Youth rally to fight ‘another pandemic’: environmental injustice

  • A youth-led protest for environmental justice took place in downtown Northampton on Sunday.  GRETA JOCHEM

  • A youth-led protest for environmental justice took place in downtown Northampton on Sunday, July 19.  GRETA JOCHEM

Staff Writer
Published: 7/19/2020 6:24:40 PM

NORTHAMPTON — “What’s climate justice?” Mavis Rudof, a 14-year-old Williamsburg resident, shouted to a crowd of protesters in Pulaski Park Sunday afternon. “Racial justice,” the crowd responded.

Chanting “climate justice now” and “Black lives matter,” the group of about 100 people gathered in Pulaski Park and marched in the street downtown calling for the passage of state legislation that would address environmental justice. Signs read “System change not climate change!” and “The only ICE I want to see is in the Arctic.”

The event was organized by local chapters of the Sunrise Movement — a youth climate advocacy group that does work across the country — and there were many young people in the crowd.

“We will never achieve racial justice until we achieve climate justice,” said Haven Vincent-Warner, 16, of South Deerfield, speaking to the crowd. Referencing a 2015 report from Oxfam, she said that the poorest half of the world, about 3.5 billion people, creates just 10% of global emissions through individual consumption, while wealthier people are responsible for a disproportionately high volume of emissions.

Correspondingly, people of color are more likely to be exposed to the detrimental effects of atmospheric pollution.

“Black communities are much more likely to be located near plants that expose them to higher levels of pollution that are unhealthy to consume,” Thomas Coulouras, an 18-year-old march organizer from Longmeadow, said in an interview Friday.

People of color on average are more exposed to fine particulate matter, which can be harmful, a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found. Similarly, “On average, communities of color in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic breathe 66 percent more air pollution from vehicles than white residents,” a Union of Concerned Scientists analysis from 2019 concluded.

Rudof said Springfield has a high rate of emergency room visits for asthma. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America named the city the top “asthma capital” in the U.S. in 2019 based on its asthma-related emergency room visits, among other factors.

The youth organizers advocated for specific state legislation to address environmental justice. They support “An Act Re-powering Massachusetts with 100 Percent Renewable Energy,” House Bill 2836, which would, among other actions, transition the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

The group also called for the passage of “An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions,” House Bill 2810, which would enact fees on greenhouse gas pollution, and “An Act Relative to Environmental Justice in the Commonwealth,” House Bill 4264 and Senate Bill 453.

In the midst of the pandemic and nationwide protests against police brutality and racism, working for environmental justice is important, Coulouras said. “We have to continue this fight because this is another pandemic that we have in addition to COVID-19.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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