I first learned about the climate crisis in my sixth-grade science class. As we discussed greenhouse gases, my teacher explained climate change – the catastrophic consequences human actions are wreaking on the planet. That message hit 11-year-old me hard. From then on, I would bother my friends and family constantly about deforestation or ocean pollution and how that would affect all of us.

But the pandemic changed my relationship with climate advocacy completely. Stuck at home, I spent more and more time delving into current events and researching the environment. I learned about the ozone layer, environmental justice, increased carbon emissions, sustainable lifestyle and so much more. Today I know that the climate crisis disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous, people of color and poorer communities, even though they contribute the least to climate change. It is already leaving millions of climate refugees around the world, people being forced to leave their homes because of climate disasters.

With this newfound perspective on the true meaning of climate injustice, I couldn’t stay content anymore with just pestering my friends about plastic pollution. Instead, I wanted to take bold action with likeminded people in my community. Finally, I found the Sunrise Movement and joined Sunrise Cambridge.

That sense of collective urgency is why I’m a climate activist today. Our communities need bold, intersectional policies that build climate justice – policies such as the Green New Deal for Cambridge. It would require all new commercial developments in Cambridge to be net zero for greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, and if developers cannot meet the net-zero requirement, they will be able to pay a $234 alternative compliance payment to the city per ton of emissions. That money can be used to make energy efficiency projects and fund green jobs training programs with direct benefit to low-income and minority communities. This offers a path for us to reduce fossil fuel emissions, create economic and racial justice and live up to our values as a city.

What’s more, polluters have to be held accountable for the harm they do to people and the planet. Developers profit off of our communities while creating gentrification, displacement and pollution that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable among us. But it doesn’t have to stay this way. Instead, we can construct net-zero buildings and create green jobs in areas such as urban forestry, electrification and solar panel installation, with particular benefit to low-income and people of color in Cambridge.

Knowing this, we call for a truly strong and sustainable GND for Cambridge. Proposed changes such as allowing carbon offsets or only partially measuring emissions cannot be allowed to water it down. These loopholes are nothing more than a way for developers with billions of dollars in the bank to dodge accountability to the very communities they depend on. Instead, the green new deal for Cambridge should be passed with the amendments proposed by councillors Quinton Zondervan and Patty Nolan and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui.

We’ve been able to strengthen the GND for Cambridge in key ways so far – such as amending the net-zero deadline to 2035 from 2050. It’s been inspiring to see many community members and city councillors work with passion and flexibility to address concerns and improve the policy, and that must continue to create a true green new deal.

I’ve grown up in the shadow of the climate crisis, but when I graduate from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School next year, I want to be able to stand tall in my cap and gown, looking out on my future with hope, excitement and possibility. I want to live in a city that leads in the fight against the climate crisis and that works to create a sustainable economy for all. Each of us has a world at stake here – it’s nothing less than the dwindling opportunity to create a survivable, flourishing future. Let’s strive towards that resilient, beautiful, vibrant world, starting right here in Cambridge.

Junee Manandhar, Prentiss Street