How to Testify About Environment at a Public Hearing

My notes on testifying in person or in writing during a hearing.

Recently I have testified at several meetings in favor of stronger laws and policies to address the climate catastrophe. I believe the more people testify in favor, the more vocal support for these policies will be, and the sooner we will get these policies passed. Only an overwhelming number of testimonies can overwhelm an inertia to keep the status quo, and we don't have time to keep the things the way they are now - the planet is dying.

If you care about the planet, your life, and the generation after us, you have to say so. Here is how to testify during a hearing.

  1. Find about the hearings. I usually get these announcements from a local environmental organization like 350mass.org. Join one or several organizations from the list below and will know about things you can do each month

  2. Research the subject of the hearing. Attend a webinar, read the relevant info online, etc. Usually, the organization announcing the public hearing will have this information collected in one place. For example, before testifying about offshore wind power I have watched the informational webinar and read the info online at https://www.boem.gov/Vineyard-Wind-SEIS-Virtual-Meeting.

  3. Register to speak at the hearing. The hearings are conducted online because of the pandemic, so please register to attend / speak online.

  4. Find out the time limit, most hearings allow up to 3 - 5 minutes per testimony.

  5. Write your testimony down. I prefer writing how a mixture of personal story and scientific facts. I usually write 3-4 short paragraphs total, see examples below.

  6. Practice reading your testimony a couple of times to get the timing right.

  7. Join the hearing at the scheduled date, sometimes you need to use a special link so you are in the speaking queue.

  8. Read your testimony when called.

  9. Send the written testimony if the hearing allows submitting it in writing too!

  10. Share your testimony with friends, on social media, and on your website, if you have one. Seeing you speak up will prompt more people to raise their voices too.

That's it - it is a lot less scarry that you might think, and speaking up is very important.

Questions and answers

  • Isn't my testimony useless, don't they listen to lobbyists only?

Yes, money talks. But money has to overcome obstacles like your testimony, and the more obstacles there are, the more money you need to lobby. Thus at some threshold, the vocal support wins over the lobbyists. Especially at the local and state levels, some policies do NOT clash head to head with monied opposition. For example, expanding the safer cycling streets in your town needs your vocal support to overcome the inertia, not moneyed lobbying.

  • What if people judge me, or harass me? I do not want my name made public

If you want your government to act, you have to take a stand and say so publicly. You need to at least state your name and where you live to testify, from what I have seen. A good thing about testifying in favor of environment causes, is that it actually looks good for you. Who doesn't want to save the planet? Who doesn't like trees or locally-grown organic food?

  • Can I testify if I am not an expert?

You are testifying about how you think the proposal would affect you and people around you, in my opinion. Research the proposal (item #2 on the list) and you will be fine. It will not be embarrassing, I guarantee it. Listen to a couple of hearings - you will see people from all walks of life speaking about the subject as they perceive it.

What is more embarrassing in my opinion are paid-for shills for moneyed interests. I have seen "think tanks" and politicians spew numbers in support of their positions (usually conveniently against doing anything about the climate crisis), and these numbers were for sure pulled out of their asses, I thought. You will do just fine.

Examples

Below are a few testimonies I have given recently. I have changed the text to remove my personal information.

Safe bicycle network plan in Cambridge

I am Gleb Bahmutov from "street name" and I ride my bicycle from Huron avenue to Central square to work. My wife rides her electrical scooter to work in "place name" and my son rides his bicycle to "school name" and to "park name".

Cycling is the most convenient and fastest way to get around Cambridge, so why more people are not doing it? In my conversation with my family and with other people, the number one concern is safety. Nothing else matters it seems, but being afraid of getting hit by a car is what stops people from taking advantage of this transportation mode.

During the Corona shutdown we felt so much safer riding around, it was unbelievable. Now the cars are back, and I am afraid for my son's life again. The recent shared street initiative helps - I love riding Garden and Harvard streets, and I see many more people now with kids riding now. But we got to do better. And we got to protect people on many more streets.

Which brings me to the timeframe. Protecting more streets is nice. But it takes only a second for a car to suddenly turn without looking and to hit a bicyclist. So why does it take 5 years to offer these basic safety protections? Will this ordinance have teeth and be implemented month by month? Or will we wait another five years while nothing would be done?

Thank you.

Building offshore wind farm of the coast of Massachusetts

Hello, this is Gleb Bahmutov B-A-H-M-U-T-O-V from Boston, thank you for taking my call.

I am fully 100% in favor of offshore wind energy. If we want to avoid catastrophic climate collapse, we must stop burning fossil fuels today. Offshore wind gives us an immediate and technologically possible solution.

But I want to quickly address concerns about fishing. Some people say "what about fishing, will all these new windmills cut into the fishing area, etc". According to scientists, the ocean is currently doing two things for us in regards to the climate. First, because of the water's properties, the Earth's oceans absorb 90-95% of the heat we accumulate, saving us, the land dwellers from being fried from excessive heat. Every second the ocean's waters receive energy equivalent of 3 to 5 atomic bombs. Every second.

Second, the ocean's water dissolves a lot of the atmospheric carbon, "burying" it so to speak. Only this carbon is still there, slowly turning the water acidic. According to science the Great Barrier reef in Australia is dying due to warmer, acidic waters that literally dissolve marine microorganisms. Within 10 years this reef might die completely taking about 1/3 of all marine species with it.

The coast of New England is no different. Warmer waters are already affecting the marine life, and if this process continues, our entire fishing ecosystem might collapse. It is not the question of "how will offshore wind affect the fishing industry?". The question we have to ask ourselves is "will we build the offshore wind fast enough to prevent the marine life collapse going on right now?"

Thank you.