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Pepperell’s Ashlynn Dean (left) and Michael Dean (right) at The Fitzpatrick Collaborative on June 13, 2022. At Town Meeting on May 9, Ashlynn and Michael submitted a citizen’s petition to have Pepperell declare a climate change emergency; their motion was passed by a vote of 153 in favor to 130 against. (Shane Rhodes/Nashoba Valley Voice)
Pepperell’s Ashlynn Dean (left) and Michael Dean (right) at The Fitzpatrick Collaborative on June 13, 2022. At Town Meeting on May 9, Ashlynn and Michael submitted a citizen’s petition to have Pepperell declare a climate change emergency; their motion was passed by a vote of 153 in favor to 130 against. (Shane Rhodes/Nashoba Valley Voice)
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PEPPERELL — After feeling there was a “lack of action” by the town, two students decided to take their own approach on climate change.

At Town Meeting on May 9, Pepperell voted to declare a climate change emergency, 153-130. The question was raised through the submission of a citizen’s petition by 17-year-old Ashlynn Dean and 13-year-old Michael Dean.

While the nonbinding petition cannot force the town to take any sort of action, the siblings hope that their submission and its passing can, at the very least, spur greater thought and action regarding climate change by municipal leaders going forward.

“I just started to realize the actual danger we’re in, the threat posed by climate change,” Ashlynn Dean said. “And I just knew that I wanted to do something, anything, to do my part and make a difference.”

“We just knew we had to do something,” Michael Dean said. “(Climate change), our future — it’s too important to sit back and do nothing.”

Ashlynn Dean and Michael Dean both took an interest in environmental science at a young age. Ashlynn Dean said related classes she later took in school pushed her to get involved, while Michael Dean said the constant presence of climate change in the news drew him in.

“I started to pay attention when I would hear about it on the news,” Michael Dean said. “And, I noticed that not a lot was being done to prevent it, certainly not the kind of action we need to avoid a climate disaster.”

At the recommendation of Select Board Clerk Anthony Beattie, Ashlynn Dean also attended a meeting of the North Central Climate Change Coalition, a community organization meant to strengthen municipal efforts to combat climate change. She said her time with the group was, ultimately, what pushed her to start the petition.

“That’s where it started, for me,” she said. “I saw how different towns handled that conversation, you know, the topic of climate change — and we just went from there.”

In the lead-up to Town Meeting, both worked to gather the required signatures and worked tirelessly to ensure their message was clear.

Later, at the meeting itself, Ashlynn Dean read their petition while Michael Dean presented a video that explained certain aspects of climate change and warned of a bleak future should they fail to take action.

Both were nervous but, ultimately, found the courage to stand up and deliver their message. Ashlynn Dean said it was “just something we had to do.”

“I knew that there was going to be a lot of people in that room that disagreed with what we had to say,” she said. “But I also knew there would be people there to support me and back me up, so that made it easier.”

“I was scared, for sure,” Michael Dean said. “But, Ashlynn calmed me down, we went up and I did my part — it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.”

After their presentation, a contentious debate ensued. While some supported their motion, others decried the petition and referred to it as “left-wing, Democrat politics” that the town should avoid.

While it was expected, both Ashlynn Dean and Michael Dean were disappointed with the pushback their petition received.

“I don’t understand how it turned political so fast,” Michael Dean said. “(Climate change) has nothing to do with politics, but people love to drag it into their arguments and distract from the real issue at hand.”

“We are at a pivotal point right now,” Ashlynn Dean said. “And it’s incredibly frustrating when people say ‘you’re wrong’ or say ‘we’ve already done enough,’ because we haven’t — the job isn’t done.”

Michael Dean also expressed his disappointment in the lack of understanding by those against the petition.

“We’re just nervous about our future,” he said. “Decisions we make now are going to have a major impact on our generation and our future.”

“We’re not infringing on anyone’s rights, we’re just scared and want to do something about it. So it’s a shame that some feel the need to stand in the way of positive change,” he said.

While they would like to see greater action from the town, Ashlynn Dean and Michael Dean remain positive. Both thanked Beattie and their mother, Amanda Huntington, for their help along the way.

“Mr. Beattie definitely played an important role, and then (Huntington) of course, we really leaned on her throughout this whole process,” Ashlynn Dean said.

“Tony (Beattie) was definitely a big help, he walked us through the whole meeting process,” Michael Dean said. “And (Huntington), she was right there with us, knocking on doors, she made everything so much easier on me and (Ashlynn Dean).”

Huntington said she “couldn’t be prouder” of their effort, while Beattie, in an email, praised them and said “we need our youth to spur our hearts and minds” concerning climate change action.

Going forward, both Ashlynn Dean and Michael Dean said they plan to remain involved in the environmental science and climate change spaces and stressed that they hope their actions inspire their peers to pursue their passions as well.

“I want to inspire others to make change, to take a stand for whatever it is they might feel passionate about and know that they can and truly strive for something they believe in,” Ashlynn Dean said. “It’s everyone’s future, even (younger kids), so it’s important people our age make ourselves heard on the important issues.”

“I just want people our age to know: you’re never too young to make a difference,” Michael Dean said. “No matter how many times you’ve been told you’re not ready or you just don’t understand, don’t give up on what you believe in.”

“If you put in the work, try hard enough, anyone can make a difference,” he said.

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