Residents hold pipeline vigils outside State House

From December, 2017 (The Wellesley Townsman)

“Stand Up, Charlie”

—Wellesley’s voices against fossil fuel pipelines

“Gov. Baker says he’s taking action on climate change, but when you look at his policies, he’s actually in favor of building new fracked gas pipelines and power plants that we don’t need.” This statement from resident Lise Olney summarizes the sentiments of many in Massachusetts, and especially in the Sustainable Wellesley community.

Starting in September and going through November, Wellesley residents ventured to the State House to join daily vigils outside Gov. Charlie Baker’s office organized by the statewide Mass Power Forward Coalition, a group comprising 200 environmental and community groups, including Sustainable Wellesley.

Since President Trump announced his plan for the United States to withdraw itself from the Paris Climate Agreement, an agreement 195 nations signed onto to limit carbon emissions, Baker joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, acknowledging the threats and burdens of climate change. However, a lack of action from Baker and favorable policies toward the construction of proposed fracked gas pipelines in the commonwealth has brought many from all over the state to hold vigils in the State House, demanding he stop the pipelines from construction.

Typically, an average between 50 and 60 people would attend these daily vigils during the week, and brought many experienced and new activists in Wellesley to participate.

For example, Ruby Cramer, a junior at the Wellesley High School, took an active stance for the first time on climate change during this protest. Her mother, Mary Gard, who is on leadership team of Sustainable Wellesley and on the Environmental Ministry at Wellesley Congregational Church, encouraged Cramer to go and also find anyone else from the church that was interested.

“I ultimately went because I believe in the cause and I believe that my voice matters and can make a difference, so why not use it?” Cramer said.

One student Cramer found willing to participate was Julia Himmelberger, senior at the high school. Previously being an average supporter of the issue, “This was my first time going to the statehouse and participating in environmental activism,” she said. Along with Cramer and some friends from neighboring towns, they attended the vigil in mid-November.

“In this political climate it’s really important that we maintain our earth and not use it as we currently are. Building the pipeline would hurt our environment because I think we need to move towards more sustainable and eco friendly solutions for energy instead of oil and gas,” Himmelberger said.

There, protesters wrote messages and held signs, but they chose to keep most vigils silent in preparation for a more vocal protest the following week.

“I was motivated by reading how poisonous the fracking process is. Near the fracking site it poisons the land and water as it spills from transcontinental pipelines, it leaks methane and other poisonous gases from the 200 pipeline leaks here in Wellesley, and of course it poisons our air and causes climate change when it is finally burned” Gard said. “I strongly feel that we should be developing a different, renewable infrastructure to protect our environment.

In addition, Natural Resources Commissioner Regina LaRocque has found herself especially invested in fighting against more gas pipelines being implemented in the state.

“As a medical professional, I think climate change is the public health crisis of our time and we have to transition quickly to clean sources of energy,” she said. Although studies like one from the Lancet Commission on Climate Change and Health suggest a relationship to rising climate temperatures to facilitation in transmitting infectious diseases and a nearly 50 percent increase between 2000 and 2016 in the frequency of extreme weather events, a generally progressive state like Massachusetts continues to struggle to conclude the safest way to get electricity.

The main concern LaRocque pointed out about fracked gas pipelines in the commonwealth is that leaks in these pipes are common. Although methane gas is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, making it an extreme greenhouse gas, the government has yet to resolve these leaks and prevent them from happening again. Thus, LaRocque said she would like to see clean sources of energy like solar and wind become the main sources of power.

“The consensus among these studies is that this is a crisis we need to respond to immediately,” LaRocque said, noting that many other healthcare professionals have attended knowing this sense of urgency.

In hopes of persuading Baker to issue an executive order to instruct state agencies to do whatever possible to deny permits for large fossil fuel infrastructure projects, it has been both the seasoned and new activists in Wellesley that have rallied with others in the commonwealth in hopes of preventing a setback in the effort for a clean environment.

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