Moving the needle on climate change by not eating

Mass. continues to build new ways to burn fossil fuels

WE HAD PROTESTED. We had lobbied, called, emailed, and written. We had marched, rallied, and chanted. We had sat in, blocked, disrupted, and gotten arrested. None of it had stopped the insanity.

So we stopped eating.

In a year when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is “code red for humanity,” at a time when Arctic and Antarctic regions are setting temperature records and ice shelves are collapsing, Massachusetts continues to build new ways to burn fossil fuels.

The poster child for this lunacy is a proposed “peaker plant” in Peabody.  The plant, which will burn oil and gas, was first planned in 2015 to generate extra energy at times of peak energy use. By 2017, 14 municipalities across the state had signed contracts with the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC,) the plant’s developer. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But in 2022, as construction begins, things have changed.  Renewable energy is far less expensive than it was.  Battery storage can meet peak energy needs. And by now we are all too aware of the climate crisis, made worse by every bit of oil or gas that we burn. The recently passed Next Generation Roadmap law, limiting emissions in the state, will eventually make the plant a stranded asset, a waste of money and carbon.

A recent study says that municipalities would spend less in the long run if they ditch their contracts, and simply buy renewable energy on the spot market. Two municipalities have already asked to exit their contracts, but cannot because no one will buy their shares. But MMWEC, though looking to build other battery storage as a separate project, insists that it will continue with the oil-and-gas powered peaker plant.  And our regional grid operator, ISO-New England, has extended an arcane regulation keeping renewable energy off our grid, favoring MMWEC’s plan.

So six of us, climate activists from across the state, went on a hunger strike in protest.  Our demands were modest: health and environmental reviews of the planned Peabody plant, and reversal of the ISO-NE regulatory decision delaying renewable energy.

We toured the municipalities that were contracted with the plant, informing residents who were largely unaware of the whole issue, as there had been no public vetting of the plan.  We called on their municipal light boards to pull out of their contracts. On Day 4, thinner than we had been, we visited MMWEC, asking to speak to someone. But we stood at the barbed-wire-topped chain link fence surrounding their offices, in vain.

At ISO-NE, we chatted with a cordial official and educated him about the effects of their ruling, but without apparent effect.  On Day 5, we showed up in South Hadley, somewhat wobbly but determined, and while there, sent our un-regards south to the proposed Eversource pipeline in Springfield — another unneeded investment in climate chaos.  By Day 8, numerous supporters joined us as “solidarity strikers,” fasting for shorter periods in support of our strike. Knowing of their fasts made our hunger easier to bear.

Despite our efforts, the Peabody peaker plant has not been canceled.  Massachusetts keeps moving us all towards climate chaos, with its attendant mass migrations, food shortages, civil conflict, and millions of deaths. So some will conclude that our strike failed. Yet our action generated much wider public awareness of this problem than had previously existed, and broad opposition to the Peabody peaker plant has grown. Our hunger strike catalyzed a public rally at which Sen. Joan Lovely of Salem and Rep. Sally Kerans of Danvers spoke of renewing their efforts on Beacon Hill to address the broken Peabody peaker project.  We moved the needle.

Meet the Author

Judith Black

Professional storyteller / Educator, Resident of Marblehead
Meet the Author

Rob Bonney

Novelist, Resident of Salem
Meet the Author

Sue Donaldson

Retired physician, Resident of Northampton
Meet the Author

Joy Gurrie

Retired, MIT, computer-aided design
Meet the Author

Nathan Phillips

Professor of environmental sciences, Boston University / Resident of Newton
Meet the Author

Roger Rosen

Singer/songwrigter / 350 Mass, Resident of Arlington
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says, “The alarm bells are deafening,” and we need to awaken those sleeping through the status quo. We will keep ringing loudly, ringing persistently, ringing until we feel secure that we have a future.

Judith Black is a Marblehead professional storyteller and educator, Rob Bonney is a novelist from Salem, Sue Donaldson is a retired physician from Northampton, Joy Currie is a retired MIT official from Ipswich, Nathan Phillips is a professor of environmental sciences from Boston University who lives in Newton, and Roger Rosen is a singer-guitarist and 350 Mass member from Arlington.