A Greener Newton

by Sanjana Deshpande, Features Editor
photos contributed by Marcia Cooper

To the average Newton resident, climate change can feel like a distant thought, only existing in news reports and on social media. Because we may not experience drastic flooding or severe droughts, taking action can feel unnecessary. Local students and experts, however, would disagree.

Marcia Cooper, President of Green Newton, said that the earlier our community acts, the higher the chances are that the effects of climate change locally will not be as extreme. Her environmental nonprofit focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the Newton area. The organization offers materials on their website, webinars and e-newsletters to inform the public on ways to get started. 

“We want people to know that 60% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to how we use energy in our homes and how we transport ourselves,” she said. “We’re trying to educate the city to the best of our ability on how they can take action in their own practices.”

‘16 graduate Liza Sockwell is the founder of the 4C Tree Project, which, starting in 2021, began planting trees to honor Newton residents who lost their lives to COVID-19. In collaboration with Green Newton, Sockwell brought the project to life, offering a way to commemorate the coronavirus’s toll while fostering a greener community.

“Everyone at Green Newton was super responsive and kind when I reached out and proposed the idea of a COVID-19 tree memorial,” she said. “That’s when I really started working on the idea of the tree memorial. It took a lot of collaboration and innovation to make the memorial a reality, and Green Newton was very helpful with that.”

Ron Blau is a member of the Newton Node of the climate action organization 350 Mass, which works with organizations like Green Newton and Mothers Out Front, striving to keep climate awareness in the public eye. He said that Newton’s efforts to slow the spread of local climate change should not be overlooked, as many of the actions taken have benefited the community.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen solar panels being erected in parking lots,” he said. “We’re working hard to make sure that the fossil fuel companies don’t get to lay down a whole new infrastructure of pipes that will guarantee that gas is delivered to homes for the next 40 years. We want to halt that in its tracks as much as possible. We recognize that fossil fuels need to be used as a transition, but we’re doing everything we can to make sure that fossil fuels are not entrenched in Newton’s future.”

Liora Sikes, the city’s official Energy Coach, is also working to guide residents away from fossil fuels towards more renewable energy choices for housing appliances like insulation, heat pumps and rooftop solar panels. She said that housing plays a large role in local climate efforts. 

“A lot of the city is residential property and commercial property owned by private citizens,” she said. “My job is here to educate and encourage and support people in making home energy upgrades. I can’t force someone to change their home, but I can help them navigate the steps that help create a greener community.”

By publicizing climate marches, rallies and campaigns, 350 Mass, specifically the Newton Node, keeps the climate in conversations where it can often be ignored, Blau said.

Sikes said that communication is the first step to slowing the spread of climate change.

“The more you talk about climate change, the more people do things about it,” she said. “So even just talking about climate with friends and family and classmates is shown to make a big difference in the community. If we, as a community, know that the other people in our community care about this issue, then we’re more likely to see things happen.”

Beyond the general public, Cooper said students should take direct action by involving themselves with local organizations.

“I know that students care, but what needs to happen is that you all need to get involved,” she said. “Green Newton has a youth leadership program … You don’t just need to talk about the doom and gloom of it all. You can focus on solutions, and that’s the first step.”

Junior Ishaan Tewari, who has worked with the Newton Node of 350 Mass in the past, said that there are many ways students can help.

“Until people get to voting age, things like spreading awareness and educating yourself and others on current policies and projects can also be very helpful,” he said. “It’s important to realize that even small improvements are good improvements, even at the local level.”