Current Board of Selectmen member and past Natural Resources Commission member Lise Olney proposed this week that Wellesley resolve to address the “climate emergency” facing the town (and beyond). It’s a chance for the Board of Selectmen and town government to make a bold leadership move, she says.
Acknowledging that the proposal is coming rather late in the process to fill out the warrant to be discussed at Town Meeting in the Spring, Olney said she “felt compelled to offer it for your consideration because of a mounting sense of urgency I’m hearing and I’m certainly feeling myself” in light of one dire report after another about the environment being released.
She emphasized that the resolution would not be a commentary on the many positive efforts taken by and in the town to address greenhouse gas emissions reduction.
“This language of ‘climate emergency’ I think is really helpful because it accurately describes the situation that we’re facing,” Olney says. “It offers Town Meeting an opportunity to take collective responsibility for making a focused statement on what kind of action we think is necessary to address this emergency.” It doesn’t obligate the town to take any specific actions, however, she adds.
Olney says she was inspired to word the resolution as she did because the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts has called upon communities to make declarations of climate emergency, and Amherst and Worcester have already done so. (Wellesley Township in Ontario has also declared it is facing a climate emergency, by the way.)
Dozens of medical associations have also urged such actions, Olney says. What’s more, residents have spoken up, including those who attended a climate rally at Town Hall in September. Olney argues that the term “climate emergency” is not controversial, and has been used by the United Nations, European Union and others.
More than half a dozen Wellesley residents spoke on the subject, including a couple of middle school students, one of whom urged action “before getting to a point of no return.”
Scott Bender, who has served on Wellesley’s Sustainable Energy Committee and supports putting a climate emergency or urgency article on the warrant, says many residents and businesses in town aren’t aware that Wellesley already has a greenhouse gas reduction goal “and that our progress has been stuck for about 5 years.” He asked: “When does it become a priority?”
The Board of Selectmen agreed that putting an article on the warrant is a good idea, but still needs to sort out the right language. BoS member Beth Sullivan Woods would like to see a certain level of “concreteness” in the wording, so that the community is clear on what actions need to be taken. She suggested, for example, that building content into the school curriculum could have big payoffs down the road since “children drive behavioral change.”
Update: A few days after the BoS meeting, the Natural Resources Commission approved a motion on declaring a Climate Emergency independent of the Selectmen.