BEDFORD, MA —  What leads a clergy member to break the law? 

On Saturday April 20, climate activists from Extinction Rebellion Boston (XR) disrupted passenger boarding at Hanscom Airfield in Massachusetts, to protest a proposed expansion that would lead to a 300% increase in private jet traffic and related greenhouse gas emissions in the Boston area. State police eventually arrested 20 protesters, charging them with trespassing. Among them was Rev. Dr. Susanne Intriligator, minister of the Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church in Melrose, MA.

“All four surrounding towns oppose this expansion but no one’s listening to them,” said Intriligator, who lives nearby. “This is about democracy and due process, but it’s also about the ultra-rich polluting as they please. Did you know that private jets pollute 5 to 15 times more than commercial ones? Will we let the ultra-rich poison the rest of us, just for their convenience?”

Starting at 8:30 AM, activists entered the boarding area and stood in the way of the planes so that they could not taxi to the runway. Several activists encircled the wheels of private jets with their arms and refused to move. The protesters sang, chanted, and held banners reading “Stop Private Jet Expansion,” “Cool Your Jets,” “Our carbon budgets will be spent, all thanks to the 1%!”, and other anti-expansion slogans. 

“The world is burning, and if we clergy care at all about Creation or humanity, it’s more than time for us to step up and get involved in this fight – especially when it means going to jail,” said Intriligator, whose congregation supports her activism. “A lot of people can’t risk arrest, but I have race, class, and health privilege, and so why not me?” 

After frisking her, a police officer asked Intriligator about the clergy collar around her neck. He’d never seen one before. Intriligator says, “So many of the young activists I stand with – and even the police – have never been to church or interacted with clergy before. They don’t expect us to show up at actions or to get arrested. They don’t connect activism with faith. But to me, the earth, air, and water are all sacred, so defending them is part of my calling. So is giving spiritual support and comfort to these brave young people, who are simply fighting for the chance to grow old like me. Frankly, I don’t know why more clergy aren’t out here.”

On Monday, April 22, the 20 protestors were arraigned on charges of trespassing. A pre-trial hearing is set for June 11. This is Intriligator’s second arrest for demonstrating with Extinction Rebellion. Last September, she walked into the streets of Downtown Boston with a team of activists and blocked traffic during morning rush hour to demand that the Massachusetts Governor ban new fossil fuel infrastructure. Charged with disorderly conduct, she served 28 hours of community service. 

The proposed expansion at Hanscom Airfield would primarily benefit only the wealthiest travelers in the region, many of whom frequently take short-hop flights to recreational and luxury destinations. Many flights are as little as 15 minutes, traveling from Concord to Boston Logan International Airport. One 17-minute flight in a private jet results in one ton of carbon emissions, which is about a quarter of the total annual carbon footprint of the average person globally. Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, who was elected after heavily campaigning as a climate hero, has consistently declined to take a stand against the expansion project despite its obvious environmental and climate costs.

Meanwhile, the recent World Meteorological Organization report confirmed that 2023 was the warmest year on record, with the global average near-surface temperature at 1.45 °Celsius (with a margin of uncertainty of ± 0.12 °C) above the pre-industrial baseline. We are in the warmest ten-year period on record. On March 19 2024, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Sirens are blaring across all major indicators… Some records aren’t just chart-topping, they’re chart-busting. And changes are speeding-up.”

In response, Rev. Intriligator says “I call on people of faith everywhere to get (more) active in the climate movement. If you have race, class, and health privilege like I do, consider non-violent civil disobedience via groups like XR Boston. Extinction Rebellion has chapters you can join across the United States. If you aren’t in a position to disobey, there are many other ways to get active. If you are curious about ending the climate destruction of climate jets, check out Stop Private Jet Expansion and sign their petition. If you are over 60 years old and want to do something to save the planet for future generations, read about Third Act and sign on.” 

“If religion wants to be seen as relevant, we need to be out there doing relevant things,” says Intriligator. “Now is the time and we are the people. Nobody else is coming to rescue us.”


Jamie McGonagill
Extinction Rebellion Boston
[email protected]

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.


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