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By CHRISTINE WEST
I recently had the privilege of standing alongside fellow Rhode Island business leaders on the steps of the Statehouse to promote some of the most important legislation that will come up for a vote this year. The two bills deal with climate change — an issue with massive implications for the local economy. (Both the House and Senate passed its version of the bill June 11.)
With sea-level rise threatening coastal communities, extreme heat days making energy costs skyrocket and the risk increasing for a repeat of superstorm Sandy, it’s clear that climate change isn’t just an environmental issue. It impacts local business, employment, infrastructure and families. In this case, choosing between environment and economy is a false choice. Waiting to tackle this issue will hurt both our coastline and our pocketbooks. However, a little foresight and willingness to invest in the future can transform one of our most dire environmental threats into one of our biggest economic opportunities.
At my business, KITE Architects, we focus on designing intelligent and efficient buildings that will stand the test of time. We understand that our buildings need to be resilient — that is, suitable for the next generation, even as the climate changes. A key part of our business is helping companies, institutions and individuals reduce their energy use, lower their carbon footprint, and to generally make more resilient buildings.
The comprehensive climate-change bill that will be voted on this month clears the way through smarter planning and putting a high priority on saving energy. This will create jobs, not only for architects and engineers, but also the construction trades. Ultimately, it will be an investment with tangible value for years to come.
When our architects renovate a building, we make it more efficient, which results in savings for its occupants. Climate-change legislation would help all Rhode Islanders achieve these same savings. Neighboring state economies are already seeing positive impacts from similar legislation. A recent study on the Massachusetts Green Community Act by Analysis Inc. found that, after the first six years of implementation, the state saw $1.2 billion in net economic benefits, along with 16,000 new jobs.
In other words, Massachusetts is already reaping the benefits of implementing a long-term climate plan. There’s a reason why some 60 Rhode Island small businesses including ours have signed a letter asking the General Assembly to approve a similar plan. What’s good for the Ocean State’s climate is also good for Rhode Island business.
Architects, engineers and builders already have the technology and the willingness to reduce energy use and lessen our infrastructural greenhouse gas emissions. What we need now is the political will and leadership to pave the way toward applying this knowledge, and scaling it up. We need smart planning tools and enforceable targets for carbon reductions. In short, we need policy that lives up to, and extends, our potential for making progress on climate change.
Please join me in contacting your state legislators today, and asking that they pass a comprehensive climate-change bill before the end of this session. For Rhode Island’s environment and economy, it’s the right thing to do.
Christine West is a principal at KITE Architects and is chair of the Providence City Plan Commission.