T he COVID- 19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of large gatherings that had been planned around the 50th anniversaryof Earth Day to address climate change andpromote environmental activism. But the workitself continues — and the MTA’s Climate ActionNetwork is in the thick of it.
There are now more than 160 MTA membersparticipating in the network, including a coregroup of about two dozen educators that has beenorganizing fellow MTA members to take action onclimate change.
Because of the network’s advocacy, the MTAsupported last year’s youth climate strikes and signedon as a sponsor of Earth Day 2020 Boston.
Michael Kozuch, a high school history teacherin Newton, played a leading role in developing plansfor Earth Day events in Boston. Kozuch, who alsooffers a course on sustainability, reduced his teachingload to focus on organizing rallies and teach-ins tospan a week of action that was to have started onApril 18.
But by the end of March, when it became clearthat large public events would not be possible as aresult of the coronavirus crisis, Kozuch had pulledtogether an online meeting of student activists andmembers of environmental groups who had beeninvolved in the planning for Earth Day.
Although the meeting began with a tone ofdisappointment, it ultimately blossomed into anenthusiastic brainstorming session about ways touse social media platforms to promote the Earth Daymessage of activism to protect the environment.
“I was surprised and then encouraged by thelevel of support people voiced to keep going despitethe incredible disruption in everyone’s lives,”Kozuch said.
He was not surprised that students took thelead in designing the new digital format. As MTAToday went to press, the organizers were planninga Facebook Live event on April 18 and an ongoingcampaign to post nature photos with the hashtags#earthday2020boston, #earthrise and #strikewithuson social media sites.
Kozuch, who was born the day after the firstEarth Day, which was held in 1970, has beenteaching a course on sustainability for a dozen years.Upon noticing his students’ eyes opening wider andwider with each class, he concluded that more socialaction was needed.
“Part of my teaching the course is empoweringstudents and letting them know that their voicesmatter,” Kozuch said.
He likened the organizing surrounding climateaction today to the activism that grew around othermovements, such as opposition to the VietnamWar, the environmental awareness campaigns ofthe 1970s, and fights for the civil rights of peoplediscriminated against based on race, gender andsexual orientation.
“Young people have always had to push the
adults to listen,” Kozuch said. “Once again, we are
seeing young people make a difference.”
Simone Klein is a senior in Kozuch’s
sustainability course. She said that at first, she was
disappointed when the plans for in-person Earth Day
events had to be canceled.
“Planning a big event, though, I’ve been
learning how to be flexible,” Klein said. “We are
making an active choice to keep going. If climate
justice is important, we just need to decide what we
Part of her motivation to keep working on a
virtual Earth Day program involves the fact that so
many of her peers — not just her fellow students in
the sustainability course — see climate action as a
crucial issue. More people are recognizing climate
change as a universal problem, Klein said.
She said that in addition to posting photos onsocial media that promote environmental awareness,she was most looking forward to creating Earth Daychalk murals, especially at her high school — whileemploying all of the necessary social distancing, ofcourse.
“It will be great to bring back life to the school,”she said.
Likewise, the Climate Action Network is keepingalive its ambitious plan to deepen environmentalawareness and activism within the MTA.
The network has four areas of focus:
n Supporting student actions such as climatestrikes.
n Developing “green” contract language to bringto the bargaining table.
n Creating a broad array of curricular materialsnot only to educate students at all levels, but also toeducate fellow educators on climate change.
n Forming coalitions across environmental andlabor groups.
Climate Action Network member Craig Slatin, aretired UMass Lowell professor, said that one priorityis building consensus among coalition partners fora unified position on cohesive legislative action thatmoves the country toward a Green New Deal.
There already has been some success, Slatinnoted, in crafting contract language that encouragessustainability, including moving toward moreenergy-efficient workplaces.
As public funds are diverted to address thedamage wrought by climate change, that will havean impact on how public education is funded in thefuture, Slatin said. That is another reason educatorsshould be actively working to mitigate the problemsarising from global warming and pollution, headded.
“The coronavirus crisis is showing us in the
short term the impact of a global crisis,” Slatin said.
“The climate crisis — slowly over time — will have
an even deeper impact, which is why we need to
Kozuch said he believes the pandemic will
inspire people to behave differently.
“In every tragedy, there are opportunities torethink how we move forward,” he said. “The currentcrisis is getting us to rethink how we organize asa society and should be getting us to think how tomake our society more sustainable.”
MTA Today File Photo by Scott McLennan
The MTA supported the Global Climate Strike held on Sept. 20, 2019, which drew numerous
educators to Boston’s City Hall Plaza. As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day,
more than 160 members are participating in the MTA Climate Action Network.