All quotes were provided by Alicia Wu.
On my second day as an intern for 350 Mass, I was invited to go to a legislative hearing. It was a first for me in many ways, as a teenager who had not previously lived in Massachusetts. The ornate rooms of the statehouse and decorated, too-polite niceties coming from many of the adults and legislators was daunting to me. It was nice to find solidarity in Alicia Wu, who was one of the only other teens there, and who helped me take my first of many steps into the MA state house.
Though I know that many in our generation care about the climate, seeing another youth activist in-person—speaking to a room full of legislators no less—inspired me to conduct an interview with her last week after we met once more at the Make Polluters Pay briefing.
Alicia Wu is a climate activist and organizer with Our Climate. As only a senior in high school, she has already given testimony to the MA Environmental and Natural Resources Committee during their hearing of the Make Polluters Pay bill, as well as spoken to a room full of legislators and aides during a briefing for the same bill.
She says, “when [you’re] younger, as with all children, you feel like adults have it [covered], they know what they're doing, the world is safe in their hands. You have this sense of security as a child because you don't know anything and you implicitly trust adults…” However, starting in 6th grade when she wrote an essay about global warming, she began to grow up and see the world for what it truly is.
For the climate crisis in particular, Wu feels scared and angry. “Scared that my future will have to be indeterminately altered by the mass pollution caused by fossil fuel companies, and angry that my state representatives, some of whom have explicitly told me that this is a bill they would support, still are refusing to demonstrate this support publicly.” As the world continues to burn, younger and younger children are feeling this fear for the future. Our collective sense of security with authority figures lowers as we realize that “adults don't necessarily have it all together, and that maybe they aren't doing the most they can be doing” with climate.
As Wu explains, the Make Polluters Pay Bill (S.481/H.3581) is exactly what it says in the name: “essentially, we're making the top 100 gas and oil companies pay for the pollution that they’ve historically caused.” This bill will be garnering around 75 billion dollars over the course of 25 years, then all the money will go into a fund that will be used for climate adaptation projects around Massachusetts.
For youth like us, this bill is particularly crucial. It is clearer than ever that the climate crisis has been caused by major companies such as oil and gas companies. However, as the environment deteriorates, someone needs to pay. If not said companies, then the price must fall into the hands of our generation. “We have long lives to live and we don’t want our future to be tarnished by whatever oil and gas companies are spewing into our atmosphere.”
That is why Wu chose to testify for the first time at both the briefing and the hearing for the Polluters Pay Bill, even though she didn’t know it at the time. “I think…learned why I actually testified after I testified…I realized that at the hearing there [weren't] any youth members aside from Lana and I—we’re both from [Our Climate]—and I think it must have been refreshing for the legislators who were listening to adult voices all day to finally get a glimpse of what youth people are experiencing, and just [seeing] a youth person might have been impactful since youth are the ones [most] impacted by the climate crisis.”
While the journey is a long one, both Alicia and I are two of millions of youth around the world fighting for a livable future, and we both feel empowered despite the (metaphorical and literal) fog ahead because we know we are not alone. “[We’re] battling organizations as large as fossil fuel companies that have been around for over a century. That [seems] really daunting, but also it's inspiring…[It has] made me feel like…I should be taking a part in this Make Polluters Pay campaign. I can be a part of tackling this huge system of [fossil] fuel companies profiting off of their pollution. So, small steps, but important ones.”
Dear Committee members,
My name is Alicia Wu and I’m a high school junior living in Sharon, MA. I’m here to speak to you all, on behalf of my fellow youth members in Our Climate and the Massachusetts Youth Climate Coalition, about the Make Polluters Pay Act, also known as (H.872 /S.481).
I am standing before you today because I am scared and angry. Scared that my future will have to be indeterminately altered by the mass pollution caused by fossil fuel companies, and angry that my state representatives, some of whom have explicitly told me that “this is a bill they would support,” still are refusing to demonstrate this support publicly.
Let me ask you this: Why is it that fossil fuel companies have existed for long over a century, and still have not been held accountable for the pollution they’ve released? Why are they still reaping profits off of one of the most destructive, anti-life substances we have discovered, without any form of consequence? Failing to pass laws like Polluters Pay essentially endorses fossil fuel companies’ continued dominance in our economy and our society.
Time is ticking. The fact is that we cannot wait for another hundred years to pass by before we take action. As a contributor to the actual writing of this bill, I am certain that the Make Polluters Pay Act is the crucial step towards ensuring the healthiest future for our state. The benefits of this bill are two-fold - first, it would fine fossil fuel companies an estimated total of $75 billion in the state of Massachusetts, without any of this cost burden being transferred to consumers. Second, the money collected would then be used to fund climate adaptation projects in the state, 40% of which going to environmental justice communities. These climate adaptation projects would protect our infrastructure and coastlines from future climate disasters, decrease carbon emissions, and increase energy efficiency, saving our government billions of dollars in the long-term. The potential that this bill holds for moving Massachusetts towards a brighter, cleaner, and healthier future, is undeniable.
I am not alone. I offer this written testimony from other youth across the Massachusetts Youth Climate Coalition, who were not able to be here because of the short notice for the hearing. We urge you to pass the Make Polluters Pay through committee and help us get it to the floor for a vote as soon as possible. Thank you.
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