Students call out state legislators for lack of climate action

Photo by Alexius Horatius / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

By Hannah Schoenbaum
BU News Service

BOSTON — Youth climate activists from around the state, in a lobbying day Wednesday at the Statehouse, demanded that lawmakers act on a series of environmental justice bills immediately after the legislative recess.

Rep. Maria Robinson, who worked with Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, to organize the gathering of students and state legislators, said she hopes her colleagues will realize the urgency of the climate crisis and prioritize environmental regulations in early 2020.

“We’re putting forward the voices of our youngest in our community, who are really putting everything on the line,” said Robinson, D-Framingham, “because they recognize, as we do, that without any major change in climate policy, we won’t have an Earth to live on.”

Though the House passed legislation in July that would create a $1.3 billion grant program to help towns cope with climate change impacts, no other climate-related bills have passed in the House this year.

The young activists encouraged action on three bills that are currently in committee. H.826, H.761 and S.453 would reduce toxins and improve consideration of environmental impacts when choosing the locations of power plants, airports and highways.

“The bills that the Boston Climate Strike team is here to lobby on today are bills that we were promised would be passed,” said Boston Latin Academy student Sam Draisen. “However, on this final day of formal session they are nowhere near passage.”

Draisen, 16, said he thinks environmental issues have not been made enough of a priority in this legislative session, which will begin a recess until January this week. Even though the young Boston Climate Strikers organizer is too young to vote or run for office, he said he is not too young to scrutinize the decisions of state lawmakers.

“I’m standing here speaking to you all at a time when I should really be in school,” he told the legislators in attendance. “I can’t, in good faith to future generations, not be here fighting for the health and safety of the current and future residents of our society.”

While Draisen noted that wealthier communities with superior infrastructure do not experience the same immediate environmental concerns as low-income communities, he called on those with money and influence to act now for the benefit of all communities.

“Low-income, minority environmental justice communities are being decimated while richer, whiter communities are not far behind,” Draisen said. “Even with all this tangible evidence of a crisis, our government stands stagnant on this issue.”

Climate activist Sara Singh, 23, was born in New Delhi, India – one of the world’s most polluted cities. She explained that an excess of cars, combined with crop-burning, factory emissions and environmental conditions, have turned the air “toxic” in her city of birth.

“I don’t want to be part of a future where Boston is headed down that path,” she said.

Singh, a volunteer with the environmental advocacy organization Sunrise Movement of Boston, called out Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo in her speech at the gathering. Though Baker and DeLeo did not attend, several representatives recorded her message on their phones.

“What will be your legacy?” Singh asked of Baker and DeLeo. “That you prioritized what was easy over what was right? That you were beholden to the utility companies, oil, coal and gas?”

Robinson echoed the students’ concerns and said she thinks the legislative bodies need to engage in a “robust conversation on climate” once they reconvene.

“I truly believe that history isn’t going to look kindly on legislators who do not take action on climate,” Robinson said. “We can’t be complacent, and we can’t just be pleased that we’re doing better than many other states in Massachusetts.”

As world leaders assemble for the United Nations’ annual climate conference in December, activists from cities around the Unites States plan to strike for climate justice.

While the largest Massachusetts climate strike is set to take place at Copley Square in Boston on Dec. 6, Draisen said smaller demonstrations are likely to occur in other cities around the state.

This article was originally published in the Worcester Telegram.

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