By Tracy Stein
As part of an Earth Month celebration, New Castle residents came together in an advocacy-focused webinar event centered on climate justice. Spearheaded by the New Castle Sustainability Advisory Board, in collaboration with students from the Greeley Sustainability Club and the New Castle Council on Race and Equity, the program addressed ways to become more active in protecting the environment and promoting environmental justice.
Led by John Opperman (Executive Director of Earth Day Initiative), climate activists Taylor Morton (We Act for Environmental Justice), José Tulio Galvez Contreras (Solar One), and former Greeley graduate Amanda Cronin discussed the pressing intersection between climate change, environmental contamination and environmental justice, and ways to confront these challenges.
In defining environmental justice, Contreras discussed the long-standing disproportionate impact that climate and pollution historically has had on marginalized communities, who are more likely to live and work in polluted areas and bear a greater burden of environmental health risks. As examples in NYC, Morton described how bus depots (with their high levels of air pollution and links to increased health risks) are housed near communities of color and how these communities historically do not have the same investment in green spaces. Contreras highlighted how the cost of sustainable solutions presents its own environmental justice issue: “those who can afford solar technology or home retrofits are usually not the communities impacted the most.” In their efforts to address these environmental justice impacts, Contreras and Morton argue for the need for community involvement at all levels to advocate for policy change and investment in these communities.
Cronin detailed her own journey to environmental activism, especially the importance of getting involved in community organizations. Her work with the Chappaqua Farmers Market taught her about food systems and agriculture, and ways to promote more sustainable systems. Excited about the opportunities, Cronin noted that there are many ways to get involved in local community organizations. Yet she also challenged young participants: “you can’t wait for someone else to act; you have to take matters into your own hands and use whatever resources you have to do the greatest good.”
All participants addressed the importance of teachers and partnership in education. From experience, Taylor described “teachers as the best community organizers.” To lead to change, curriculums must, but often do not, address climate and environmental justice. Non-profits and community groups often play an important partnership in promoting education policy with lawmakers, while partnering with schools to develop sustainable programming and step in where schools lack the resources. For example, Contreras’ organization Solar One partners to provide k-12 students and teachers a green design lab to enhance learning through environmental projects. Morton noted that NYC schools have a sustainability coordinator to now “champion from the inside.” The speakers also discussed that community organizing was crucial – whether in advocating for policy change or providing resources through community organizations to supplement where communities and schools are lacking.
As a final takeaway geared for some of the young participants, the panelists discussed that there are jobs for those who want to become part of the environmental justice movement through policy work, advocacy, community organizing, and local organizations. In addition, as described by Contreras, the green energy industry will necessarily offer many ways for all Americans to be part of the coming energy transition with the right training and support.
Press here to access a link to a recording of the event.
The program was part of the Sustainability Advisory Board’s (SAB’s) on-going educational efforts and sustainability initiatives. SAB, made up of dedicated Town-appointed members and many volunteers, works behind the scenes to advise the Town on best practices for leading local environmental and conservation efforts. Among its initiatives, SAB spearheaded a gas leaf blower reduction ordinance, enacted by the Town Board and in effect from June 1 through September 30. The ordinance will reduce noxious noise, pollutants, and carbon emissions. Help SAB spread the word on this gas blower ordinance, and see SAB’s website for guidance on best practices for healthy yard cleanup and other initiatives.
Tracy Stein, a graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law, now specializes in environmental policy and advocacy. She has consulted with national and NY nonprofits, including Environmental Law Institute, NY League of Conservation Voters, and Institute for Policy Integrity, on environmental and climate policy. She recently assumed the position of Senior Research Director of Government, Nonprofit, and Corporate Affairs for NYU’s recently established Energy, Climate Justice and Sustainability Lab. She sits on the Board of Earth Day Initiative, a NYC non-profit and serves the Town of New Castle Sustainability Advisory Board.