Title media by
Jack Aldrich

Extinction Rebellion (XR), a climate activism group focused on bringing intensive action to the forefront of climate policy, has been staked out in front of the Massachusetts State House since July 2023 in a monthslong demonstration. The group has been protesting against the state government’s allowance of continued integration of fossil fuel infrastructure.

The group has engaged in a variety of actions to bring state legislators’ attention to the harms of fossil fuels, including demonstrations outside of the State House featuring music, dance and signage. All protestors are volunteers who sign up with XR and are scheduled for certain times to ensure constant turn-out. Julie Hanson, an organizer with the Boston branch of Extinction Rebellion, said that the group makes space for the individuals looking to support the cause. 

“It's a forum for people to express their creativity, or for them to just come and have a quiet moment,” Hanson said. “[Volunteers can] take some time to contemplate and put their own body out in public, which is sometimes a scary thing to do. But [volunteers can] practice being determined and committed to this cause.”

The group has been demonstrating daily in front of the State House regardless of weather conditions, according to Hanson, and the group celebrated 101 days of continuous protests on Oct. 27. At a protest Sep. 20 during XR’s “Week of Rebellion”—a weeklong series of protests— Hanson said the group’s members were boosting morale and gearing up for more protests.

“This was a celebration of the persistence that we've had so far, and [we’re] gunning up for continuing into the fall season,” Hanson said on the 75th day of protest. “We plan to be here until the governor commits to no new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

A sign erected outside the General Hooker Entrance at the Massachusetts State House, calling for awareness of the climate crisis and to end the integration of fossil fuel infrastructure (Burning Rose Photo: Sep. 19, 2023 // Jack Aldrich).

Still, the group has been successful in arranging a meeting with Massachusetts Climate Chief Melissa Hoffer, where Hoffer revealed that the state is not on track to meet 2030 emission goals. Hoffer is the first person to hold the position of Massachusetts Climate Chief, which was created by a Jan. 2023 executive order from Gov. Maura Healey. Hoffer has since published a report stating Massachusetts must decrease reliance on the state’s fossil fuels. The report also criticized Mass Save, an assembly of Massachusetts energy providers that—despite its claims—Hoffer says is more focused on reducing energy costs than transitioning to cleaner energy.

XR is pushing Healey to make a public, binding commitment to ending new integration of fossil fuel use in the state, including power plants and residential connections. The organization has additionally been targeting specific projects, such as the NEC Liquified Natural Gas Facility, which will establish a connection between the Tennessee Natural Gas Pipeline Company and the town of Charlton. The pipeline will serve to bring more natural gas to the town through a new pipeline and facility.

Natural gas is ranked as the primary energy source in the state according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with transportation the top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The state ranked 34th highest in the country for energy-related carbon emissions in 2021, producing 51.6 million metric tons of carbon emissions. Massachusetts saw a 24% drop in carbon equivalent emissions from 2005 to 2018, but more aggressive actions must be implemented to stay on track with state goals.

Data from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs showing the progression in greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts from 1990 to 2018, along with goal emission rates in line with the Paris Agreement and the Global Warming Solutions Act. (2023, Mass.gov).
Data from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs showing trends in the greatest contributors to Massachusetts greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2018. Notably, data on industrial, agricultural and waste emissions are not included. (2023, Mass.gov.)

State House staff have also told Hanson that the ongoing protests have gained attention inside the legislature.

“We've had lots of conversations over the months with people who work here—staff—who have told us that [the protests are] really ruffling feathers,” Hanson said. “Our governor ran on climate as the number one platform, and the things that she's doing are way too little, way too late.”

Since being elected, Healey has shown inclinations toward greener infrastructure, but has not taken the decisive actions required to meet the gravity of the climate crisis. Aside from establishing the Climate Chief position, Healey has announced an application for $250 million in federal funding to increase use of wind and solar energy in Massachusetts. On June 13, Healey announced the creation of the Massachusetts Community Climate Bank, a green bank financing affordable, low-emission housing.

In regards to the state’s response to the climate crisis, Hanson cited the Act Creating Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, which was signed into law March 2021 by former governor Charlie Baker. The act promises to achieve net-zero emissions—the creation of no new carbon emissions—in the state by 2050. However, Massachusetts is not on track to meet these standards, according to Hanson.

“With our constant daily pressure, we are letting them know that we see that their inaction is just getting more and more obvious, and we're raising the alarm with the staff, with the legislators [and] people who come in as tourists or visitors to the statehouse,” said Hanson.

Extinction Rebellion volunteers protesting outside of the Massachusetts State House Sep. 19, speaking out against Massachusetts's continued use of fossil fuels in the face of a worsening climate crisis. Volunteers from the climate activist organization have been assembling daily outside the State House since July to bring legislators' and public attention to the group's cause. (Burning Rose Photo: Sep. 19, 2023 // Jack Aldrich).

The threat of anthropogenic climate change to human survival and global ecosystems is becoming increasingly clear. Carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas contributing to the warming atmosphere, reached 424 parts per million in May 2023, exceeding atmospheric levels present for the past several million years. Climate change threatens to melt polar ice caps, acidify and warm the planet’s oceans, destabilize global climate patterns, contribute to biodiversity loss and irrevocably alter the state of humanity and every living species on planet Earth.

Due to reliance on increasing volumes of fossil fuels, greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise. Even with the immediate, extreme action called for by groups like Extinction Rebellion, global populations will be hard-pressed to avoid the worst of climate change’s impacts.

XR continues to fight against the use of fossil fuels within the state, including through demonstrations at TD Bank. XR protesters were also seen disrupting Gov. Healey’s Climatetech Summit speech Nov. 2, which was hosted at Greentown Labs, a Somerville-based climate-tech start-up largely funded by Shell.

“The governor is in a place of power that the people of Massachusetts have put her in, trusting that she's going to do the right thing,” Hanson said. “We acknowledge that this transition is not going to be easy—it's going to require courage and a lot of leadership. But this is the situation that we're in, having ignored the warnings and the scientists for decades. We need our leaders to take really decisive action.”