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Regional News

No Longer ‘Watching The Barn Burn’ — Global Climate Group Comes To Western Mass.

Students and climate activists across western Massachusetts are preparing to join in a week of global protests at the end of September. They’re calling on governments to respond more urgently to the climate crisis.

Among the groups is Extinction Rebellion, or XR, which came to global prominence when thousands of protesters shut down major London arteries for over a week last April. At one location, XR members blocked traffic with a pink sailboat. Over 1,000 protesters were arrested during 10 days of mass disruption.

The London actions were the first time Adrie Rose, of Northampton, had ever heard of Extinction Rebellion. 

“The sheer volume of people was really impressive to me,” Rose said.

Rose is now an organizer in the Western Mass. chapter of Extinction Rebellion. She promotes nonviolent civil disobedience under a theory — frequently espoused by XR members — that engagement from a relatively small percentage of a nation’s population can initiate massive social change.  

“So you have 3.5% of people who are literally out in the streets making disruption happen,” Rose said. “No large institution, including governments, can withstand that pressure for very long.”

Extinction Rebellion has spread rapidly since its inception in the UK less than a year ago. There are now chapters in dozens of countries across the globe.

Lucian Stone recently helped found an XR chapter in the Berkshires.

“I stood there for decades and known there was a problem and I've been watching the barn burn,” Stone said. “And I don't like that. I can't. My conscience has gotten to a point where I can't do that anymore.” 

Last June, Stone and other XR members blocked the entrance to a natural gas industry conference in Boston. 

“They arrested us, took us away," Stone said. "But there was also a brass band, which was really cool. It was a spectacle.” 

Members of Extinction Rebellion know how to turn a protest into a party. They also have a knack — at their frequent public talks — for using scientific facts to scare the living daylight out of people.

At the Pittsfield Public Library in mid-August, XR member Rafael Ubal spoke to a crowd of about 30 listeners. He cited climate research that predicts an average yearly global temperature increase of between 2 and 4.9 degrees celsius by the end of the century — unless global carbon emissions are curbed immediately.

“A global temperature increase within this range is expected to have horrendous consequences within the lifetime of today’s children, ranging from catastrophic to existential,” Ubal told the audience.

Jina Ford, of Williamstown, was listening.

“I’m going to have trouble with civil disobedience,” Ford said after the talk. “That’s not my comfort area. But I do see that we have to make a difference.”

Ford said she appreciated one of the distinguishing features of Extinction Rebellion, the group’s commitment to embracing the strong emotions people may have in relation to the climate crisis.

“I thought the part on grieving was very real,” Ford said. “It’s very hard to see what’s happening, and to think about my grandchildren having to deal with it. And I have to do something.”

Extinction Rebellion’s first actions in western Massachusetts are planned for late September, beginning with protests and a staged funeral on the UMass Amherst campus.

The actions will coincide with the youth-led Global Climate Strike, a movement inspired by the weekly school strikes of sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. 

Kala Garrido, a sophomore at Hampshire Regional High School, is an organizer for the local strikes. She too said she’s motivated, in part, by grief.

“I was sitting down and I watched Greta Thunberg's speech to the EU and I just sat and cried over this,” Garrido said. “That was the day that I signed up to join this leadership team helping to organize this strike.”

Garrido’s group, Youth Climate Strike, has chartered three buses to Boston for this Friday. They expect hundreds of western Mass. students to join their peers across the world in striking from school and demanding government action.

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