Boston University Professor of Earth and Environment Nathan Phillips is currently on day seven of a hunger strike to prompt action by state officials on the Weymouth compressor station site. The site is a part of Enbridge’s national “Atlantic Bridge Project,” a gas pipeline stretching through New England into Canada.
Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station and Massachusetts officials have also protested this project because of the immediate health and safety concerns and increasing state dependency on fossil fuels. Regardless, Gov. Baker has yielded to Enbridge because the project falls into federal jurisdiction.
“Every legal and regulatory remedy and appeal and process has run its course,” according to Phillips. The persisting injustices in conjunction with the accelerating rate of climate change make his strike more urgent than ever.
And while the method may be extremist, putting his life at risk may be the only way to force the Department of Environmental Protection’s hand. By making himself into their liability, the government won’t be able to escape the punishment of doing the bare minimum. As long as Phillips continues to make noise, the department will not be able to look away for much longer.
The extremity of this type of strike is part of what lends to the attention grabbing quality. But because they’re also uncommon, hunger strikes also illuminate the seriousness of the issue that they’re protesting. Without it, the compressor station’s distance from campus would keep the issue in Weymouth alone. With the assistance of Twitter, Phillips’ work is making more people more aware.
Phillips is also strategically using his position as university faculty to make a mark on an impressionable young audience. Given some students’ high public involvement with climate change initiatives, the campus is the appropriate arena for building long-lasting awareness within the future generation.
And this isn’t some one-off incident of flashy activism. In September, he marched alongside students to City Hall Plaza not only to protest, but also to support the students in their fight for the future. The sudden uptick in the degree of his vocalness demonstrates that the station is his last straw.
It’s encouraging to know that our educators are keeping up with the times and taking the urgent initiative to make impact, even though they might not be implicated in the long-term ramifications of fossil fuel consumption. And if nothing else, it’s a great way to make students care. His activism reminds us that he has a life outside of the classroom, and that he’s using it to generate social impact.
The requirements Phillips is imposing to halt his fast are bare minimum practices to ensure the safety of the workers and to minimize the inevitable environmental damage. Therefore, the fact that he feels the need to take this extreme measure demonstrates the DEP’s lax attitude towards relevant negative externalities.
We hope that Phillips’ salted green tea will actually oblige the DEP to make the necessary step in the right direction.