State’s new climate czar holds court with WMass activists, announces new Youth Climate Council

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 04-25-2023 3:39 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A day after announcing the creation of a new state Youth Climate Council during a visit to Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton on Sunday, the state’s new climate czar held court with activists from across western Massachusetts assembled online Monday night.

Melissa Hoffer used the 90-minute session to answer a bevy of questions and talk up the importance of youth in addressing climate change. The state’s first-ever climate chief, a former member of the Environmental Protection Agency appointed on Gov. Maura Healey’s first day in office in January, is tasked with overseeing all state government departments to ensure they meet objectives for sustainability and combating climate change.

Hoffer visited the region last weekend as a guest at the Youth Climate Festival, held Sunday at Arcadia. While there she announced the creation of the Youth Climate Council, a group of soon-to-be-selected high school students who will regularly meet with Hoffer to discuss climate-related issues.

“The perspectives of young people are vital to this work,” said Hoffer in a statement. “These youth are the leaders today, and they will be the leaders of tomorrow. These are the people who will be living with the decisions we make today, and we need them at the table.”

At Monday’s virtual meeting, Ollie Perrault, an Easthampton High School student and member of the group Youth Climate Action Now, introduced Hoffer to the more than 50 people in attendance, saying that the group had been working with the climate chief over the past several months to build an engagement model to get more youth involved with her office.

“We are planning to work with Chief Hoffer to amplify the voices of young people, and climate policy change on a statewide level,” Perrault said. “We know that this generation will go on to push Massachusetts to even greater goals in the future.”

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Perrault last fall received the Celtics’ “Heroes Among Us” award, an honor Healey presented to the high schooler at center court.

At Monday’s meeting, Hoffer spoke about how the state aims to achieve climate goals on all fronts, including in sectors not generally associated with climate, such as housing.

“We need to decarbonize all of the buildings and we need to be focused on residential, with some rare exceptions,” she said. “We’re going to be focusing first on our efforts when it comes to how we’re financing that, to look at affordable housing and moderate- to low-income housing. We want to make sure that those folks are going to be taken care of.”

Hoffer also said the sustainability goals tied into those regarding racial justice for Black and Hispanic residents and workers, both in the state and across the nation, citing an EPA study done early in the Biden administration.

“If you are Black or African American living in the United States, you are much more likely to live in an area that’s going to have these impacts associated with temperature-related deaths,” she said. “If you are Hispanic or Latino, because of the type of work that you are typically doing, you’re in the construction trades perhaps, or in agriculture, you’re much more likely to be impacted by high heat when you’re working outside.”

She also acknowledged the difficulty of achieving goals related to decarbonization, contrasting it with similar concerns in the 1990s about depletion of the ozone layer.

“Look around the room you’re in, anything you touch, it’s all carbon,” Hoffer said. “There’s embodied carbon emissions in everything and it’s a very difficult problem. It’s a huge shift and it has enormous economic impacts on people, but it’s not just money. These are pocketbook issues that affect how people live, and what they can eat and how they’re going to put their kids through school.”

According to the terms of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the nations of the world have pledged to keep a rise in mean global temperature to under 2 degrees Celsius. Hoffer noted that even if this goal is met, there would still be “profound disruption” in the world’s climate landscape.

“Every tenth of a degree matters tremendously in terms of its humanitarian impact,” she said. “Ollie was talking earlier about what motivates us, what gives us hope. My hope is that all of our efforts together can help us avoid those tenths of degree increases.”

High school students interesting in applying to be a part of the Youth Climate Council can do so at mass.gov/forms/apply-for-the-youth-climate-council. Applications are being accepted from high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors. The deadline to apply is May 19.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

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