More than 50 people gathered in the Woodbury Room of the Jones Library on Saturday, February 11, for the kickoff event of the Amherst Climate Justice Alliance (ACJA). The alliance currently represents 11 local organizations, and the organizers hope that others will soon join them in their efforts to work together to address the climate emergency locally and promote “intersectional climate justice”. Current members of the alliance are Sunrise Amherst, Mothers Out Front, Zero Waste Amherst, Sunrise UMASS, Extinction Rebellion, Jewish Community of Amherst Green Team, Earth Ministry Team of 1st Church Amherst-UCC, Progressive Coalition of Amherst, Green Sanctuary Committee, and Climate Action Now. Also participating in the kickoff was John Root representing Pollinate Amherst.
The mission of the ACJA is to advocate “for reduced greenhouse gas emissions in our building, transportation, energy and waste sectors as well as increased carbon sequestration, while at the same time promoting climate justice here and in communities our emissions impact. It seeks to support a positive, uplifting and non-extractive economy that will benefit our youth and future
generations. Acknowledging that the impacts of climate change disproportionately affect marginalized communities, ACJA’s advocacy seeks to empower and lift up all voices.
Darcy DuMont, representing Zero Waste Amherst on the ACJA, said “I am heartened that the ACJA is focusing on the town providing more dedicated funding and staffing to fulfill our bold climate justice goals. Let’s make sure we take advantage of all the funding opportunities coming our way.”
Russ Vernon-Jones, representing Climate Action Now, noted that a goal of the alliance is to promote the idea that every decision made in town should be viewed through a climate lens.
Marisol Piece Bonifaz, representing Amherst Sunrise, added that every climate decision should include the perspective and input of youth.
Julian Hynes, also representing Sunrise Amherst added “It is clear these priorities the ACJA has set forth are what our townspeople want when many elected officials, members on local boards, committees, and activist groups attend our event and try to use the lens the ACJA is using in their lives. We hope the elected leaders of our town will see this and reflect our goals in their budgeting priorities.”
Recent actions of ACJA include:
- FY 2024 budget and policy demands directed to the Amherst Town Council
- ACJA Public Comment Guide
- Advocacy for Town Manager Climate Action Goals and implementation of the Climate Action Adaptation and Resilience Plan
- Meeting with Town Manager and Sustainability Director
Among the stated aims of the kickoff was to get feedback from residents on:
- how AJCA can provide support for individual and community efforts for climate action
- how the AJCA can better promote intersectional climate justice in Amherst
- how the AJCA can ensure that a wider variety of voices are represented in discussions of climate action, including those who are not currently heard
The initial half hour featured climate art, a pollinator-friendly gardening activity, an induction cooktop demonstration of the new kits available for loan at Jones, and information packets about the ACJA’s member organizations. This was followed by a panel that addressed questions about climate action in Amherst and beyond, and a brief introduction to the work of the alliance. The audience was diverse, representing, as one observer noted, an age range of more than 60 years. Town Councilors Dorothy Pam (District 3), Anika Lopes (District 4), and Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5) attended.
The panel consisted of State Representative Mindy Domb, Haven Vincent-Warner from Sunrise Amherst, and Jesse Selman from the town’s Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC). It was moderated by Marisol Pierce Bonifaz from Sunrise Amherst.
Domb spoke about the power of activism for addressing climate change. She reported that several pending bills in the legislature addressing climate change would benefit from grassroots support. Domb emphasized the importance of reaching out to legislators saying “We represent you. It’s your job to tell us what we should be doing.”
Selman said that the work of ECAC is but one example of the good work going on in town right now to address the climate emergency. He emphasized that while Amherst politics can sometimes be divisive, there is plenty that we should be able to agree on and say yes to, and encouraged those assembled to look for ways that we can support each other in the important work of addressing climate change.
Vincent-Warner noted that it is her generation that experiences the climate emergency most profoundly and has the most at stake. Hence, interest in and commitment to climate action among her peers is high. She spoke about youth activism and the empowerment she experienced by becoming a climate activist at a very young age. She pointed out the intersectionality of climate justice and social, racial, and economic justice, and how work to achieve those different ends goes hand in hand.
The panel took several questions from the audience.
Someone asked about the role UMass plays in meeting the town’s climate action goals. Janet McGowan, answering from the audience, said that UMass and the colleges account for half of the carbon emissions in town and are actively engaged in their reduction. Each institution has a climate action plan posted on their website, she said. She added that they all have plans to get to Net Zero by using ground source heat pumps [geothermal energy] and solar power. Amherst College and Hampshire College are also buying solar power from Maine.
Selman added that the town should not take credit for reductions at the colleges. The town has its own climate goals and its own action plan. He pointed out that Stephanie Ciccarello, the town’s sustainability coordinator, publishes a greenhouse gas emissions inventory for the town that tracks the sources of greenhouse gas emissions and progress in addressing them.
Someone asked about the extractive nature of development and its contribution to exacerbating climate challenges in Amherst.
Selman said that we need to look at policy decisions through two lenses. First, does it improve the quality of life of residents, and second, does it reduce carbon?
Domb added the the state government is interested in how zoning can help promote both environmentally clean and fair housing.
The Amherst Climate Justice Alliance Meets monthly on Zoom. Contact the AJCA here for more information.