A new coalition of activists, environmentalists, and faith groups are asking all 15 Cape towns to declare a climate emergency.
If approved at town meetings this spring, the declarations would push towns to recognize their responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which drive climate change.
“This is perhaps the first time that Cape-wide organizations and activists groups have united to say, ‘this is an emergency and we need to do something about it at the town level,’” said Fran Schofield, of the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative.
The petitions were spearheaded by 350 Cape Cod, which has joined forces with other groups like the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative, and the Faith Communities Environmental Network to push forward these petitions.
“We’ll basically put the climate crisis on the board for conversations, decision-making, and actions at all town levels,” Schofield said.
Petitions for a vote at town meeting have been filed in 13 towns, and in the remaining two—Barnstable and Bourne—petitions are expected to be filed soon. Petitions vary from town to town but all incorporate the same central themes.
If a climate declaration is approved, towns would be acknowledging climate change as a man-made, existential threat. While declarations don’t come with concrete plans, communities would be directed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero “at the earliest technically and economically feasible time.”
“When we make decisions, whether it’s by buying new vehicles for the town fleet, or building a new police station,” Schofield posed in a recent phone interview, “what are we doing to mitigate our carbon footprint?”
This is an opportunity for communities to make climate action local, Scofield says, without overburdening towns.
“There’s no mandate. The adoption of these declarations does not cost the town anything,” she said. “It simply says we as a community believe we should be taking action.”
Across the country, more than 70 towns and cities—including Worcester and Amherst—have passed similar declarations.
In a press release, Richard Delaney, founder of the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative, said an emergency climate response in each town is urgent and necessary, given the extreme threat climate change poses to the region.
“We can’t wait for the federal or state government to lead the way," he said.