During her mayoral campaign, Michelle Wu promised to make climate change a top priority in Boston through a "Green New Deal." Now as mayor, she has appointed Oliver Sellers-Garcia as the city's first-ever Green New Deal director.
Sellers-Garcia, who most recently worked as the MBTA's director of resiliency and equity, is expected to start the job on Sept. 6. When he does, he will be tasked with tackling climate issues in areas including housing, transit and energy.
Sellers-Garcia joined WBUR's Morning Edition host Rupa Shenoy to discuss his goals for the role, and how he plans to achieve them.
Below are highlights from their conversation, which have been lightly edited.
On the importance of the Green New Deal Director position:
"The Boston Green New Deal director is a position that is meant to work across government. There are so many talented staff at the city who are working on these issues each day. One of the opportunities of this position is to see how we can make more connections across different departments, and make those departments greater than the sum of their parts."
On lessons Sellers-Garcia learned during his time as the MBTA's director of resiliency and equity, and how they will help him in his new role:
"One of the things that I am taking away from my work at the MBTA is that there's a lot we can do to protect the system itself from the impacts of climate change and to make it greener. But, we also really have an opportunity to help riders and communities.
"For example, if there's more frequent bus service, that means less car usage. That means standing out in a heat wave under a bus stop for a shorter period of time. That means making the decision that you will take your kids to school on the bus. There's so much more that builds off of these small decisions that really adds up to resilience, equity and sustainability benefits to all."
On why it is important to consider and address the role climate change plays in social and racial inequities:
"I really believe the way we are going to come up with climate strategies that stick is developing them in a way that actually improves lives and centers the experiences of people who are bearing some of the greatest burdens of climate change. We can come up with a lot of technical solutions that sound great in the abstract, but they have a much better chance of being adopted if people can see a short-term benefit.
"When we say we want more efficient housing to lower utility bills, that's a pretty simple [solution]. What we're doing is centering the pocketbook needs of homeowners and renters."
On how to ensure people stay safe and comfortable amid record-breaking heat, while also meeting energy goals:
"I think about this all the time. It's really hard to move around the city during a heat wave without thinking about the ways this is going to impact us. Waiting for the Silver Line at the end of my street to go to work, I keep thinking, 'Man, we really need to think about how the tree canopy and bus stops work in all kinds of weather.'
"We also really need to understand that there are already very easy technical solutions to energy-efficient, cool, comfortable homes. I am so happy [about] the federal and state legislation that has passed to increase those incentives. It's really our responsibility as a city to make sure those incentives are taken advantage of by the folks who most need them."
On how Sellers-Garcia will define success in his new role:
"We really need to have a few different ways that we measure our progress. Are we advancing greenhouse gas emissions reductions, for example? We really need to look at the scale at which we live our lives, and how these long-term strategies have benefits for us in the near-term, as well as the long-term, more quantifiable climate impacts."
This segment aired on August 16, 2022.