WORCESTER — US Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Jim McGovern sounded an urgent alert about climate change Sunday at a raucous town hall meeting that repeatedly veered off topic as the audience pelted the legislators with unrelated questions and claims.
Calling climate change “the national security, health care, economic, environmental, and moral issue of our time,” Markey told the crowd of more than 500 at Clark University that the Green New Deal proposal he introduced in the Senate in February will help address this “existential threat” to the nation.
“September was the warmest September ever recorded,” the Malden Democrat said from the stage. “July was the warmest month ever recorded. This problem is getting worse by the month, by the week, by the day. We can see it every night in the fires of California. We can see it in stories about the warming of the Arctic and the dramatic changes which are taking place out there.”
McGovern, who cosponsored the Green New Deal in the US House of Representatives, where it was introduced by Democratic New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said he learned as an elementary school student in Worcester “that science is real, and we ought to listen to scientists.
“That’s what needs to happen in Congress,” the Worcester Democrat said. “We need to listen to the scientists more than the corporate executives who run fossil fuel companies, and more than these people who peddle conspiracy theories. The bottom line is that what is at stake is the future of our planet.”
Audience members held the lawmakers’ feet to the fire on environmental policy issues, as when a Clark student pointed out that the Green New Deal is a nonbinding resolution and doesn’t spell out the steps necessary to reach its goals. Markey responded that the goal of the resolution “is to create a movement around this issue” and begin a dialogue about how to achieve its aims.
But repeatedly throughout the 90-minute discussion, people in the crowd attempted to change the subject.
A woman who said she represented the LaRouche Political Action Committee told the lawmakers the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine is “a travesty for the nation” and “a witch hunt that’s being run against the president of the United States.” Members of the crowd attempted to shout her down.
While a woman in a wheelchair asked a question about access to transportation for people with disabilities, a man in the back of the auditorium shouted, “Trump 2020!” and then disappeared through a door.
Later, a man shouted over McGovern that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were an inside job. “Nine-11 was a big, ugly lie, and everybody knows it!” he shouted.
Neither legislator addressed that outburst, but both spoke about the importance of the impeachment effort in Congress. They denounced Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, as well as his rollback of federal environmental protections and his refusal to acknowledge climate change as real.
Markey suggested that the only way to safeguard the environment is to elect a Democratic president and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.
Adam Crellin, an 18-year-old Clark University freshman from Boston who is active in environmental causes, said afterward that he thought McGovern and Markey had put forth good arguments about the importance of addressing climate change, and he was surprised by the number of interruptions.
“It was definitely good to see the amount of people that showed up to hear this, whether they agreed with it or not,” he said.
Nicole Murtiri, an 18-year-old environmental activist from Boston who attends Lesley University in Cambridge, had high praise for the lawmakers and their goals. She said she came to Worcester partly to see how local residents responded to their message.
She said she was disappointed the audience wasn’t more engaged with the discussion on climate change “because it is one of the biggest issues that this country’s facing, and it’s something more people need to be talking about.”