when you can ride? And many locals do ride – especially their bikes on our local bike trails. Check off another one for carbon footprint reduction.

What we often ignore is the macro level contribution we make: our homes. We’ve had an unprecedented growth in solar rooftops. A large part of our housing stock is 1850 and earlier.

Both of those facts put us in an enviable position when it comes to our contribution to the environment. How many trees have we saved by avoiding new construction?

Maybe, that’s a new set of R’s: rent, resell, rehabilitate. Energy awareness programs have made many of our 200-plus-year-old homes as tight as 20-year-old homes.

We tend to live on smaller plots of land. We inhabit an unprecedented number of half houses and have converted many larger homes into condos. Homes have been on their lots forever, built using local materials. I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit.

The Dallas suburbs we are not, and it has paid off, not only environmental dividends, but destination dividends as well – Newburyport history, and our historic homes, make this the place to visit.

Let’s not take all that for granted. Every horsehair plaster wall we tear down, every early growth woodwork we throw out adds to waste and contributes to climate change.

But we Newburyporters are a frugal bunch. If you are like me, gutting a room – or a home – is a last resort. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Add housing preservation to the environmental awareness list.

Recently, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, an investment management firm, said that climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects.

Homeowners, like companies, have a vested interest in climate change and what it does to our pocketbooks in the next 30 years.

Says Larry: What will happen to the 30-year mortgage – a key building block of finance – if lenders can’t estimate the impact of climate risk over such a long timeline, and if there is no viable market for flood or fire insurance in impacted areas?

While government must lead the way in this climate transition, companies and investors also have a meaningful role to play. But when it comes to climate change, it’s the decision we make as individuals, whether at the micro, mini or macro level, that ultimately will make a difference.

Let’s continue to treat our old Newburyport homes like the climate assets they are by minimizing wholesale reconstruction, interior gutting or tear-downs. Not just for history’s sake – but for the climate’s sake as well.

Jack Santos, a 12-year resident of Newburyport, is a research vice president and chief of research for enterprise architecture and technology innovation with Gartner Inc. He is also an ACES adviser contributing to the development of IT and overall systems. He can be reached at iam@jacksantos.com.

This column was coordinated by ACES Intern and NHS Senior, Eleni Protopapas, who can be reached at eleniprotopapas@gmail.com to share any comments or questions. To learn more about ACES and our Youth Leadership Initiative, please view our WEBSITE –  https://www.aces-alliance.org


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about the author
Jack Santos

Jack Santos is a Research Vice President and Chief of Research for Enterprise Architecture and Technology Innovation with Gartner, Inc.  A 12 year resident of Newburyport, his interests include Newburyport history, and the impact of, and preparedness for, climate change in our community. An ACES Advisor, he contributes his IT expertise to support the organization in developing the systems needed for growth.      

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