NORTHAMPTON — Climate change and immigration are very much related, residents said in public comment during a City Council meeting on Thursday.
Climate activist Marty Nathan referred to a climate change-driven drought in Guatemala, and how it’s dealt a major blow to the country’s economy and driven its residents to the U.S. for employment. This type situation, organizers said, underscores two points: that climate change is the prevailing issue facing the world, and that undocumented immigrants here in the U.S. deserve compassion and respect.
“Many of the people we are seeing in the United States now — they are climate refugees,” Nathan said. “There’s a linkage here.”
Residents made these points before the City Council unanimously passed two resolutions in first reading. One urged the state legislature to pass the Safe Communities Act, a bill that would make policies held in many sanctuary cities the law of the commonwealth. The other urges state lawmakers to “establish carbon pollution pricing to curb climate change.”
“We don’t have time to kick this down the road,” said another climate activist, Lilly Lombard. “Every other problem will be a footnote in history if we don’t act.”
Ward 7 Councilor Alisa Klein, a co-sponsor on both resolutions, said the Safe Communities Act would protect undocumented immigrants from illegal search and seizure and ensure their due process at the state level. The state bill would also prohibit the use of state resources toward any Muslim registry and prohibit police from participating in immigration enforcement activities based solely on immigration status.
As for the climate resolution Klein said the fact that Scott Pruitt, a man who’s worked “arm-in-arm” with big oil, heads the EPA is proof enough “we have to act locally.” She said there are currently two bills that would address carbon pricing at the state level.
“There are known costs to extracting fossil fuels that have not been reflected in the way they are priced,” said Ward 2 Councilor Dennis Bidwell, another co-sponsor of the resolution, adding that the state bills would make a step toward rectifying that.
Residents in the audience heartily agreed that the impetus to act on these issues has to come from states and municipalities.
Susan Voss, an engineering professor at Smith College who says she researches climate change regularly for her work, said climate change is getting ahead of us and the time to depend on the Environmental Protection Agency has passed.
“Every time I read about it, it’s happening faster than scientists said a year ago,” she said. “It’s clear we can’t wait around for the EPA to be fixed.”
While the approved resolutions do not carry the weight of law, Council President Bill Dwight said, change starts small. He said representatives like Jim McGovern rely on such “aspirational documents” to make their case in Congress.
“This is the state where equal marriage was started,” he said. “This has value, despite the fact there are people who might claim otherwise.”
Amanda Drane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.