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Weekend conference in Springfield aims to rally racial, economic diverse groups to address climate change

A climate conference this weekend seeks to bring racially and economically diverse communities together to focus on how much climate change connects all people.

The Climate Justice Conference is a collaborative effort among three nonprofit groups: Climate Action Now Western Massachusetts, Arise for Social Justice and the Springfield chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The free conference will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Trinity United Methodist Church, 361 Sumner Ave. in Springfield. Organizers changed the location of this second annual event from Amherst to Springfield to draw attention to what they believe is that city’s need for a climate action plan.

Climate Action Now Western Massachusetts is a grassroots community organization dedicated to public education and action to stop climate change. Arise for Social Justice and the NAACP are civil rights organizations dedicated to protect the rights of low-income citizens and African-Americans.

They have joined with Climate Action Now to challenge the idea that climate activists come only from middle-class backgrounds and to promote climate change action among low-income people.

“Usually those who are most affected by this change are people who are poor, homeless or at risk,” said Susan Theberge, one of the event’s organizers associated with Climate Change Now. “Low-income folks are also very, very involved. It’s become a really powerful movement in the state.”

“Over 200 people showed up last year, ranging from low-income folk to students,” Theberge said of the session in Amherst. “We have every group you can imagine. We’re trying to bring people together from different communities and encourage them to do things that impact the speed of climate change”

To do this, the conference will offer incentives. Organizers will provide homemade baked goods and coffee for breakfast, childcare for those who need it and a homemade lunch for those who attend.

They will also provide interactive workshops on the impact of climate change in the availability, quality and price of food purchased in the region.

“We’re hoping to bring farmworkers into this conversation,” said Theberge. “Changing the way that food is grown and transported can slow the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the speed at which climate change happens.”

Other workshop topics are public transportation and industrial and military pollution and their effects on public health.

“One of out seven children in Springfield suffers from asthma and other respiratory problems,” said Michaelann Bewsee, one of the event’s organizers associated with Arise for Social Justice. “We’re the third biggest city in Massachusetts, and we don’t have an action plan. If we made ourselves a green city, more people would want to come visit us.”

The conference, organizers said, is the continuation of an effort to rally people demanding climate change action.

“We come together to answer what’s next,” Theberge said. “I’m no scientist and I’m seeing it with my own eyes. This is an emergency. We need to come together now. We need to come together in masses.”

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