Last month, students from high schools and universities across the state of Massachusetts, as well as adult members of the community, gathered at the Massachusetts State House in downtown Boston to advocate for equitable climate policy. As seen in the global Climate Strikes on September 20th, youth are leading the climate movement and are advocating for change. The strikes bring attention to issues surrounding climate policy and show how there is a lot of support for change in policy. Tangentially, lobbying for specific climate-based bills can help force legislation that serves to address climate issues. As the younger generations are those who will be left to suffer the consequences of climate change, campaigns towards improving climate policy have often been youth-led.
There have been many bills put forward by different representatives in the state of Massachusetts that relate to climate. In particular, many groups such as Our Climate (a non-profit organization promoting youth advocacy for ethical carbon pricing) specifically support Jennifer Benson’s bill, H.2810. This bill puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions ($20 per ton of pollution, with possibility of increase), but also redistributes 70% of the collected funds back to families. This is vital because low income families often have the highest financial burden associated with living sustainably. This relocation of money away from large, carbon-emitting corporations and back to families helps make the bill equitable by evening out the financial burden that it imposes. Moreover, in the bill 30% of the funds are invested into a Green Infrastructure Fund, which facilitates the development of more sustainable infrastructure for communities. This bill takes into account income disparities and helps make sustainability more feasible for everyone, unlike many other carbon pricing bills that have been put forward, which is why it has received so much attention from advocacy groups. The bill was first submitted by Benson to the House of Representatives, where it received 95 cosponsors. Then, the bill was sent to a joint committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy (T.U.E.). Now, advocates for the bill wait as House Chair of the T.U.E., Tom Golden, puts off sending the bill to a hearing. Golden, a representative from Lowell, is not a supporter of carbon pricing, and has the ability to put off a hearing for the bill for as long as he sees fit. This is much to the frustration of climate activists, especially in light of the bill being supported by so many Massachusetts representatives.
At the Massachusetts State House on September 25th, students met with representatives from their respective districts to discuss how the public can help push the bill, and other similar climate-focused bills, forward in order to enact real change. I had the opportunity to meet with my own representative, Kevin G. Honan, to discuss his authoring of an Op-Ed that supports Benson’s bill. Representative Honan long ago cosigned Benson’s bill, and having the opportunity to speak with him and have my voice heard was empowering.
Representatives typically take advantage of the opportunity to meet with passionate youth, and this can be very helpful in promoting youth-driven issues like climate policy. For example, some representatives agreed to write op-eds about Benson’s bill and why they support it. Representatives want to hear which issues their constituents (the people living in their district) care about and what policies they want to see changed. On the other hand, many other representatives dodge questions, filibuster, talk down to young people, or refuse to meet in the first place. For example, a representative might divert the conversation to another issue that they are more passionate about, rather than focusing on the issue that the constituent brought forward. These representatives often do not prioritize climate policy or can make excuses as to why a bill is not feasible. These vast differences between climate champions and climate deniers can make it difficult for advocates to work with representatives. However, in the face of these challenges, the youth-led climate activism movements persist in an effort to force tangible change.
Boston has its own Climate Action Plan, and passing carbon pricing legislation could be a monumental step in reaching its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Through efforts large and small, climate policy is becoming more realistic as a way to combat climate change. Legislators hope that if this bill can pass in Massachusetts, it will serve as a model for greenhouse gas pricing in other states and possibly federally. This would put Boston at the forefront of climate policy and encourage other states and countries to do the same.
Anyone can lobby for any bill with their representative. All it takes is a phone call or email to set up a meeting. Typically representatives care about what their constituents think and are receptive to hearing about different bills. Lobbying is one of the most effective ways to create policy change, and hopefully the efforts of these youth at the Massachusetts State House will not go unnoticed by policy makers.