This Is What Happens When MA Youth Work Together

Massachusetts is a land of great environmental accomplishments. The state legislature passed trailblazing laws in 2008 requiring dramatic emissions reductions in the state’s economy and investment in programs to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.  Massachusetts is ranked first among states for energy efficiency, second for solar job creation, and sixth for solar installations.

Yet, for all of Massachusetts’ supposed progressiveness and political pioneering, there is no doubt that it has not done everything that it can to address climate change.  

"Just as the path to divestment is a challenge, anything worth changing in the world is."

In fact, in many ways, the Commonwealth appears to be retreating from its trailblazing path. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is raising fares and considering cutting plans for expansion, and Governor Charlie Baker’s administration is kicking around the idea of implementing a pipeline tax to fund the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure. Last month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Massachusetts must begin increasing the emissions reductions required by law that the state is currently not on track to meet.

"We dream that similar to gay marriage and healthcare access, Massachusetts will set the example for the rest of the country on the moral imperative of divesting from fossil fuels."

Many of the adults running the state’s government seem to be distracted from the immediacy of the climate crisis and it appears that one of the state’s only long-term hopes for putting climate action back at the top of the agenda lies with the state’s youth. A dream for a better future resonates with so many ambitious Massachusetts youth who don’t see any good reason for political obstacles or delays when it comes to addressing the risks posed by climate change. At the Boston YouthCAN Summit and subsequent Youth Divestment Action Day last month, ACE's New England Fellows put their power together with other area youth to prove thier demands for climate action.

The Boston YouthCAN Summit is an annual conference of Boston-area youth who gather together to listen to speeches, attend workshops, and engage with other young people and organizations focused on climate action. The event is organized by Boston Latin School students who understand the immediate threat of climate change on our lives.  

At the gathering, our Action Fellow group had a chance to pause on action and instead put our minds to work, taking time to think and learn about new concepts and connections to enhance our efforts in the field. But the day wasn’t all workshops and speeches.

Our Action Fellow team has been spending countless hours over the last year working on a fossil fuel divestment campaign. Fossil fuel divestment is a tactic spreading like wildfire throughout the climate movement, pushing institutions to withdraw their investments in stocks, bonds, and companies that are involved in the extraction and production of fossil fuels. Right now, the Massachusetts state legislature is considering the passage of a bill that would completely divest the state’s pension fund from fossil fuels. The bill is currently sitting in the Joint Committee on Public Service, as an afterthought to the state’s other political priorities. But through our Action Fellowship campaign we have made major attempts to emphasize the significance of the divestment bill.

At YouthCAN, we made serious progress on our divestment photo petition project, where dozens of youth at the conference posed for a picture with a piece of paper stating their name and reason for supporting fossil fuel divestment. YouthCAN showed us that we are just a small part of a huge movement of passionate and committed youth who see fighting climate change and demanding our attention, despite their busy and stressful teenage schedules.

ACE Fellows meeting with a staff member from State Senator Michael Brady's officeOn May 26, our Fellowship team met with other youth at the Massachusetts State House, taking photo petitions gathered at YouthCAN and before, and presented them to the offices of all 200 state senators and representatives. Afterwards, we gathered outside the building for a rally, speaking up amid passersby of the busy streets of downtown Boston on why divestment can’t wait.  

We dream that similar to gay marriage and healthcare access, Massachusetts will set the example for the rest of the country on the moral imperative of divesting from fossil fuels.  And not only is it a moral issue, but the state lost $521 million in fiscal year 2015 from its risky fossil fuel investments. It may not be on the top of the priority list right now, but if we get our way, then it’s only a matter of time before a debate emerges and the urgency of action sinks in.

Just as the path to divestment is a challenge, anything worth changing in the world is. If the hundreds of youth at Boston YouthCAN are any signal, a coalition is building that will press the necessity of immediate climate action by state legislators.  Divestment is a movement we can all be a part of no matter where we live. Chances are, your local government, college, or another nearby institution is investing in fossil fuels. And though building the coalition to end these investments may seem daunting, you just might be surprised, inspired, and amazed to see the passion of youth that will stand beside you.

Brian McDermott is ACE’s Youth Organizing Associate.  He recently completed the 2015-16 ACE Fellowship in New England and will be attending American University in Washington, D.C. beginning in the fall.