In the face of extreme heat, record-breaking wildfires, superstorms like Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and sea level rise that threatens to overwhelm our coastal communities, the Massachusetts legislature is responding not with a roar, but with a whimper.
The Senate deserves tremendous credit for passing a thoughtful, reasoned response that would have banned the public subsidizing of new gas pipelines, increased offshore wind, instituted a carbon pricing system, divested the pension fund from coal, given a needed boost to solar energy’s growth and equitable distribution, and tripled the rate of increase of renewable energy so that it would displace fossil fuels in our electricity sector by the late 2040s.
The House blew yet another opportunity to pass meaningful climate legislation, and clearly chose to align themselves with polluters and industry over people and planet by offering a smaller, temporary doubling of the state’s renewable energy growth that would see us phase out fossil fuels in our electricity sector by 2095 (the current law would do so by 2105) along with a handful of other smaller measures (including signalling but not commiting to additional offshore wind, more incentives for battery storage, and further addressing pipeline leaks). It also advances a clean peak standard which counts burning trash as a renewable energy source. (Not only does it encourage waste, but it produces horrible pollution for those who live near the facility.)
When faced with a stubborn House, the Senate’s leaders are wisely choosing to take the small step forward that they are able to--as in a crisis, every step counts--but we must be clear that we will no longer accept this status quo. We cannot continue to have a House of Representatives so taken over by fossil fuel and utility interests that they sit down when we need to be standing tall.
Many of us are rightfully pretty upset by this, and we’ll be in touch soon with constructive ways to channel our outrage.
Massachusetts missed a critical opportunity to show real leadership today, but let me be clear that the advances we did secure were due to the dedicated and persistent advocacy by this network and our allies. The House had no intention of taking action on energy legislation this year, and the fact that they did move the ball forward is a tribute to our efforts. Yet more is needed, and more will be demanded. Our planet, and people, deserve no less.
Craig Altemose for 350 Mass
On Thursday, July 19th, I gathered with over 300 supporters of climate and immigrant justice on the steps of the State House. Why? Because our legislators neglected to understand the urgency of two of the most pressing crises of our time.
Earlier that week, the House of Representatives failed to include a yearly 3% increase in the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and solar equity into their climate bill. During the same week, legislators also managed to omit key protections for immigrants in the budget, leaving thousands of our friends and neighbors in Massachusetts to fear deportation every day.
Our fight for climate justice is incomplete without immigrant justice.
As climate change continues to make large swaths of land uninhabitable, threatening food and water supplies, the number of climate refugees will only increase. Meanwhile, racist immigration policies that undermine basic civil rights and human dignity will endanger those already at risk.
That is why we gathered with the MIRA coalition to hear from climate and immigration leaders about the critical need for legislation to safeguard the futures of Massachusetts citizens and noncitizens alike. We then marched in, first to the office of Representative Sanchez and then Speaker DeLeo. With hundreds of us thronging the hallway, Representative Sanchez decided to ignore us. To ensure he knew our purpose, we delivered hundreds of pictures of our loved ones to his office to show him the reasons why we won’t rest on climate or immigrant justice.
But we didn’t stop there.
We returned the following Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday. In greater numbers every day.
For four consecutive days, we held vigils outside of the offices of Energy Conference Committee members, mourning the futures of loved ones put at risk by climate change. We also met with legislative aides, and in some cases the legislators themselves, to share our stories, motivations, sadness, and determination in our fight to build just solutions to the climate crisis.
Sarah Fadem, from San Jose, California near the Santa Cruz Mountains, described how the fire danger signs in the forests used to change every day when they were young. One day the sign would read “moderate,” another day “high,” another day “low.” Now every time they visit home, the only signs they see read “high.”
Sarah’s story is one part of a large crisis. Sarah is fighting for climate change solutions because they don’t want to see the places they call home devastated by wildfires. Wildfires which have and continue to wreak havoc on the homes and livelihoods of thousands in California. In fact, as you can see below, six of the most destructive wildfires in the history of California have occured in the last year alone.
I heard similar stories from many folks about homes ravaged by storms and flooding. We shared our stories every day in greater numbers, until on Thursday we had over 50 people holding concurrent vigils at the offices of all Conference Committee members, as well as Representative Sanchez and Speaker DeLeo.
We concluded our vigils by gathering on the Grand Staircase, marching together in song to the front steps of the State House as the first few drops of rain began to fall outside.
Donning life preservers, rain jackets, and umbrellas, we capped off our action with a rally in the pouring rain. We heard from environmental, faith, and immigrant leaders about why we were here, and as they spoke we raised a banner symbolizing the rising seas higher and higher above our heads. With the storm raging around us, we visually represented the disastrous consequences of state inaction on climate change.
Reverend Ian Mevorach then spoke about the need to create a world founded in love and cooperation. Citing the corporate influence in our politics and the need for racial equity, he declared that “a partial democracy is not a democracy, and partial equality is not equality.” A society that prioritizes corporate interests over people and only protects those most privileged is not a functioning society.
Let us take these words to heart as we continue our fight for climate justice.
Mayors and other local officials are recognizing the vital need for their leadership on climate change. Last year, the US Conference of Mayors—a body of over 1,400 mayors from across the country—passed a resolution supporting 100% renewable energy. Over the past year, dozens of mayors committed to transition to 100% renewables, and some local leaders have stepped up even more.Portland, Oregon passed a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure, and New York City pledged to divest from fossil fuels.
However, many mayors—like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh—have not backed up their bold promises with real steps. So when 350 Mass learned that Boston would be hosting 2018’s US Conference of Mayors, we gathered with local and state partners and our friends at 350.org to plan a day of people-powered action to pressure Marty Walsh and mayors from across the country to fulfill their promises.
Instead of standing strong for the Fossil Free future Boston needs, Walsh has been trying to have it both ways on climate action. Despite passing a widely-publicized initiative for Boston to be “carbon free” by 2050, the Walsh administration approved a mile-long fracked gas pipeline to fuel luxury high rises. Seven months ago, after a strong grassroots campaign, the Boston City Council unanimously passed Community Choice Energy (CCE), which would allow the city of Boston to negotiate with energy suppliers for a higher percentage of renewable energy and better prices. Community Choice Energy is a vital step in Boston’s journey to a Fossil Free future, but the Walsh administration has delayed its implementation. Delay is a tactic that the fossil fuel industry has used for decades. Delaying climate action costs human lives.
On the morning of Friday, June 8th, more than 250 activists gathered at the Boston Public Library to march through the streets while the US Conference of Mayors held their opening press conference at a nearby hotel. Beautiful dawn-orange vertical banners framed the crowd, reading “100% Renewables For All” and “Fossil Free.”
Kerry Labrador of the Mi'kmaq nation, Passamaquoddy tribe and Resist the Pipeline, began the rally by powerfully telling the crowd why she was there that day, "I stand here to fight corporations chasing the almighty dollar...pipelines continue 500 years of colonial violence on Turtle Island,” she cried. “I stand here to fight back and protect my sacred Mother Earth… Say it with me: ‘Rise, Resist, Reclaim!’”
Dwaign Tyndal, Executive Director of Boston environmental justice group Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) addressed the rally as well: "People in the historically Black neighborhoods in Boston, Roxbury, are already suffering from climate change, poor air quality, heat sinks. They can't breathe right now! Can we build a movement around that? Let’s build that base!”
Then, Norsha Hydol, of the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC), a youth leader who had just graduated from high school the previous day, spoke about how the climate crisis had already impacted her life. Her family members’ homes in South Boston flooded multiple times this year. Norsha called on the mayors to do more to protect families like hers—and shared some of the uplifting work that she and BSAC have done: creating and distributing a climate justice curriculum for schools, reducing their school’s energy use, and lobbying and testifying for state legislation on environmental justice and city ordinances—like the Community Choice Energy initiative Marty Walsh has been stalling for seven months.
Kerry, Dwaign, and Norsha showed us is what real leadership on climate change looks like. To protect our people and the planet, that’s the kind of bold leadership we need to see from every elected official in the country.
After local leaders’ moving speeches, the crowd of hundreds began to march down Huntington Ave to demonstrate outside the hotel where the Mayors Conference was meeting. Lu Aya of the Peace Poets led us in chants that morphed into songs: “Ask the mayors who they work for, us or corporations? Our communities are worth more than empty declarations!”
Only Mayor Tom Butt of Richmond, CA was courageous enough to come outside to join our picket line. But the other mayors inside the conference couldn’t ignore us: while we marched outside, a large screen displaying a Twitter feed of the hashtag #USCM2018 was flooded by tweet after tweet from people at the rally and around the country demanding bold climate action from their local leaders.
That evening the mayors gathered for a clambake on the lawn of the JFK Library in South Boston, where they were met by fifteen activists in kayaks and a canoe. While several supporters followed from the land, we paddled into Boston Harbor toward the mayors’ soirée. The boats assembled into formation and glided toward the shore holding signs that read, “Walk the Talk on Climate” on one side and on the other, “US Mayors: Stop Fracked Gas.”
Over the megaphone, I implored the mayors to show leadership in the face of this crisis. As a new parent, climate change puts my loved ones at risk, along with the loved ones of billions of people around the world. Real leadership requires standing up to big polluters, halting new fossil fuel projects, divesting from climate-wrecking industries, and taking action for a just and equitable transition to 100% renewable energy for all.
The US Conference of Mayors provided an opportunity to mobilize and build momentum for our Fossil Free campaigns, and to form new and stronger collaborations among local, state and national organizations. One day of action alone may not stop climate change—but on June 8, we sent a message that we the people will not accept empty promises and delays.
By taking action, we discover what we are capable of, and reveal how we must grow. In order to build the power we need to get the change that we want, we must build strong alliances with folks who are on the front lines of the climate crisis right now, and with movements for justice in all forms. We will continue to organize, build power, and escalate actions to hold those representing us accountable.
That’s why in just three months, on September 8th, municipal and state-level leaders will gather in California for the Global Climate Action Summit on climate change—and thousands of people will be there to meet them, with thousands more standing in solidarity with actions from coast to coast. On this global day of action, our movement will Rise for climate justice and challenge those in positions of power to stop bending over backward for big polluters and instead be accomplices in the rebellion against the fossil fuel industry .
Paddling back toward the sunset and the Boston city skyline, we sang, “fossil fuels are over now, this is the beginning. You can feel it coming, it’s a just transition.”
The US Mayors Walk the Talk rally was organized by a dozen community-based and state-wide organizations including: 350 Mass, Boston Climate Action Network, Massachusetts Sierra Club, Mothers Out Front, Conservation Law Foundation, Sunrise Movement, Youth on Board, Elders Climate Action Network, We Are Boston’s Waterfront, and the Boston Clean Energy Coalition. "