“Roots” Reboot
Polly Bemis, Chinese-American Pioneer of the American West

A Prayer for West Roxbury—and the World

By Wen Stephenson

Sixteen interfaith clergy about to be arrested to #StopSpectra
Sixteen interfaith clergy about to be arrested to #StopSpectra. Photo credit: Wen Stephenson

They sang, they prayed, and when the cuffs were put on, they went as they came—peacefully.

On Wednesday morning in Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood, an interfaith group of sixteen Boston-area religious leaders—Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu—sat down and held a prayer service in the middle of Grove Street, physically blocking construction of Spectra Energy’s fracked-gas West Roxbury Lateral pipeline, part of a major expansion of its Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline system. All told, their civil disobedience brought the number of arrests for nonviolent direct action along the construction route to more than eighty since October (including my own on April 28).

In some ways, such protests of this pipeline—which will end at a compressor station across the street from West Roxbury Crushed Stone, an active quarry where weekly blasting shakes the foundations of neighborhood homes—are hardly even controversial. Residents don’t want a dangerous high-pressure (750 psi) pipeline running yards away from their front doors. The City Council has voted unanimously to oppose it. The mayor is challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the industry-captured Washington agency that rubber stamped the project, in court. Boston’s state and federal legislators are against the project. Opponents note that no one has demonstrated sufficient demand to justify a massive new gas pipeline into Boston—which already has at least 3,000 documented leaks in its decrepit distribution system, as researchers at Boston University have shown.

You might think that in a democracy this project wouldn’t get built.

Most reporting on this pipeline fight has centered on these real and pressing local concerns. And yet the reasons to stop this project extend far beyond Boston.

Thanks to convincing studies by researchers at Harvard and Cornell showing vast methane leakage throughout the U.S. production and distribution system, we now know that increasing our reliance on fracked gas is a catastrophe not only for local communities but for the global climate—meaning for today’s young people and future generations, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable, whether in Boston or Bangladesh.

Far from being a climate-friendly “bridge fuel,” science shows that fracked gas, because of all that leaking methane—a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 in the near term—is little if any better, and possibly worse, than coal when it comes to global warming. At the very moment when fossil-fuel use needs to plummet—even as carbon emissions from Massachusetts power plants are rising and the state is failing to meet its legally-mandated emissions cuts—our kids can’t afford for us to build any new fossil-fuel infrastructure, including gas.

We know that we can meet our energy needs without these new pipelines. Indeed, rigorous analysis shows that we can replace fossil fuels entirely by mid-century—as the international scientific consensus says is necessary if we’re at all serious about climate change. Doing so, however, will require responding to the climate crisis as the global emergency, and global injustice, that it is.

So the clergy sang and prayed on Grove Street, and put their bodies in the way of a pipeline, with a simple message: Business as usual got us into this fix; business as usual ends here.

Does that appear extreme? Business as usual is extreme.

In his 1963 “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. answered charges of extremism from his fellow clergy. “Was not Jesus an extremist in love?” King wrote. “Was not Amos an extremist for justice...So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be...Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice—or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”


About the Author 

Wen StephensonWen Stephenson, an independent journalist and activist, writes for The Nation and is the author of What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Climate Justice. Follow him on Twitter: @wenstephenson.