By John Hilliard
The fight against climate change is heating up in Boston’s suburbs, where environmental advocates say President Trump’s fiery rhetoric criticizing programs aiming to reduce global warming have only kindled a sense of urgency to battle the threat.
Instead of squelching interest, Trump’s rollback of federal climate programs has pushed more people to promote renewable energy use and other efforts at the local level, environmental advocates said.
“I have had friends and colleagues come out of the woodwork and write me out of the blue, and I don’t have relationships with them on sustainability issues,” said Quentin Prideaux, president of Sustainable Wellesley. “They ask, ‘What can I do?’ ”
In Wellesley, Prideaux said residents and officials are working on townwide efforts, such as reducing emissions from energy use and supporting regulations such as the ban on plastic grocery bags passed last year.
“We can’t change the world, but we can change our part of it,” Prideaux said.
Following the presidency of Barack Obama, who pushed for cleaner power plants and made the United States a signatory to the 2015 Paris agreement to combat climate change, local environmentalists were taken aback with the election of Trump and his stark pledges to undo much of his predecessor’s work.
Last month, Trump issued an executive order rolling back the Clean Power Plan, a 2015 program to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Now observers are waiting to see how Trump will handle the nation’s commitment to the Paris agreement, an international pledge by nearly 200 countries to limit warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
Trump has also sparked ire for his selection of Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt sued the agency 14 times to challenge environmental regulations.
So advocates are pushing back — not just limiting their appeals to the environment, but how climate change can affect jobs, the economy, and our lives, said Marcia Cooper, president of Green Newton.
“It impacts out health. It impacts the safety of our water, our air. What could be more important than that?” said Cooper of climate change.
That means calling for a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, no new gas pipelines, and going “full blast” on development of solar and wind power, she said.
On April 24, Green Newton will host a session with Ann Berwick, the chairwoman of the state Department of Public Utilities under former governor Deval Patrick, at the Newton Free Library. Berwick’s topic: taking action while Trump administration policies “seem to be reversing” progress in climate regulation.
The nearly 30-year-old group has about 1,500 subscribers on its e-mail list, and Cooper said that since Trump took office, those e-mails have increasingly moved from calendar items to encouraging members to contact state lawmakers and the governor’s office in support of ending the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Cooper said Governor Charlie Baker’s executive order last year to reduce the state’s contribution to global warming was a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
‘We can’t change the world, but we can change our part of it.’
“Climate change is urgent, and it shouldn’t be one or two bills passed every year,” said Cooper. “We need to get moving on this.”
In Lexington, Town Meeting approved money for an elementary school project that would include provisions for solar power if it is built. Officials are also working on efforts to move the town toward renewable sources of energy, including a solar array built on a closed town landfill.
Mark Sandeen, chairman of the Sustainable Lexington Committee, said that if the federal government won’t act on climate issues, it means cities and states must partner to make local progress.
“People are now more energized to do this; now they can’t count on action at the national level,” Sandeen said.
Michael Greis, chairman and cofounder of the Green Needham Steering Committee, said local groups can help make it easier for someone to have an immediate impact.
“We know how to do these things, you don’t have to start from scratch, and you can plug right in,” Greis said.
John Harris, cochairman of Climate Action Brookline, said there is a “new sense of urgency” since the election among environmental advocates.
“The challenge is to convince everybody [climate change] will affect you and your family personally,” Harris said.
Climate Action Brookline also offered free educational programs and activities in March and April as part of the organization’s annual Climate Week. Among the events was a guided tour of some of Brookline’s newest bicycle routes, along with ones planned for the future, to help encourage bicycling as a transportation option.
In May, Brookline Town Meeting will be asked to approve a resolution calling on the town to follow the Paris climate agreement. More than 2,500 cities have already signed onto the pledge, including about 180 in the United States, according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Harris is cosponsoring the resolution, and said it calls for the town to update a 2012 climate plan for 2018 and to review it every five years. Even if Trump rescinded the nation’s commitment to the deal, Harris said, the United States would still be represented by many of its cities.
“If the United States were to back out, that would be a terrible message to the rest of the world,” Harris said.
Steven Nutter, executive director of Green Cambridge, said dealing with worldwide warming means taking steps like consuming less energy and electing political leaders who will support taking action for the environment.
“There is no reason for anyone to sit back and say, ‘I can’t do anything about climate change,’ ” he said.
The issue of global warming has also reached the classroom. In Lexington, nearly 100 students at Clarke Middle School worked on reports arguing why they should — or should not — care about climate change.
Nineteen of the finished reports will be sent to Trump, along with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Representative Katherine Clark, according to Carolyn Sheild, a seventh-grade teacher at the school.
“As an environmentally minded science teacher, I wanted my students to be more aware of this current issue impacting them as citizens and encourage them to become better stewards of our planet,” Sheild said in a prepared statement.