Off the Record

Written by Sarah Foster, Team Leader on Western Massachusetts, on August 1, 2013. 

 I am usually a quiet person. Upon first meeting me you may think I am shy, but I am not one to let my voice go unheard. When I feel passionately about something, take climate change for instance, I can’t help but be more vocal than usual.

            Being a quieter person I understand when others are not quick to share their opinions. However, when we were in Holyoke last week, it shocked me that so many of the people we talked to were not ready to let their voices be heard on the very real and pressing issue of the coal plant situated just on the outskirts of town. This coal plant, the Mt. Tom Coal Plant, is owned by a company based in France called GDF Suez. The plant has been in Holyoke for 50 years and the pollution it emits is correlated to the high rates of asthma in Holyoke (1 in 4 Holyoke residents suffer from asthma).

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WeMA at the Mt. Tom coal plant.

            So when I asked a resident if Lydia and I could video tape him telling us his vision for Holyoke beyond the coal plant, I was confused when he said no. Off the record, he was ready and willing to explain how the coal plant is dirty and should be shut down immediately, but once we asked to get a record of his thoughts, he shut down. He claimed that he did not want to seem ignorant and that he really did not know much about the matter.

            Understandable I guess, but he did know a lot. He knew people who suffer from asthma and he knew that the coal plant is polluting his city’s air. This was not the time to be shy about your opinions, I thought, this is the time to stand up and shout them.

            Walking away from that interview, an eerie feeling fell over me as I began to wonder why so many people in Holyoke were scared to be “too political.” Was everyone running for office? Surely not, but it seemed that way.

            The pervasiveness of silence in Holyoke reminded me that a lot of people around the world who are directly feeling the effects of deadly fossil fuels do not feel that they have a loud enough voice to stand up for themselves. I don’t know how to alleviate this problem and I am not sure that there is a solution. For me, these examples of silence remind me that the “environmental movement” reaches far beyond just saving the polar ice caps from melting, it delves into issues of social justice and human rights. Essentially, this movement has the power to draw in people from all walks of life, the challenge is to present it as something that doesn’t just stop with tree-hugging.

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