'Pipeline Pilgrimage': Walkers to trek across state, raise climate change awareness

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Editor's Note: This article was updated on April 3, 2015 to correct that the group stopped at the South Congregational Church in Pittsfield.

PITTSFIELD — Several dozen walkers said they began a 150-mile trek across the state on Wednesday in the name of future generations.

The political statement on climate change is roughly following the route of a proposed natural gas line, and the event's main organizer, Jay O'Hara, began the day with a "confession."

"The reality of climate change is so overwhelming, the future predictions of devastation dire, that we do not know exactly how to respond to a world that is essentially ending on our watch," O'Hara said. "Yet we also know that we will not resolve the irreconcilable conflict between the status quo of a fossil fuel system and a habitable planet without drawing on a faith that leads us to transformed priorities."

People came from Deerfield, Greenfield, Cape Cod, Long Island, N.Y., Boone, N.C., Portland, Maine, and Omaha, Neb., to participate. New England Quakers organized the walk, but participants ran the gamut of different faiths to none at all.

Taking off, after a moment of silent reflection, from the South Congregational Church on South Street, participants called the 12-day event a "pilgrimage" — in no small part because it will encompass Holy Week — during which they were to consider climate change as "an invitation to a new life."

How to get to a "new life" from here is through continued collective action, participants believe, of the kind going on around the state and around the country, and the kind in which they were taking part.

The group planned to cover roughly 13 miles per day after Wednesday's five-mile hike to Dalton, where they would bed down in the First Congregational Church and pick up in the morning. Overnights would be spent at houses of worship along the way, who would also provide food.

Much of Massachusetts' recent climate activism has concerned opposition to Kinder Morgan's $5 billion proposal to extend a 429-mile natural gas line through parts of New York and Massachusetts, including Berkshire County.

The extended pipeline would run from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, and the walkers' pilgrimage began in the Berkshire County section and will end in Dracut.

The proposed pipeline served as a tangible example of the problem participants had diagnosed.

"We will stop the pipeline," Helene Tamarin, of Plainfield, said.

But the walk's purpose extended far beyond one natural gas line.

Jimmy Betts, a climate activist from Omaha, who has participated in similar demonstrations from coast to coast, said he's seen everywhere "people fighting for the future of their children and grandchildren."

Betts took part in a similar walk that went 3,000 miles from California to Washington, D.C., and heard of the New England Quakers' demonstration through his activist network. He said every part of the nation faces environmentally questionable projects being forced upon unwilling populations.

"It's the same picture: Corporate power [energy companies and financial institutions], combined with government enabling, is harming collective resources against the will of the majority," Betts said.

The goal for Betts and future activists will be to unite different populations that face the same challenges, he said.

Religious assistance in the walk somewhat reflected Pope Francis' regular commentary on the seriousness of climate change, which he frames as a moral issue concerning survival of the species.

"An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it," Francis said in 2014. "The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands. The monopolizing of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness."

South Congregational Church Pastor Joel F. Huntington told the departing walkers that their concerns are shared by much of the church community.

"You'll be in my heart as you walk through Holy Week and beyond," he said.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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