Students rally for net-zero future

Academy at Charlemont students Solly Chase, Aislyn Jewett, Ruby Chase and Reilly Osborne at the school.
Academy at Charlemont students Solly Chase, Aislyn Jewett, Ruby Chase and Reilly Osborne at the school.

For Going Green

Every generation experiences far-reaching issues. Responses to those issues always varies. At the Academy at Charlemont, a group of students has risen to the occasion by working with a local hub of the Sunrise Group. The Sunrise Group is national and has a focus on climate change. “For me, I have seen people be scared and emotional about climate change. It hadn’t affected me emotionally until recently,” said Aislyn Jewett, a senior from Florence. Jewett added that they are aware there doesn’t appear to be effects of climate change that are obvious in Western Mass., but that the effects are hitting other parts of the state harder.

The students have been participating in rallies and have been speaking directly to lawmakers and constituents in other parts of the state. Ruby Chase, a 10th-grader from Haydenville, said she was saddened by stories of people who lost homes and sometimes life savings in the eastern part of the state due to unusual flooding. The two students and their classes recently attended a lobby day at the Statehouse in Boston that saw close to 200 students and 55 legislators in attendance. “I knew that climate change was a thing, but I thought adults would take care of it. Kids are starting to realize it’s up to us,” said Chase.

In particular, the students and the Mass. hubs of the Sunrise Group have been advocating for the passage of a bill titled H2810. The bill addresses equitable carbon pricing. Bills are being presented in the state’s legislature currently that look to move the state in the direction of becoming what is referred to as “net-zero,” meaning zero carbon emissions. Chase said the important part of the complex bill is creating an “equitable” system. “People who are low income are more affected by climate change,” said Chase. The bill would generate a tax that would collect funding for towns to help them create a more “green” infrastructure. The students are aware there is push-back on the bill from businesses and higher income individuals as “they would lose some money. Low income people would have a greater benefit,” said Hewett.

Chase said there have been bills enacted across the country addressing 100 percent renewable energy. “This has been going on for a long time,” she said. The existing state law, the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. The package of bills the students are lobbying for would set a goal of 100 percent below 1990 levels.

The students said they have attended climate change rallies in Springfield and have also been putting pressure on Rep. Richard Neal. The students said Neal is one of the few representatives who have not signed off on the Green New Deal put forth by N.Y. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In addition, they would like to see Neal sign off on a no-fossil-fuel pledge that would prohibit politicians and political candidates from receiving financial support from the fossil fuel industry. “He says he supports it but he won’t sign off on it,” said Chase. Hewett said she found his actions “discouraging.” The students said if Neal did not end up signing off on the legislations, they would throw the group’s support behind Alex Morse, who will be running against Neal in November for the First District Congressional seat.

The students said that previously they took other actions for social or climate change by making phone calls, but have found a lot of satisfaction now in “looking them in the eye in person. It’s so empowering,” said Chase. Hewett added, “It’s our job to remind them. It (climate change) won’t affect them the way it will us. Calls didn’t do enough. They need to take the lead now.” Hewett said they have previously testified in support of H2810. “But they didn’t listen to me. It’s our future. Many of them will literally be dead before climate change really affects us,” they said. Chase said in meetings with legislators recently she often heard “you don’t understand the process. It’s crazy. We can’t possibly read through everything. We need you to complain.”

Neale Gay, associate head of school, chaperoned the students on their recent trip to the statehouse. “The families and administration is very supportive of the students working towards, social, racial and environmental justice,” he said. Gay added that when the students have an idea of something they want to do to enact positive change, “it’s our job to help make it happen and to support them.” Stephanie Powers, director of admissions and communications at the academy, said she finds it especially inspiring when the students come back and share their experiences with the community. “Their work has gotten more students and parents involved in climate change issues,” she said. Gay added the academy has also connected with other area schools such as the Center School in Greenfield for unifying support.

The Sunrise Group at the Academy at Charlemont initially drew 27 people, Chase said, with half from Charlemont. Hewett said they were originally in the Northampton hub but joined the Hilltown hub recently. The Sunrise Group states on their website that their mission is to bring together young people to make climate change an urgent priority. “We are not looking to the right or the left. We look forward,” the organization states on their website.


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