XR Boston disrupts screening of climate documentary, demands Climate Chief Hoffer immediately ban new fossil fuel infrastructure

On Thursday February 1st, 16 climate activists from Extinction Rebellion Boston (XR) disrupted a moderated discussion with Climate Chief Melissa Hoffer, which took place after a screening of the documentary Inundation District (1) by David Abel, contributing reporter with the Boston Globe, and Ted Blanco, producer and videographer. The documentary is a frank look at the future of the Seaport District of Boston, which is built at sea level in a flood zone, without zoning or other measures needed to withstand the rising sea level and more intense floods caused by climate change. Climate scientists are warning that the future of the Seaport is at risk, raising doubts about both the explosive growth in the area, and the billions of public funds that have been poured into its construction.(2)

Disrupting the post-film discussion, one activist stood up from his seat in the audience and asked Climate Chief Hoffer what actions the Healey administration will be taking in response to the facts gleaned from the documentary the Climate Chief and activists had just watched together. Once the question was asked, other activists in the audience stood, revealing themselves to be wearing small banners with messages like, "2050 is too late" and "Chief Hoffer, Do Your Job." Meanwhile, another crowd of fellow activists stood outside the large windows of WBUR CitySpace holding banners reading, "No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure".

Climate Chief Hoffer deflected the question, saying that "I can't think of a more robust strategy than we have right now for decarbonization." The representative from XR Boston reiterated its demand that the Healey administration ban new fossil fuel infrastructure, including airport expansions and new building gas connections. He emphasized that banning new fossil fuel infrastructure is a small first step to the necessary goal of zero carbon emissions by 2030. Hoffer refused to comment on the "net zero by 2030" state commitment, and activists continued to question her until moderators ended the panel.

"One year into Governor Healey's administration, and there has been almost zero meaningful climate action," said Julia Hansen, one of the the protest's organizers. "What is the point of appointing a Climate Chief if the administration decides to ignore climate science and allow the continued build-out of new fossil fuel infrastructure that will last for decades, at a time when we need to decarbonize our economy as fast as possible to avoid the worst effects of climate change?"

XR Boston is not in any way protesting the documentary which preceded the moderated discussion, and offers their appreciation and admiration to the creators. XR Boston's 2021 protest of the ongoing construction (3) and spending in the Seaport is briefly featured in the film, of which XR Boston is appreciative.

Extinction Rebellion Boston demands that the Healey administration ban new fossil fuel infrastructure in Massachusetts by immediately taking the following steps:

  • Issue a public announcement that the Governor is committed to a No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure policy for the Commonwealth, including new natural gas hookups and airfield expansions
  • Issue a public commitment that the Governor will only appoint anti-new fossil fuel infrastructure policymakers to the Energy Facilities Siting Board and Department of Public Utilities, the key independent boards that permit new energy infrastructure
  • Work with Speaker Mariano and Senate President Spilka to introduce legislation that would permanently ban new natural gas hookups along with other forms of new fossil fuel infrastructure in Massachusetts

Banning new fossil fuel infrastructure includes:

  • NO new fossil fuel power plants
  • NO new residential or commercial gas connections
  • NO new or expanded natural gas distribution pipelines, transmission pipelines, or compressor stations
  • NO new liquified natural gas production facilities, storage facilities, or terminals
  • NO new gas stations or other gasoline and diesel infrastructure
  • NO new airports or airfield expansions​​​​​​​

Stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure under development includes:

  • MMWEC’s Peaker Plant in Peabody
  • NEC’s Liquified Natural Gas Facility in Charlton
  • LNG expansion to Douglas
  • L.G. Hanscom Airfield's North Airfield Development in Bedford
  • "Modernization" projects in Lowell and Worcester
  • "Reliability" projects in Western Mass. and Sharon-to-Brockton
  • The Hopkinton-Ashland Transfer Line
  • Meter stations in Longmeadow and Charlton
  • Springfield to Longmeadow natural gas pipeline
  • Enbridge's Maple Project pipeline expansion

"It's a slap in the face for Climate Chief Hoffer to panel a discussion about sea level rise when she and the Healey administration aren't doing enough to avoid what the documentary highlights," said James Comiskey, one of the disruptors. "We're here to make sure politicians don't just talk the talk; they need to walk the walk. Commonwealth residents deserve climate action in line with science and politicians who will deliver that for our safety, so we came here to demand that of Hoffer."

Following months of pressure, a meeting was arranged in August between Climate Chief Melissa Hoffer, XR members, and other representatives from the Healey administration. Hoffer acknowledged Massachusetts' inability to meet its 50% reduction in emissions target for 2030, set by the 2021 Act Creating A Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy. Despite assurances during the meeting about a forthcoming public statement opposing new fossil fuel infrastructure, neither Hoffer nor Healey have made such a statement. In September 2023, 20+ XR rebels were arrested after slow marching around South Station in the financial district of Boston, escalating their No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure campaign for the Healey administration. Meanwhile, under Governor Healey's watch, fossil fuel infrastructure construction continues, including MMWEC’s Peaker Plant in Peabody, which has been completed despite overwhelming community opposition.

For the past 35 weeks, Extinction Rebellion and allies have held an ongoing Stand-Out at the Massachusetts State House, calling on the Commonwealth to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure. XR activists previously staged a sit-in at the Governor's office in February, urging Governor Healey and Climate Chief Hoffer to publicly commit to no new fossil fuel infrastructure. During the sit-in, Hoffer briefly engaged with activists advocating for Massachusetts to lead in transitioning to a fossil-free future. In May and June, rebels disrupted House and Senate sessions. In June, activists mooned the legislature, displaying 'Stop Passing Gas' on their pert and impertinent derrieres in the Senate chamber. Ten rebels were arrested for blocking access to a private jet company at Hanscom Airfield in December 2022.

The Massachusetts State Government must align decisions with scientific consensus on the climate crisis and halt the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. New York has taken proactive steps, passing legislation last summer to ban gas connections in new buildings, promoting climate-friendly alternatives like heat pumps and induction stoves. It requires all-electric heating and cooking in new buildings shorter than seven stories by 2026, and for taller buildings by 2029. In contrast, Massachusetts approved a limited pilot program last year for only ten of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns to ban fossil fuel usage in new buildings.

As reported in the Washington Post (4), the planet marked an ominous milestone on Friday November 17: The first day global warmth crossed a threshold that climate scientists have warned could have calamitous consequences (5). Preliminary data shows global temperatures averaged more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. In case that temperature milestone could be misconstrued as a fluke, Earth passed the 2-degree threshold a second time on Saturday November 18. International scientific consensus is that the average global temperature must not rise above 1.5C in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. (6)

2023 was a stark year for climate news. Global temperatures set records in July, August, September, and October, and 2023 smashed the record for world's hottest year by "a huge margin." (7) Samantha Burgess, the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (CCCS) deputy director, said: “2023 was an exceptional year, with climate records tumbling like dominoes. Temperatures during 2023 likely exceed those of any period in at least the last 100,000 years.” (8)



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