Metro, Politics

Residents, Local Officials Demonstrate at Earth Day Event

A crowd of activists, students, and residents brought signs and petitions to Newton Centre Green for a rally in support of climate action during the Newton Democratic City Committee’s Earth Day event on Saturday. 

“What I find inspiring about Earth Day is that it translates anxiety into action,” Rep. Jake Auchincloss, who represents Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District, said at the event. “It is so easy to be paralyzed by concerns about future generations, about 1.5, 1.7 degrees Celsius, by the overlapping, cascading challenges that we can face, but this is a day that takes that anxiety and it turns it into meaningful action. And that is what we need.”

The speaker portion of the event began with speeches from two students from Newton South High School, who spoke about what the climate crisis meant to them and what they believe needs to change to address climate change. 

“We don’t feel the direct impacts of climate change in our communities, while many other poorer communities that are unable to defend themselves are feeling these impacts of increasing temperatures and worse environments for themselves,” Haning Lu, a 10th grader at Newton South, said. “That is why ignorance is the first step toward destruction.”

It is important for young people to speak up on these issues, Lu said. 

“When we see legislators making laws, they don’t consider the opinions of young people, as there’s certainly this kind of bias that young people are more emotional,” Lu said. “That’s why we need to actually speak here and tell what we’re thinking to the legislators because we might have different priorities.”

Auchincloss spoke after the students and said regardless of which party has control in Congress, there is always some action that can be taken to implement climate policies. 

“Earth Day is a reminder that we cannot ever be paralyzed, regardless of what government looks like,” he said. “There’s always places to make progress, and we need to hit singles and doubles, and when the time’s right, to hit that Grand Slam, to ensure that the planet that we are leaving to those that we just heard from, is one that is sustainable and livable.”

Cynthia Creem, majority leader of the Massachusetts Senate, spoke after Auchincloss about the frustration among young people that the climate crisis is too late to fix. 

“I was asked to chair a committee on climate,” Creem said. “I called my granddaughter who was really into the climate and I said you’ll be so proud of me. And she said ‘Grandma, it’s too late.’ I think there are many young people who feel the same frustrations, but my message is hope. It’s not too late. Maybe we got started late, but we’re really working at it.”

Creem also spoke about the many bills she has proposed in the Senate, including regulations on gas companies, providing school districts with electric buses, and increasing taxes on plastic bottles. 

Auchnincloss then returned to stage on behalf of Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who was unable to speak at the event due to the hospitalization of her 97-year-old father. 

“You are the reason we are able to take the bold steps to become one of the first communities in the state to accept the specialized stretch building codes, to be the first community in Massachusetts to hire a full time energy coach, to enact Newton Power Choice, to write the city’s first climate action plan, to expand our solar energy production, and so much more,” Auchincloss said.

Ward 2 Ward Councilor Emily Norton spoke about the history of the Charles River Cleanup and the immense progress cleanup efforts have made. 

“It’s because people did not give up,” Norton said. “Regular people like you did not give up on Charles, on our waterways, on our environment. And so I think it’s important to keep that in mind because the problems can seem pretty monumental. But when we put our minds to it, we can do extraordinary things. I truly believe that.”

Peter Barrer, a member of several climate advocacy groups like the Newton Conservators, spoke about the pattern of politicians taking credit for legislation they originally opposed.

“This is an important day,” Barrer said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. We hear politicians taking credit for things that actually were huge struggles that they opposed, and now they turn around and take credit for it. I’m not surprised, but it’s frustrating, because we’ve got new struggles.”

Laura Petrillo, a mother and Newton resident, collected signatures to petition for public comment to create stronger protections for trees in the city. 

“I hope that tangibly, they’ll first of all hear from the people, and second of all, really recenter on preserving the trees, on protecting the trees, and on keeping Newton as green as possible, and as beautiful and safe and healthy for our families,” Petrillo said.

Petrillo said she hopes such advocacy work will preserve the environment for future generations, including her own children. 

“There are plenty of citizens who feel very strongly that trees are really important for their environmental impact,” Petrillo said. “They protect obviously, they sequester carbon, they provide shade, they help manage stormwater. So I’m a mother – I care very deeply about protecting the earth and preserving it for future generations. And so that’s why I’m here today.”

April 23, 2023