The Climate Crisis: Are Individuals really Responsible?

350 New Hampshire Climate Activist, Rebecca Beaulieu, has an Answer.


Rhianwen Watkins, Arts Editor

When climate activist Rebecca Beaulieu was in high school, she was already passionate about stopping climate change. From doing everything she could to limit her personal plastic use, to trying to implement reusable products at her school cafeteria, she was optimistic that if she could get everyone around her on board, visible change could be made.

Now, her views are different.

The coal plant in Bow, New Hampshire emits the same amount of carbon in one hour that Beulieu has in 26 years of living. Twenty-six years spent trying to cut down on plastic use, recycling, reusing and reducing her carbon footprint, are essentially canceled out in one hour by a large mechanism that exists beyond her control. 

Her passion led her to seek out more realistic ways of putting forward change, and ultimately landed her in the position of communications director of 350 New Hampshire, an independent, local climate action organization that is part of a network of other 350 groups across the country and the globe.

350, Beaulieu explained, is the number in parts per million (ppm) that scientists have agreed is a safe level of carbon dioxide to exist in the atmosphere, hence how the organization got its name. Anything above that, is too much for the earth to survive. Today, we are well over 400 ppm, with over 2 ppm being added every year. The goal of 350 New Hampshire is to work towards getting the number of carbon emissions back down to 350 ppm before it’s too late.

“The fossil fuel industry is just so immense, and the plastics industry is just so immense that we need to address the root of the problem and not just individual consumption,” said Beaulieu. “The biggest impact an individual can make, in my opinion, is joining an organization or a group of people that are organizing together to make a change.”

“I can completely go zero waste in my own life and buy an electric vehicle and put solar panels on my roof,” said Beaulieu. “But it wouldn’t make a difference when the coal plant is on for an hour, it would just negate all of that individual work.”

She emphasized that this doesn’t mean individuals shouldn’t stop making lifestyle changes to be more eco-friendly, but that those efforts will not be nearly as effective as working with others to get people in power to make drastic changes.

The organization’s main focus, currently, is shutting down the coal plant in Bow.

“It’s the last major coal fired power plant that’s left in New England. It doesn’t run all of the time, and is costing us millions of dollars,” said Beaulieu. “Never mind all of the pollution and impacts to the river and the community that lives there.”

350 New Hampshire is also working to combat legislation that would propel the fossil fuel industry, such as Joe Manchin’s bill that he introduced to fast-track fossil fuel projects. The organization instead is pushing for legislators to introduce renewable energy bills, and supporting the work being done to get President Biden to declare a climate emergency.

In addition, they are supporting efforts to stop an asphalt plant from being built in Nashua.   

Efforts such as these as well as a plethora of others are at the center of the group’s work and employ a variety of tactics. These have included showing up to the statehouse to hold public protests, submitting testimony either for or against legislation, holding meetings with elected officials on the state level and members of congress, driving supporters to write letters to legislators, showing up to energy committee meetings and nonviolent direct action.

One way they have engaged in nonviolent direct action has been by gathering hundreds of people to peacefully protest at the coal plant by walking onto the property and demanding it be shut down, which, in the past, has culminated in arrests.

Supporting Indigenous people is also at the forefront of the group’s interests.

350 New Hampshire works with the local Indigenous group, The Cowasuck Band of Pennacook Abenaki People. Recently, they supported the band’s efforts to take down the 140-foot-long dam on Mill Pond in Durham with a goal of improving water quality as well as the natural habitat for wildlife. They also participated in efforts to stop the Line 3 Pipeline expansion in Minnesota, which would have doubled its size and drilled through Indigenous territories, also violating treaties with Indigenous groups.

“We try to make sure that in our work, that we are supporting demands from folks who have Indigenous heritage here in New Hampshire and in a larger capacity across the country,” Beaulieu said. “It’s important to be following their lead on a lot of these big issues.”

Besides getting involved with organizations such as 350 New Hampshire to improve issues such as these, Beaulieu addressed the question of whether electric cars are a potential route to reversing global warming.

“A lot of people are like, this is a great impact. And it is, but until electric vehicle ownership or rental or leasing is affordable for everyday people, we aren’t going to fix the problem. And that affordability issue comes down to the car companies and the government and where subsidies in the vehicle industry go,” Beaulieu said.

She also mentioned that New Hampshire has a lack of charging stations which also provides a barrier in switching to electric vehicles.

“Joining a group of people that are doing something regardless of if it’s 350 New Hampshire or a club on campus that’s trying to get the school to divest from fossil fuels, coming together in that way and rallying people around something to force institutional change on a big level is the biggest area of impact that we can have,” Beaulieu emphasized.

There are many ways for people to get involved with 350 New Hampshire if interested in participating in climate action.

Last week, the group held multiple climate strikes across the state, and these happen quite regularly, Beaulieu said.

In addition, the organization is currently putting a lot of focus on the upcoming elections.

Beaulieu encourages individuals to volunteer for 350 New Hampshire to assist with canvassing and phone banking in the next month.

On Oct. 13. at 6 p.m., they are hosting a webinar about dark money in New Hampshire politics, specifically looking at those in the legislature who don’t believe climate change is human caused and certain lobbying groups that have invested money in the state.

On Oct. 27., the organization is taking part in a town hall meeting in Concord focused on the utility rate hikes that have been caused due to BRAC methane gas costs rising since the war in Ukraine as well as fossil fuel companies protecting their shareholder’s money. 350 New Hampshire is currently seeking students and others who live off campus to talk at the meeting about how they have been affected by the drastic increase in utility costs.

To get involved with 350 New Hampshire in any capacity, contact them through their website and learn how you can start taking action.

Beaulieu emphasized that although scientists have predicted deadlines for when certain changes need to be made, action needs to be taken now. There are many impacts being felt by communities already that might not be reversible, said Beaulieu. Extinctions. Sea level rises that will cause perpetual floods in certain communities. Droughts. Even in New Hampshire, droughts have caused farmers to lose crops from lack of water.

“It’s already happening,” said Beaulieu. But she promised that it’s not all doom and gloom.

“There’s been so much destruction from the fossil fuel industry. But this is also like a long game, I think we have plenty of time to stop the worst of this and to shut the fossil fuel industry down,” said Beaulieu. “We have the technology and the means. It’s the willpower that is lacking. There just needs to be some reality checks in our government and in the way that we operate our communities and the way that we run our economy needs to shift.”