STUDENT CONVERSATIONS ON CLIMATE CHANGE: MEET AND GREET

By Clara Schneider, Rachel Barglow, Tamaki Sugihara

On July 19, 2021, we met with 15 diverse Arlington organizations in a meet and greet via Zoom. This meet and greet allowed us to interact and learn from members of these organizations about their various goals and achievements. Organizations in attendance included groups focused on eliminating waste, groups with a focus on organized activism, organizations with an emphasis on environmental equity, groups that protect open spaces, and many more.

Food Links and Zero Waste Arlington both share a theme of waste reduction. Food Links is a nonprofit organization that tackles the environmental consequences of wasting food; food waste generates seven percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Food Links redistributes food to low-income individuals and vulnerable populations. On the other hand, Zero Waste Arlington, colloquially known as the ZWA, is a volunteer committee appointed to advise the town by advocating for Massachusetts’ goal of municipal solid waste reduction; recycling is their major focus, but they have other campaigns to reduce plastic, promote repair and reuse, and raise awareness.

Several groups talked about their campaigns to raise awareness on the urgency of the climate crisis. The world-wide organization Extinction Rebellion practices non-violent civil disobedience and uses art and theater during protests organized by local chapters, including one based in Boston. In Arlington, a combination of volunteers from Extinction Rebellion and other activists joined together to convince the Town Meeting Members and Select Board to declare a Climate Emergency in Arlington. The Arlington chapter of Mothers Out Front organizes protests, but also focuses on passing legislation at a local level. Sustainable Arlington focuses on local policies and regulations as well, but uses public events to bring attention to climate issues. They recently campaigned for rules banning new gas hookups in larger developments.

Thoughts from the Arlington Human Rights Commission and the Arlington Tree Committee presented the relationship between equity and climate change. Representatives from both groups expressed concerns about the connection between tree canopy density and hot zones in Arlington. Trees reduce urban heat island effect and keep areas cooler by providing shade. Hot zones often appear in lower-income communities where fewer trees are planted, illustrating the exacerbated effects climate change often has on marginalized groups.

Coming from a different perspective, a number of groups have focused on the preservation of local open spaces and nature sanctuaries. Attendees with this focus included the Friends of Spy Pond, Mystic Charles Pollinator Pathways, Mystic River Watershed Association, and the Arlington Open Space Committee. The groups listed work on tasks such as improving water quality, protecting wildlife, and restoring parks.

Many other groups from the surrounding area interested in collaborating with us and concerned about the climate crisis also attended, such as East Arlington Livable Streets, Green Cambridge, and the Unitarian Universalist Church Climate Working Group.

Even in such a short meeting with a tightly packed agenda, we had the opportunity for interesting discussions in breakout rooms and in the chat. Several attendees gave us ideas for trail markers for our project, and others provided insight on effective ways to design them. We cannot even begin to imagine the amazing content we would think up together if we had more time!

While many organizations had overlapping memberships and a history of collaboration, some had never even heard of each other. This meet and greet event helped strengthen existing ties and assisted in the formation of new ones. We were impressed to hear about so many different organizations, and the gathering reiterated that there is a place in the environmental movement for everyone. Arlington has groups that do everything from sit-ins to street cleaning, all working together to make Arlington, and our future, as sustainable as possible.