How can we encourage policymakers and communities to take bolder climate action? We talk with Quinton Zondervan about the generative potential of learning from quick "safe to fail" experiments, and the practical benefits of turning learnings into habits. Quinton is a city councillor in Cambridge MA, an MIT alum, a respected business leader and long-time climate activist.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:00:00] [00:00:00] In my mind, what works really well in human behavioral change is habits because when we build habits it reduces the cognitive load of the change.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:00:17] Today we have one of our old friends Quinton Zondervan in the studio with us. MIT alumni, member of the MIT alumni for climate action and now Cambridge City Councilor and very, very active on climate change.
We are so happy to have someone who went from being an activist to being a policy maker in this room with us.
Curt Newton: [00:00:40] Yeah. I can't think of anybody who I know who better personifies this sort of continuous learning that one needs to go through and when I think about the kind of behaviors we need amongst our elected officials and policy makers, I'm really looking forward to talking to Quinton, how he thinks about that.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:00:57] One phrase that I learned from Quinton [00:01:00] that I'm stealing from him, Quinton I'm sorry, is safe to fail. These are experiments where even if they don't work out, in fact especially if they don't work out you learn something. So they are safe to fail.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:01:14] Quinton is certainly a model for learning by doing. In his case, I think it's learning by jumping in and getting wet.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:01:21] Yeah. So this interview was recorded in February, so it's a while ago. But Quinton's ideas are always fresh.
Curt Newton: [00:01:29] Here's Quinton.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:01:31] Welcome Quinton.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:01:32] Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:01:34] So Quinton, first of all congratulations because you are a freshly minted Cambridge City Councilor.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:01:42] Thank you.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:01:43] What's it been like?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:01:45] It's been great. It's a whole new platform for making change. It's definitely different from being out in the streets. But it is a bigger platform and allows me to [00:02:00] bring in more people and have a richer conversation about some of these topics.
Curt Newton: [00:02:04] Yeah. For our listeners who aren't super familiar with Cambridge, Massachusetts, how would you describe it briefly? What's the scene?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:02:11] We're 100,000 people in six square miles. Two of the top universities in the world located in our midst. We have a super hot innovation economy.
So what does that mean? It means that our economy is booming. The rents are rising. Lots of buildings are being built but a lot of people are not able to participate fully in that economic environment.
So that's definitely one of the hot topics is affordable housing, economic justice, how do we extend this economic boom to more people in our community.
Then climate change, sustainability, the environment are always hot topics in Cambridge.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:02:58] Do you represent [00:03:00] all of Cambridge or just a certain section of Cambridge or?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:03:03] I do. We have a very unique form of government in Cambridge. So we have nine city councilors who are all city wide elected.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:03:11] Okay. Quinton as we all know, you've been a climate activists for now decades.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:03:20] Yes.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:03:21] Why then become a Cambridge City Councilor?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:03:26] That's a great question. I think there is at least two aspects to it. One is to consolidate some games. I've been able to institute some changes.
Curt Newton: [00:03:39] In the city?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:03:40] Yeah, in the city from the outside.
Curt Newton: [00:03:42] Yeah.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:03:42] So now trying to solidify them more from the inside so that they really have staying power and continue to make deeper changes.
Then also to take advantage of that platform to [00:04:00] make other changes that may be harder to do from the outside or that are harder to do when you don't have people like me on the inside who are more receptive to it.
Curt Newton: [00:04:10] Yeah. What's an example of ... So when you said you were working from the outside, what were you doing specifically?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:04:17] One of our more famous examples is the Net Zero Action Plan that we brought about.
Curt Newton: [00:04:21] It's a citizen driven thing?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:04:23] Yeah. That was a citizens-only partition in 2013 that became a taskforce process that went on for a year and a half. Then out of the taskforce came the Net Zero Action Plan that was adopted by the city council in 2015. That's a 25-year action plan.
So in some sense that was a great success because we really got our agenda to be the city's official policy, which is fantastic. It's a 25-year action plan and so it's very easy to imagine that things don't happen or they don't happen as fast as we would like or they get taken in a different direction.
Curt Newton: [00:04:59] It's just a plan, [00:05:00] there's no teeth in it insanely.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:05:01] Well yeah. You can't really mandate things that are supposed to happen 25 years from now. So there's lots of steps.
Curt Newton: [00:05:08] Wait, what?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:05:09] Yeah.
Curt Newton: [00:05:10] Wow.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:05:11] There's lots of steps that have to happen along the way and we have to shepherd those along. So that's an example where I've made the change, now I have to help consolidate it.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:05:25] Is that one of the reasons to be on the inside?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:05:27] Yeah, yeah, I think so. But at the same time there's way more that we need to do, right? So it's also an opportunity to bring more of that change inside.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:05:38] As a city councilor you're probably responsible for many different topics and domains. Where does climate fit in all that?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:05:45] Well the good thing about climate change is that it touches everything. So it's pretty easy to bring it into any other issue. But there also is some division of labor. So people expect me to lead on climate change and environmental issues on the [00:06:00] council.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:06:00] Okay.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:06:01] But other councilors take the lead on other issues and so some of it is also just dividing the work a little bit.
Curt Newton: [00:06:09] Sure. Do you find yourself in a sense teaching some of your fellow councilors about some of the things you know about climate change and vice versa?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:06:17] Absolutely.
Curt Newton: [00:06:17] What's that like?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:06:19] It's great actually. It provides a great opportunity to build some coalition and some relationships with folks. It's a nice give and take where I can come in and say, "Okay. I'm the knowledge expert on this topic but I don't know very much about these other things."
So it puts us on equal footing which is great and then I can support them on certain issues where I follow their lead but I'm also sympathetic to that particular cause and then expect their support in return when I bring issues forward.
Curt Newton: [00:06:53] Yeah. Cambridge is a fairly progressive place politically.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:06:57] Yeah, because of the public.
Curt Newton: [00:06:58] Yes.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:06:58] Yes.
Curt Newton: [00:06:58] Are there any forces that [00:07:00] you would say are not in favor of pushing in the climate change direction even antagonist to it in any way?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:07:08] Certainly in the community I encounter a rare few individuals who may not believe that climate change is really a thing. But for the most part people accept it and agree with it.
There is a different kind of denial which in some ways is much more insidious and it affects all of us, myself included, which is that we fully accept climate change, we totally agree that stuff should be done about it, but we don't want to be inconvenienced by any of this.
So any particular change that inconveniences someone is going to garner objection and again, that includes me, right? So I still want to drive my car.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:07:53] It reminds me of, and I'm sure I'm going to butcher it. There is a famous episode [00:08:00] in St. Augustine's Life where he says, "God, save me from all these sins but just not yet."
Quinton Zondervan: [00:08:08] Right, exactly. That's exactly it. That's more often the kind of opposition, if you will, that we encounter and it's a little bit, in some ways it's harder to deal with because the argument isn't on a fundamental level, should we do this or not. It becomes almost more subversive and it's like ...
Curt Newton: [00:08:37] Yeah, all these little tiny personal transformations that have to go on and that ...
Quinton Zondervan: [00:08:41] Right.
Curt Newton: [00:08:41] Yeah.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:08:42] So it becomes more challenging in some cases to make the argument for why we should do this particular thing and not the other thing and why now and not yet.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:08:54] So what have you found particularly effective for yourself and your own family or [00:09:00] constituents in Cambridge to cross that boundary between yeah I get it conceptually but I'm not quite sure I need to do anything personally even though I support it conceptually?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:09:10] Yeah. I'm a very strong willed person and so when I decide that I'm going to do something, then I do it. But I still have very specific techniques that I use to convince myself that I should stick with it.
And one of the things that I firmly believe in is building habits. So for example, a few years ago, I decided that I should reprogram the thermostat because I'm a tropical creature and so the winters are particularly challenging for me and I have a tendency to crank up the thermostat.
So, I had programmed the temperatures to be pretty high and I was determined that we are going to live with lower programmed temperatures. [00:10:00] But I knew that if I did that all at once then it would challenge my ability to cope with it. So I actually did it over three years. Each year I lowered the program's temperature by two degrees Fahrenheit.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:10:14] Six degrees.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:10:16] Total.
Curt Newton: [00:10:16] Right.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:10:17] Right? But slowly over time.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:10:18] From 80 to 74 or?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:10:19] Something like that?
Curt Newton: [00:10:20] Yeah, is there a reverse? The frog might end up in the water?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:10:25] Yeah, exactly. That's right.
Curt Newton: [00:10:28] Where's the frog getting pulled and ... (Crosstalk 00:10:27)
Quinton Zondervan: [00:10:29] Slowly freezing the frog. But just the other day my wife was complaining that it was cold and I said, "Well when you come home then you can increase the temperature because I've programmed it so that it's lower so that when we're not home we're not heating up the house for no reason."
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:10:50] Yeah.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:10:52] She was like, "Well I don't really like this." Then it was like, "Well you know we're trying to use less energy. So [00:11:00] we have to do a little bit more work to remember that if we want to be warmer we have to go manually increase the temperature, which also reminds us that we're using more energy now."
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:11:11] Or put on a sweater.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:11:12] Well yeah, but we already do that.
Curt Newton: [00:11:15] Yeah. I wonder when you take a case like this, the story you've just told is very personal. It's your family, it's within the domains of the house. How much do you talk with your friends and neighbors about what's going on with the challenges, the struggles and to what extent is the conversations?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:11:31] And now the constituents.
Curt Newton: [00:11:31] Yeah.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:11:32] Right.
Curt Newton: [00:11:32] Yeah, to share what you're going through and open a conversation up about it?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:11:37] Yeah. It comes up quite often. Of course I'm the neighborhood climate activists. So people almost walk up to me and try to talk to me about it. But again, I don't encounter a lot of people in my ordinary life who are like, "Oh, climate change is a hoax."
But even when I do I [00:12:00] get into it with them in a friendly way but it's like we have a real conversation about it and yeah, I don't know that it necessarily changes people's minds but it's certainly ...
During the campaign I remember vividly meeting one guy who was just totally disagreeing with me and yet we ended up having an hour and a half conversation and at the end he thanked me and he was like I really appreciate that we were able to have this conversation because it was a real conversation. We weren't shouting names at each other. It's like we were really exchanging our thoughts.
Curt Newton: [00:12:38] Yeah. Kind of returning back to this question of the personal action and the inertia, which you describe so well. What methods can we use, can we learn from each other about to help shift that inertia, to take those small steps that are maybe a little inconvenient to make it easier?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:12:57] Right. Well again, it's [00:13:00] in my mind what works really well in human behavioral change is habits because when we build habits it reduces the cognitive load of the change.
One of the reasons we resist change is that it requires effort, right? It's like I have to wake up every day and think, "Yeah, I should lower the temperature." But if I build a habit, if I would be able to program my thermostat. So now I don't have to think about it, right? If I come home and I feel cold then I have to think about it in the other direction. It's like, "Oh yeah, I should warm it up a little bit."
So, really trying to build new habits and then doing that not just in your personal life but professionally or in our government, right? Of course, in our government the habits are the laws. So we need to change the law so [00:14:00] that the right types of behaviors are encouraged or become the norm.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:14:06] I'm glad you're saying that and I'm glad that you're pointing out this connection between habits of government and habits of individuals and families and communities, thanks.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:14:18] What's the example at the Cambridge city level of a habit that you'd like to see change?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:14:23] Sure. I have a perfect example for you. At the last city council meeting I noticed this bizarre juxtaposition where we had two different matters in front of us.
One was a request by a neighbor to historically landmark his house and his neighbor's house because he wanted to prevent his neighbor from doing certain upgrades to the house. His neighbor wants to do efficiency upgrades, by the way.
We have a historical commission which then has to investigate this whole thing and [00:15:00] does an elaborate report on why these homes are actually historically significant.
Then we as a council have to vote on whether we want these homes to be historically land marked, which then they incur all kinds of protections against demolition and against making changes to the exterior.
The juxtaposition is that we're also discussing the potential destruction of four, 50-year old trees in Inman square that we want to remove because we want to change the road way through that intersection. The protections for that action are exactly zero.
The only reason that this particular case is before the city council is that there is a state law that was used to create the park that contains the trees and under that state law we would have to go back to the legislature to [00:16:00] move the park, which is what's being proposed, and cut down the trees in the process.
So we get this unusual referendum at the city council on whether or not to cut down those four trees. But there's no general protection that comes anywhere close to what we provide for historic buildings when you look at trees.
So that's an example where we have built a certain habit which says we really value the historical nature of our buildings and we're going to have all these mechanisms in place to protect them. But apparently we do not value the trees in an equal way yet.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:16:42] Which sequester carbon.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:16:43] Which sequester carbon and protect us from the urban heat island effects. So that's ...
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:16:48] And are just trees.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:16:49] Exactly. That's a clear example for me where we need to change our habits. We need to pay at least as much attention to [00:17:00] when we're cutting down trees as we do when we're taking down buildings.
Curt Newton: [00:17:04] Yeah. So I'd imagine you're going to get to live through a fascinating sequence of compromises and priority calls amongst all these competing interests here?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:17:15] Yeah. I tend not to think of it as compromise in the sense that most of the time it is possible to create a broader frame that gives us most of the things that we want.
So when we look at we want to move this road because we think we're going to make the intersection safer, I have a hard time believing that we cannot make the intersection safer and retain the trees. So often times we present choices as being in sharp contract to each other but that's not always really true.
So one of the things that I do is try to [00:18:00] unpack what's being proposed and figure out is there really conflict here or is there another way so that we can have both.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:18:12] Thinking that there are probably city planning/design or engineering habits that just says, "Here's what we do. We go to an intersection if we need to broaden the road or whatever. We cut down all the trees and we ...
Quinton Zondervan: [00:18:26] And we plant new ones."
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:18:27] Right?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:18:27] And it's all good, yeah.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:18:29] It need not always be that way.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:18:30] Right. You are exactly right.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:18:32] So Quinton, how many years do you get to do this?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:18:35] Well this is a two-year term and then it's up to the voters.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:18:38] So if it's let's say six years from now when you've been a city councilor and doing what you feel like needs to be done, what's your vision of how things are different in six years from now?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:18:53] Right. I think similar to how my house is different and we have different [00:19:00] habits.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:19:00] Yeah.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:19:01] We have solar panels and we drive an electric car. Similarly, I envision that the City of Cambridge as a whole will continue to make progress towards having better habits in terms of our environmental protection activities and we will be deriving more and more of our energy from renewal sources and we will be thinking about these questions that face us more and more through the lens of climate change not just in terms of our sources of energy but also protecting ourselves from the dangers of climate change and even restoring the climate ultimately to safer levels.
One of the big questions that of course has been facing us for a long time but people are finally starting to grapple with is the oceans are rising. And geologically speaking, this happens all the [00:20:00] time, right? So no big deal.
But of course in terms of human civilization, this has never happened before and in particular we've build lots of more cities on the coast. So naturally the first part of the conversation is okay, well how do we build a wall tall enough around our little city so that we don't drown, right?
I'm watching that conversation and I talk to people occasionally and both officials and laypersons and I usually ask them, "Well okay, how tall is the wall going to be and where does it end and how much is it going to cost?"
Eventually get them to realize that this is folly, right, and that we can't protect ourselves that way and that we really have to protect everyone and in the process protect ourselves and really start thinking about globally how do we restore the climate, how do we stabilize sea levels [00:21:00] rather than in our own little (inaudible 00:21:00) how do we protect them?
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:21:03] This actually brings us to a key question for us in this third season, right? The oceanic perspective by its nature is global, but Cambridge is right here and it's local.
How do you see the two interfacing with each other especially as a politician who is charged with a responsibility towards this particular city?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:21:31] Right. I think we face lots of problems like that, and usually what we do is we break it down and say, "Okay, well what's our reasonable contribution to make to address the global issue?"
When it comes to sea level rise, we face the same question and then a city like Cambridge we have both unusually [00:22:00] large resources, financially and we have unusual amounts of innovation and brain power.
Therefore, I think our contribution should be quite significant to the world and it really should be in terms of thinking through the problem thinking about real viable solutions and then thinking about how to implement both solutions.
That's ultimately what innovation is. So if we are the innovation capital of the world then let's start innovating the solution to climate change.
Curt Newton: [00:22:37] Yeah, do it here and then tell people what we've learned.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:22:41] Right.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:22:42] Do you, talking about those kinds of innovations, do you find yourself now having more conversations with say city or town councilors in other parts of the state or even outside and bring your climate perspective to them?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:22:58] Definitely and [00:23:00] a lot of times what I find is that many of them are already thinking about this and they are just facing different challenges in trying to implement it.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:23:12] Mainly with expected sea level rise or?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:23:15] No, just climate change generally.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:23:16] Just climate generally, okay.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:23:17] They're often in a more conservative political environment and by that I don't necessarily mean all the way to the other end of the spectrum. But just relatively more conservative, which means it's more difficult for them compared to me to make certain changes in their jurisdiction.
So, they'll often want to understand how did you do it and sometimes they'll say, "Well, but that's a special case because you're in the people's republic of Cambridge."
I'll point out to them that it's not that simple, right? That we still have a level of relative [00:24:00] conservatism here as we do everywhere particularly fiscal conservatism. So these kind of questions face all of us even. It's a matter of degrees not kind.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:24:13] It comes back to what you were talking about before, we all have resistance to change.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:24:18] Right.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:24:18] We are really not comfortable getting out of our comfort zone so to speak.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:24:22] Right.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:24:23] Literally.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:24:24] Right. So a lot of times it's really about who are the right people to talk to? How do you get more information and how do you finance it? I was just meeting with some folks in Watertown over the weekend who are thinking about their new school renovations. They look at Cambridge when we're building Net Zero Schools and they're saying, "Well, how can we do that here?"
They want to understand what did you do? How did you do it? How much money is it saving you? What was the public conversation like? So these are all helpful inputs for people [00:25:00] to think about how to have those conversations in their own environment.
But again it's not, generally speaking when they're approaching me, it's not about how do you deal with climate change deniers, it's really how do you move this conversation forward.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:25:16] So I'm going to use your kind of phrase, you have to create habits.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:25:21] Yeah.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:25:22] Right? Of course habits are learned and we are all about learning over here. Do you think that there are specific learning module or learning opportunities for your peers that are worth creating, right? Taking into account the kind of difficulties you were talking about. You're relatively more conservative or even more so.
Is there a way to structure this habit creation in a way that it makes it more self-concrete and comfortable?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:25:58] Yeah. [00:26:00] I'm certainly not an expert but I'm learning how to learn myself. Some of the things that seem to work better than others include definitely stories, right? People connect with stories.
They want to hear the story of how it went in your town even if it's not going to be exactly the same, that story informs them about what is possible. Definitely information, right?
Having clear data available that people can look at and say, "Okay, well they build the school in 2014 and they saved this much energy and this much water. The payback is 20 years." Just having those simple facts and figures available to use when they're having this conversation.
Then success, right? [00:27:00] People love to tell successful stories and to hear successful stories because again it allows them to realistically imagine their own success even when the path looks particularly difficult.
Curt Newton: [00:27:15] I'd like to ask a follow on on the success side of that. I find sometimes that when people are in the midst of trying to create something and they're seeing all the challenges and so forth, there's also a hunger for understanding what things looked like on the way to what you now see in hindsight as success.
Were there moments as you're for instance creating the Net Zero Plan in Cambridge where it was not a done deal that this was going to go through and in a community that might be just starting on that Net Zero there might be a lot that they could learn from the messy process.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:27:49] Right.
Curt Newton: [00:27:50] Do you like to tell those kind of stories too?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:27:53] I do.
Curt Newton: [00:27:53] Yeah, yeah.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:27:53] And people ask me that. They'll say, "Well, did you face any opposition?" And I'll say, "Absolutely," and [00:28:00] here's a story about the business community calling me up and saying, "Hey, we're a little concerned about this, can we talk." And I said, "Sure."
And organized a community meeting where we brought together lots of business leaders, property owners in Cambridge who wanted to talk to us about our Net Zero proposal. Some of them in the end became allies because we carried that conversation in a respectful way and made sure that we were hearing their concerns.
I encountered concerns from the Carpenter's Union and again, heard them out, met with them and listened to their concerns. They weren't converted to allies but they did become friends because again, we were respectful in listening to them and making sure that their concerns were heard even if we couldn't ultimately agree.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:28:54] You're saying that you have to actually talk to people?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:28:56] Yeah, sometimes.
Curt Newton: [00:28:59] Oh my gosh.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:28:59] The [00:29:00] listening part is harder. The talking is easy.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:29:07] I want to come back to something you mentioned when we were talking about the transition from the Net Zero Plan to being an elected official. You talked about 25 years. Politics doesn't usually work at the 25-year scale, I think.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:29:23] Yeah.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:29:25] How do you or do you keep that long view in mind?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:29:29] Well, I have been a climate activist for 30 years and a politician for less than one year. So that informs my perspective.
I think one of the challenges that may cause that problem that you're referencing is if people get too bought in to the idea that I'm a politician and I want that to continue at all costs including making some trade-offs in the [00:30:00] short term so that I can continue to be in office and enjoy the perks of that.
I don't know that I'll be immune to that. But at least going into it, having that inversion where I've been an activist for 30 years and I'm just starting out as a politician, at least I have some momentum where I'll continue to be an activist for a while.
Then if I feel in myself that I'm no longer being effective or being less effective than I'd be like to be, then I always retain the option to say, "Well, I used to be something else. I'm also an entrepreneur and a business man and a software engineer."
So I have a lot of other identities that I can fall back on if I feel that being a politician isn't the right answer anymore. But I do recognize that's not necessarily true for everybody, and so that's okay too. We don't need everybody to [00:31:00] be the same.
Curt Newton: [00:31:00] I hear a lot of people talking about maybe this is time to get involved in politics. Any tips from your experience?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:31:08] Yeah. I think it is a good time to be involved in politics. It's always a good time to be involved. But when you see your government failing, which is what's happening, then ...
Curt Newton: [00:31:20] At the national level.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:31:21] Right.
Curt Newton: [00:31:22] Yeah.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:31:22] Then that's the time to say, "Okay, maybe I need to do more to counteract that." Obama had this wonderful statement where he said the most important job title is not mayor or president, it's citizen. That's what a citizen does. It's government by the people.
So we shouldn't think of government as some remote thing that is governing our lives. We should think of it as us.
Curt Newton: [00:31:52] You don't have to get elected to be involved.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:31:55] Absolutely not.
Curt Newton: [00:31:56] Yeah.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:31:56] But at the same time, being on the inside I do feel [00:32:00] that it's my responsibility to draw people in. Just last night we had our first active asocial and we had a dozen people come in and spend a couple of hours where we're socializing. I gave them some updates, answered some questions and then we make some plans for things we want to work on together.
Just helping people feel more included and part of the conversation so that there isn't this distance or this feeling that somehow you have to be an expert or have to know everything before you can be useful.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:32:37] So make it real for us, what would 2040 look like if let's say you're not a councilor for 22 years but you've been a councilor for long enough and you feel like those policies have been institutionalized. What do you think Cambridge would look like in 2040?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:32:57] I think we would be a Net Zero [00:33:00] city. So we would be deriving all of our energy from renewable sources.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:33:05] Fantastic.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:33:05] We would be more integrated with natural processes. I think a lot about we're about to start up a city wide food waste pick up for composting. But that compost, that food waste still goes somewhere else to be composted. Well where is it going?
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:33:25] Yeah. Where is it going to go?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:33:28] It goes to a farm further west of here and then does that end compost product come back to us, right?
So really tightening that loop. Can we do the composting in Cambridge? Can we use that compost in Cambridge to grow more food? So really integrating ourselves more with the natural cycle.
Ripping up pavement. Right now we're at 63% of our surface areas paved or something like that.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:33:57] So unpaving paradise.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:33:58] Unpaving it, [00:34:00] absolutely. Having much more natural areas for flood protection, for heat wave protection. Having more trees and having new different protections in place so that we are actually growing our canopy. Right now our canopy is shrinking.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:34:18] So the eco restoration kinds of things, I think people have been talking about?
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:34:23] So a wild question, what percentage of people in Cambridge do you think can be fed by food grown in Cambridge or raised?
Quinton Zondervan: [00:34:33] That's really hard to know but I would say it's a pretty small number. But the benefits of doing it are tremendous. So through one of my non-profits, Green Cambridge, we started a small community farm last year in East Cambridge.
We're not able to grow tremendous amounts of food in what's essentially someone's backyard. [00:35:00] But we were able to create a tremendous community space that has already brought together dozens of people who otherwise wouldn't be involved with our organization and wouldn't have this particular way of living their values because they wouldn't have that opportunity in the city.
So I think it is tremendously beneficial to bring those processes back into the urban form so that people are more connected to where their food really comes from, where their waste really goes, what the energy cycle really looks like so that they're able to use that knowledge to inform their habits.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:35:48] So it's not just an abstract concept but they're actually living it day-to-day in their neighborhood.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:35:53] Right. Of course there's a politics to why we don't do that, right, because I think my understanding [00:36:00] is that preventing people from growing their own food makes it easier for strikes to fail, for example, right? Because you can't live off your own ...
Quinton Zondervan: [00:36:15] Your own backyard, yeah.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:36:16] Yeah.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:36:16] I guess that theoretically makes sense to me. I'm not sure that I would ascribe that level of sophistication to our politics in Cambridge.
Curt Newton: [00:36:27] Where we are right now at this moment, no.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:36:29] Yeah.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:36:29] But it's like in the 19th century when this was much more alive, I can imagine that politicians or other business people might have had a little bit more savvy in that.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:36:38] Yeah and I think it's been sort of baked in to our habits, right?
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:36:44] Yes.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:36:44] So that we've been able to so effectively outsource those functions to other parts of our economy, to other companies and other institutions that we essentially don't even need a motivation anymore. It's [00:37:00] just that is just a habit.
It's like you go to the grocery store to get your food. Who does farming?
Curt Newton: [00:37:05] Let's make Net Zero a habit.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:37:07] Let's make Net Zero a habit.
Quinton Zondervan: [00:37:09] Okay.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:37:11] Habits of government with Quinton Zondervan. Thank you for listening and stay tuned for the final episode of season three coming soon to you in January or whenever you're listening.
Curt Newton: [00:37:28] The climate conversation's podcast is engineered and edited by Dave Lishansky. Project and media support by my MIT open learning colleagues, Laura Howells and Mikaela Joyce.
Please subscribe and rate us however you find your podcast. Join the community on climate.MIT.edu and be in touch at Twitter, ClimateX_MIT and Facebook group named MIT Climate.
For my co-hosts, Rajesh Kasturirangan, and Dave Damm-Luhr, I'm Curt Newton, thanks so much for [00:38:00] listening.
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Climate Conversations S3E3: Learning in Community with Mothers Out Front - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e3-learning-community-mothers-out-front
Climate Conversations S3E4: NextGen Learning to Change with Boston Latin School YouthCAN - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e4-nextgen-learning-change-boston-latin-school-youthcan
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