FIRST ECA LOCAL CHAPTER HOLDS A MAJOR EVENT
ART EXHIBIT EMPHASIZES CLIMATE CHANGE AT NEW ART CENTER
By Grady McGonagill, Hinda Blum and Perry Carrison, ECA Mass Chapter
This event was a rewarding and successful example of a Mass. Chapter member pursuing an individual passion to address climate change. Hinda and Perry overcame a number of obstacles to make the exhibition happen: they identified artists with environmental themes and persuaded five to loan their art at no charge (other than shipment of photographs from the most well-known of the five); identified a place willing to make space available at no cost (the New Art Center, 61 Washington Park, Newtonville, MA); created and circulated a color brochure; promoted the event using social media (after creating a web-page); and raised $1818 from friends and family.
Read the Article in Wicked Local Newton
Massachusetts Chapter, Leadership Team
|Arnie Epstein testifies before the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.|
I've been passionate about doing what I can to combat climate change for over a decade. This led me along a number of paths including co-founding our local energy group, organizing a town-wide solar initiative, leading the effort to have our town designated a Green Community, and becoming our town's first Energy Manager.
After retiring, I searched for a way to have an impact beyond my own community. In Massachusetts there are a number of climate action groups and I "tried out" several. I was looking for something that was a fit with my own background and outlook and could make a real difference at the state and national level. Through a friend, Rick Lent, I heard about Elders Climate Action and attended my first meeting of the Massachusetts chapter in March. The group is diverse but open to different viewpoints. And all are committed to making a difference. I must also say that Grady McGonagill, co-founder of the chapter, is an inspirational leader.
I rapidly found ways to contribute that aligned with both my passion and engineering and scientific background. In Massachusetts, the debate over natural gas pipeline expansion was heating up and my research convinced our chapter this project would be terrible for the state. We lobbied our state representatives and, in coalition with other groups, took part in a number of rallies culminating in the People Over Pipelines four day march. This led me to take a closer look at the state's landmark Global Warming Solutions Act. I found that while the administration is actively working towards shorter term goals, the plans needed to meeting the longer term objectives of the bill are lacking. We are calling this "Get Real" and it has been adopted as a chapter initiative. Last week the state held public hearings on the Global Warming Solutions Act where Grady testified at the Boston hearing and I testified in Worcester (picture above). I've also been publishing our chapter newsletter and helping out where my background working with computer systems is useful.
The most moving experience for me has been at presentations given at retirement communities. I've met other elders searching for ways they can make a difference and leave behind a livable planet. Surely together we can.
The Early Story of the Mass. Chapter of ECA, By Grady McGonagill, May 2016
I’m a person who doesn’t usually make decisions quickly. But when I got a call from Paul Severance inviting me to join him and other members of something called “Elders Climate Action” for an event calling itself “Grandparents’ Climate Action Day” (GCAD) last September, I signed up on the spot. Something about using elderhood as an organizing frame for building a mass movement to generate the political will to address climate change struck a resonant chord with me. I was familiar with Congressional “lobby days” from having been twice to Washington, D.C. to advocate a “Carbon Fee and Dividend” on behalf of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. But who knew there was such a thing as “Grandparents’ Day”? I decided to go, and recruited the head of the Boston CCL chapter, Rabbi Judy Weiss, to go with me. Together we were able to meet one of our Senators, Elizabeth Warren. Speaking of her grandchildren brought tears to the feisty Senator’s eyes.
What had brought tears to my eyes over 25 years ago was reading of the demise of the Texas horned toad. “Horny toads” had been a part of growing up in Texas. I couldn’t imagine a world without these creatures. Their survival skills were legendary, yet they were disappearing for unknown reasons—human activity being the prime suspect. In that moment I resolved to do what I could to protect the environment. As a consultant, I began seeking out opportunities to work with environmental nonprofit organizations. And I once created and co-facilitated a multi-stakeholder dialogue on the fate of the 26 million acres known as the “Northern Forest.” But none of this felt like doing enough. Reading the work of Bill McKibben in recent years, I became convinced that climate change was an existential threat to humans and other life on the planet, and that only a mass movement could create the political will to address it. In 2013 this led me to get on a bus to Washington, D.C. for the rally/march against the Keystone XL Pipeline. It led me to join CCL. And last year it led me to close down my consulting business and shift to full-time pro bono work to help build a climate change movement. Enter the call from Paul Severance and my decision to take part in GCAD.
I stayed on for a planning session following GCAD, where I learned that ECA not only embraces the CCL goal of putting a price on carbon nationally to address its mission, but also encourages actions at the state and local level. Inspired by the possibilities of shifting focus to activities closer to home, I invited the four other folks from Massachusetts who had attended GCAD to join me in forming the first local ECA chapter. Along with another 11 people from our personal and professional networks, we met for the first time in December and began figuring out what the goals and operating procedures of a local ECA chapter might look like. We had no examples, as we were out front.
Our first operational decision was to consider ourselves a “state-wide” chapter, open to membership from anyone in Massachusetts. However, we are somewhat Boston-centric, with a majority of our members in Brookline or Cambridge and none in the Western part of the state. As it expands, we imagine that what is now the “Mass. Chapter” may become a “Boston Chapter,” with some mechanism created to coordinate the various chapters within the state. Like most ECA members, we are all well-educated, middle/upper middle class, with professional backgrounds. Four of us have a history of being engaged in environmental issues; the rest are learning. Most of us are in our sixties or early seventies. But one is 29! A graduate student in the history of climate science, Phil sees himself as “calling all elders” to address climate change for the sake of his generation. He is pioneering an emerging chapter effort to make presentations to retirement communities, in an effort to raise awareness of the contribution that elders can make to the climate movement, and to recruit members.
At our first meeting, we invited all members to send a season’s greeting card to Republican Governor Charlie Baker, explaining why climate change matters to us and introducing him to ECA. Since then we have met 5 times and have settled into a monthly rhythm. Our initiatives are of two kinds: those that are chapter-wide, potentially engaging all members, and those involving subsets of members. Our first major decision was whether to follow the recommendation of an experienced climate change activist at 350.org to thoroughly research the existing activities of the many climate change groups in the Boston area before finding our advocacy niche. Or whether instead to heed the advice of another experienced organizer at The Better Future Project, to choose an area of focus right away and start doing something. “If you spend too much time talking before you start acting,” he advised, “you’ll attract people who like talking and lose those who are inclined to act.”
Persuaded by the wisdom of just jumping in, we decided to take advantage of the fact that the leadership of the House in the Massachusetts state legislature was known to have the intention of producing an energy “ombnibus” bill in the January-July 2016 session. This bill would guide climate change policies for the next decade. So we decided that a worthwhile chapter-wide goal for the first few months would be to aim to influence this bill, to make it as robust as possible regarding climate-change issues. To this end Chapter members have been:
- holding meetings with legislators of whom members are constituents;
- writing letters and making phone calls to legislators in our own districts and to others who are key players in the House or Senate;
- attending rallies and hearings related to the legislation.
At the same time we are pursuing the recommendation to learn what other climate change advocacy groups are doing, with a focus on learning their strategies for influencing the bill. This has also been a great way to build relationships and explore strategic partnerships. We joined Mass Power Forward, a coalition of 150 other groups, and began participating in weekly phone calls with the leadership team in which they shared “intel” about what was going on behind closed doors in the legislature. We also formed an alliance with another new group, the MA Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action which had emerged in the wake of the Pope’s encyclical, supporting their lobbying activities and inviting their members to support ours.
In our meetings with legislators we presented as our highest priority an issue that was among the top five of both of these sister groups, one to which we saw the opportunity to bring the unique voice of elders: preventing the legislation from containing a “tariff” (really a tax) that would require utility customers to finance a multi-$billion expansion of gas pipeline capacity. This infrastructure—which would take decades to pay for—is favored the Governor and the state’s utilities but seen by the climate change community—supported by a study funded by the Attorney General’s Office—as unnecessary to achieve the goals of the state’s 2008 “Global Warming Solutions Act.”
A second chapter-wide initiative emerged serendipitously from the efforts of our youngest member: fostering outreach and growth in our membership. With this in mind members have:
- developed a PPT presentation making the case for human-caused climate change, its current and likely future impacts, and outlining seven ways in which elders can take action;
- delivered presentations to a retirement community, a lifelong learning class at at UU church, and a local senior center;
- hosted several climate change conversations with friends, neighbors and other community members;
- conducted “tabling” at three conferences, where we signed up 25 people as members of ECA.
Other specific actions by individuals include:
- sponsoring an art exhibit to spark interest in climate change;
- joining a “Jobs, Justice, and Climate” march in Boston, culminating in a rally at the Mass. State House;
- writing thank you notes to our state Attorney General for joining the investigation of Exxon for covering up its knowledge of the contribution of carbon emissions to global warming.
After the omnibus energy bill is signed, we’ll choose another chapter-wide initiative. An obvious target would be the utilities—Eversource and National Grid—who seem to have the Mass. legislature in their grip. (A grip facilitated by the fact that Governor Baker’s head of “Energy and Environmental Affairs” appointed a former executive at National Grid to head up the Department of Public Utilities!) They’ve been able to shape the narrative—and become a trusted provider of “the facts”—that our elected representatives “buy.” Or maybe it’s the legislators themselves who are getting “bought.” From that perspective it may soon be time to turn our attention to the buyers, to explore how to shift the narrative about the utilities as public servants in ways that illuminate how the public is not being at all well served by business as usual. As we make that shift, we will likely adopt other tactics, including protests, sit-ins, and possibly risking arrest. I anticipate a continuum of comfort among chapter members for more aggressive tactics, but we don’t all have to get engaged in any one action. Each can seek out something to suit their taste.
As we move forward, we take stock of the reality that—like most environmental groups—we lack diversity in class and race. Our one non-white member is a retired philosophy professor from India. To address this limitation, I find myself drawing on learning from CEN’s Elder Activist Social Justice team, which has been discussing readings about different areas of injustice, beginning with that of African-Americans. Experience there shows that it tends not to work to include racial minorities in a pre-established white group. More effective is to work alongside groups representing their perspectives, building relationships by supporting their actions and conducting self education about their needs. I assume that this lesson holds for reaching out across class lines as well. A good example of a strategic partnership of this kind—leading to marching alongside members of several racial minority groups as well as members of organizations focusing on economic injustice—was the “Jobs, Justice, and Environment” march and rally mentioned above. The Mass chapter is looking for similar opportunities going forward.
Five months into our existence, I continue to sense a palpable buzz of excitement at our meetings, where we share what we’ve done and support one another in taking on new challenges. Will ECA succeed in its mission? Who knows. But we’re doing what we can and that gives us hope. We’d love the company of other chapters elsewhere. Care to form one? If you’re like me, it would take you out of your comfort zone. But what better way to with aging?