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Beyond Gas

Massachusetts Residents Seek Climate Superheroes in the State Legislature


With the the power of markers, feathers, and construction paper, 79 Massachusetts residents urged representatives to find their inner climate superhero at April’s Climate Action Call. Members of Mothers Out Front, 350 Massachusetts, the Sierra Club, and other allies learned how gas utility companies continue to block Massachusetts’ path to a fossil-fuel-free future. To inspire their legislators to fight for real climate solutions, they mailed handwritten notes and homemade superhero masks to the State House.

Climate Action Calls give participants information about critical climate issues, time to take meaningful action, and the chance to connect with fellow advocates, all in less than an hour. Massachusetts residents can keep sending masks and notes to their state representatives over the next month using tools provided by Mothers Out Front. This event continues the Burning Question legislative campaign, which is supported by Mothers Out Front, the Sierra Club, 350 Massachusetts, and 12 other climate advocacy organizations.

The Burning Question

Diane Sokal from Mothers Out Front kicked off the event with this burning question: will the gas utility companies decide our climate future? Roger Rosen—a member of the planning team of CLIMATE COURAGE, 350 Massachusetts’ direct action working group—reminded participants of fossil fuel companies’ history of hiding climate reality and obstructing attempts to address it. He highlighted the importance of collective action to confront the climate crisis, noting that “grassroots organizing is powerful. In fact, it is the only thing that really scares the fossil fuel industry.”

As a climate activist, Rosen has been arrested for blocking a coal train and was part of the resistance to the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota. Last month, he was one of six hunger strikers protesting the construction of the Peabody Peaker Plant. “It’s in these local battles over the policies and practices of the fossil fuel industry, including the gas utilities, that we will impact the climate emergency for better or worse,” he added.

Exposing Greenwashed, False Solutions

Christine Zendeh from 350 Massachusetts described the tactics gas utility companies are using locally to keep Massachusetts yoked to fossil fuels and delay meaningful action on climate change. The state-mandated decarbonization plans produced by Massachusetts gas utility companies—which include National Grid, Eversource, Berkshire Gas, Liberty, and Unitil—rely on what they term “green hydrogen” and “renewable natural gas.” These companies are working to convince the public that these fuels are good solutions for carbon-free energy. In reality, these energy sources are toxic, explosive, and climate-warming. “Renewable natural gas” is methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Zendeh noted Massachusetts ratepayers would bear the costs of developing hydrogen and biogas and of upgrading gas pipes, which continuously leak methane into the atmosphere and will cost up to $40 billion to repair.

“We know what we need to do to stop climate change,” she said. “We need to electrify, we need to build more clean, renewable energy, and we need electricity storage. We want clean, safe, renewable heat, and we want it to be affordable to everyone.”

Clean Heat Technology Exists Today

Zendeh explained that technology that supports this goal exists today. All-electric air-and-ground source heat pumps can provide efficient heating, and as more renewable energy is fed into the electric grid, these systems become more sustainable and affordable to operate.

Networked ground source heat systems, also called geogrids, are a way for utility companies to heat and cool whole neighborhoods in a clean and efficient way and to eliminate the need to operate gas lines, which would stop methane leaks.

Gas companies and their lobbyists, however, are working with fossil fuel industry groups, and the real estate industry to fight these solutions. Climate activists had hoped that the Massachusetts Senate would help stop fossil fuel use in buildings in their recent climate bill (S.2819), but the Senate ultimately focused on clean energy and transportation, with only limited attention paid to the building sector.

Asking Legislators to Back Utility-scale Clean Heat, Focused on Environmental Justice

Advocates are now urging Massachusetts House of Representatives to support utility-scale geothermal projects and retrofitting homes for clean, safe, and efficient heat, especially for low-income residents and in environmental justice communities.

“This is our burning question to legislators: which side are you on?” Zendeh said. “Are you on the side of the fossil fuel companies or will you fight for safe, healthy homes?”

Sokal added that advocates need to arm their representatives with knowledge of the dangerous climate future the gas utility companies are planning for our climate future. “We need to remind them of their power and their ability to make positive change in our world,” she said. “And any child can tell you that climate heroes will also need a mask!”

Artistic Activism

With this charge, participants got out their art supplies to make masks and write notes encouraging their representatives to speak to House leaders about passing more climate legislation this year, particularly about the gas utility companies. Sokal also encouraged people to share photos of themselves and their kids wearing their masks on social media.

Participants expressed their appreciation for the event in the Zoom chat box. “This is brilliant!” wrote Pamela Dritt, who is part of the Concord chapter of Mothers Out Front. “It’s colorful, positive, newsworthy—if we can get enough legislators wearing the masks, it might even make corporate news.”

Mothers Out Front organizer Laura Davis encouraged participants to get their friends and family—including kids and grandkids—involved in creating masks and notes for legislators. She suggested people organize mask-making parties with other climate groups, with faith communities, and even at the local playground. “We need a lot of climate superheroes to join us in this fight,” she said. “This is a fun action that people can do together.”

Join us in taking action for the climate!

Join Mothers Out Front on Thursday, May 19, 12:00-12:45 pm to take action for a livable climate! No prior experience or knowledge is necessary—Mothers Out Front organizers will provide the background and tools needed during the event. Register here.

Michelle Scott is a volunteer with Mothers Out Front in Medford, Massachusetts. She is a transportation planner and mom to an energetic two-year-old explorer.