Our Opinion: Lee teen leads on pollution cause

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Keely Rose O'Gorman is surely not the only young person who never thought "I would have to include saving the planet as a future goal." But they do. Happily, many of them are accepting that responsibility thrust upon them by the failure of their elders.

Ms. O'Gorman, a 15-year-old from Lee, testified at the Statehouse in Boston Tuesday about a bill she crafted that would restrict the use of single-use plastic straws in the state. ("A taste of civics while discussing straws' glut," Eagle, Oct. 16.) The bill H4084 was filed on her behalf by Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat.

A disturbing video of a turtle with a straw stuck in its nose spurred Ms. O'Gorman to act. She took it upon herself to ask restaurants in South Berkshire County to switch from plastic straws to soy-based straws that are biodegradable or paper straws. Plastic straws, like plastic bags and other plastic products, do not biodegrade and clutter our oceans and other bodies of water, where they are a serious threat to marine life.

Ms. O' Gorman sought out a meeting with Rep. Pignatelli because of his interest in environmental issues and ending up writing a bill to put before the Legislature. Testifying before the Legislature's Committee for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, which is chaired by Rep. Pignatelli, the high school sophomore observed that she did not anticipate planet-saving as a goal but said her bill "could put Massachusetts on the front of the global war on plastic pollution."

Rep. Pignatelli said he filed the bill in large part to keep Ms. O'Gorman involved in civics, which young people will have to be knowledgeable about if they are to advance any of their goals through the political process. The best example of a young person who is combining a passion for the environment with a knowledge of how government — and the media — work is Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish dynamo who in the course of a year has emerged as an international force on global warming. Ms. Thunberg, who attracted attention by organizing a school strike against climate change in Sweden, was the impetus for the global climate strike earlier this year that many Berkshire County students participated in.

Ms. Thunberg has drawn criticism from those who believe teenagers should be seen and not heard on the issues of the day. She has ignored them, which her activist peers should do as well. The elders who have stood on the sidelines as human-caused climate change began to ravage the planet, or worse, who contributed to or passed on misinformation about this reality, have no credibility. It's young people who will bear the consequences of their dereliction and it is young people who will have to take the lead in preventing further ravaging by this climate crisis.

It will be interesting to see what happens with bill H4084. It will also be interesting to see if Ms. O'Gorman maintains her activism in the environment and civics. If she does, we hope she finds many allies among young people — and sympathetic adults. Climate change and environmental pollution are global issues, but they will have to be fought at the grass roots level, in towns like Lee and in regions like Berkshire County.

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