Western Massachusetts Students Rally for the Green New Deal

Graphic by Callie Wohlgemuth ’21

Graphic by Callie Wohlgemuth ’21

BY LIZ LEWIS ’22

“Look us in the eyes,” read a massive sign held by young activists on the steps of the Springfield District Court on Tuesday, Feb. 26. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “over 50 individuals, most of them young students, stood outside of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s (D-MA) Springfield office [...] chanting ‘Green New Deal, come on Neal!’” The youth activists rallied to push Neal to co-sponsor the Green New Deal Resolution.

Organized by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-based climate advocacy group, the rally was comprised of a mix of students from across Massachusetts, including local representation from Northampton High School and Smith College. The rally, however, stretched far beyond Western Massachusetts, as others, in 34 states across the country, asked representatives to support the Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal Resolution is a proposed set of policy changes put forward by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) aimed at establishing environmental sustainability and tackling income inequality. The Resolution was presented to Congress on Feb. 7, and according to Vox, it has gained significant traction since. Deliberately named after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s push to lift the country out of the Great Depression, the Green New Deal mirrors some of the same economic-centered initiatives, while also applying them to environmental justice. In a broad sense, the Green New Deal is, as Vox put it, “a massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy” by way of both decarbonization and stabilization.

According to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientific data leads experts to believe that the world has just over a decade before the concrete effects of climate change reach an irreversibly catastrophic level. It is therefore critical that within the next decade, people collaborate to drastically reduce carbon emissions on a worldwide level. In the wake of this new publication and others like it, scientific advancements, and tangible climate abnormalities such as frequent hurricanes, unseasonable forest fires and droughts, climate politics have become a more pressing an issue than ever.

Over the past few decades, environmental sustainability has become a priority for Mount Holyoke. According to the website for the Miller Worley Center for the Environment, “the College has set a goal of carbon neutrality by 2037, the College’s 200th anniversary.” Among other sustainability-centered initiatives, the College also maintains ongoing missions of “responsible energy use, water conservation [and] land stewardship.” Student involvement in climate justice on campus remains robust as well, including 13 student-run organizations dedicated to or in some way related to the fields of climate justice, wilderness appreciation, business and biology.

To Shannon Seigal ’19, though national initiatives such as the Green New Deal draw attention, pushing for change at the local level may be even more critical in the fight for climate justice. “Local governments can implement sustainability measures in ways that directly impact their residents, such as through subsidizing energy efficiency programs and expanding greener public transportation infrastructure,” she said. “Local governments can also be much more accessible to residents which can lead to the implementation of more representative and participatory policies and programs.”

Visiting Lecturer in Politics Adam Hilton also sees the Green New Deal as a step in the right direction, but not by any means a solution to the crisis. “The Green New Deal should be seen for what it is: a broad vision statement that can act as a guiding framework for future coalitions and policies,” said Hilton. “Focusing on the details of that proposal that are currently being floated — whether as the basis for support or criticism of the broader initiative — is premature and beside the point.”

The youth-based rally in Springfield is one example of increased student involvement in climate justice, as the results of climate change start to seem increasingly dire. By working at a local level, the activists hope to let a proposed solution gain traction. As quoted by the Daily Hampshire Gazette, student activist Claudia Olson of Smith College expressed to the crowd that even if “you may not be personally affected by natural disasters and ecological crises at the moment [...] people around the world are suffering because of these events.”

Hilton said, “All reasonable people agree that the world is going to be dramatically affected by climate change over the next century.” He added, “What support for a Green New Deal signals is a recognition that this is a serious crisis which requires drastic government actions to address. What in particular should be done can be determined by the political process. But for now the Democratic Party would be wise to commit to such a framework if it wants to continue getting the majority of young people’s votes.”

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