Jersey Girl Joins over 300,000 Activists at the Historic #PeoplesClimate March

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I have never seen so many people in the same place for the same cause at the same time in my twenty four years on Earth. The #PeoplesClimate March blew my mind. In the best way possible.

My good friend and fellow 20-something environmentalist, Carrie and I made plans on my birthday to travel to New York City to participate in the People’s Climate March. I had seen a ton of social media outreach with great photos and inspiring stories encouraging people to attend. I was hopeful that the march would double the Forward on Climate March from last February and bring 100,000 concerned citizens to the Big Apple.

We arrived in New York from NJ Transit on time (for once) and found ourselves in a crowd of activists waiting for the C train to Central Park West. When we watched three trains pass full of more activists, we were excited about all of the people that had shown up. When we flooded the subway station with hundreds of other people climbing up the stairs to the City, we thought this might be big.

And then. We went. Outside. I have never seen so many people in my life.

Most of the activists were in good spirits as we waited at 72nd Street and Central Park West for the march to begin. Carrie and I looked at all of the creative signs and the diverse crowd before us as we waited to move.

We started to march and chant with all kinds of people, artists, students, families, vegans, older activists, scientists, foodies, labor unions, solar activists. It was incredible to see so many people coming together to act on climate. Marching bands kept everyone in step and dancing and smiling. The music was personally one of my favorite things about the march. Carrie and I got stopped by a lot of folks who wanted to take pictures of our signs. We took a ton of photos of other people’s signs and works of art. I was proud whenever someone shouted “Hey Jersey!” or “Yeah Jersey Girl hold up your sign!” We felt like we were among friends. Carrie and I talked to activists from New Orleans, saw a woman from Alaska, even a group from Minnesota, all out because they want their world leaders to act on climate.

The most astounding aspect of the People’s Climate March for me was the sound. An avalanche of sound would gather behind me, I could feel it, building, coming towards us, louder and louder until it arrived to where we were marching and I realized it was the sound of the hundreds of thousands of people around me cheering. I shouted and cheered, pushing the tidal wave of sound in front of me, onto the group of people leading the way.

Once Carrie and I got back to my apartment in Sea Bright, we read the headlines and found out that we were two of over 310,000 (or 400,000 depending on the source) people that rose up and joined together for climate justice. What an unbelievable feeling to be included in a crowd that was over four miles long.

The People’s Climate March made such a bold statement. Even on our way into NYC, folks saw our signs and thanked us for going and explained how important a clean energy future was to them. An older female activist said to Carrie and I with stars in her eyes that was “wonderful, just wonderful” to see so many people marching for climate change as we rolled through Times Square. We felt the same way as her and we felt hopeful.

Youth contingent: Our Future Our Choice

Youth contingent: Our Future Our Choice

Oh, and climate change made national news:

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Birding…For Science!

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Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook, NJ

Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook, NJ

Do you love birding? Can’t wait to add to your life list or ID a new species? Consider taking your love for all things with wings to the next level: volunteer with the National Audubon Society‘s Citizen Science program!

Citizen Science projects recruit volunteers to collect ecological information. For example, the New Jersey Audubon Citizen Science program asks bird nerds to help them develop information data sets on the abundance, distribution and demography of bird species throughout the state.

With GPS coordinates provided by NJA, volunteers can set out on an adventure, tallying different types of bird species they see, while noting information about habitat, weather and tidal conditions. The information is then collected by NJA to provide a basis for managing bird populations, promote habitat preservation and improve knowledge of state ecology.

For more information and to learn how you can get involved, find an Audubon Society near you!

Keeping the ‘Garden’ in ‘Garden State’

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Sea Bright One Year Ago

Today is a weird day.  I feel thankful, blessed, guilty and angry all at the same time.  It is the year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.  I rent an apartment on one of the Barrier Islands in New Jersey – a small shore town 3 miles long – called Sea Bright.

One year ago today I evacuated from Sea Bright back to my parents in North Jersey.  Safe and sound, without power but among family and friends, I anxiously awaited my return to the shore.  I had just moved to Sea Bright three weeks before the storm and was beginning to make the town my own.  I had met a few locals who took me, The Benny, under their wings and showed me the ropes.  I couldn’t wait to go back.  I didn’t think Sandy would be that bad; all I did to ‘prepare’ was buy two bottles of wine.

Then Sandy hit.

Though the two bottles of wine did come in handy, in retrospect, a few other preparations, like filling my car with gas, would have been helpful.  The house I rent out of took ten feet of water in the basement, but my landlord was able to fix what needed to be fixed and I moved back within three weeks of the storm.

I immediately began volunteering in town.  I felt guilty that I was able to return to my apartment, while families who had lived and worked and owned businesses in Sea Bright for generations were displaced, their homes and livelihoods forever changed.  And I was angry at the bureaucratic processes that my fellow New Jerseyans had to go through to get help.

National Guard - 'Tent City' in Sea Bright one year ago

The National Guard – ‘Tent City’ in Sea Bright

I’m not sure what I expected volunteering in town to be like right after the storm, but what I experienced was unbelievable.  The National Guard had posted up in Sea Bright, making the town look like a war zone.  Trailers of supplies were in rows for folks to take what they needed or to drop off what they didn’t. Sea Bright was busy: police officers, the National Guard, volunteers from all over the US, locals trying to rebuild their lives, the press, and elected officials all attempting to navigate their way around town.

I learned that despite what aid comes in from the local, state and federal level; New Jerseyans and Sea Brighters take care of their own.  Like my Sea Bright Rising sweatshirt says, we were “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.”  Even among the confusion, anger, and bewilderment of everyone in town, Sea Bright residents came together and formed their own support network through community.  Tough times don’t last, tough people do.  I felt good energy in town and I felt that slowly but surely Sea Bright would be okay.

A year later, 40% of Sea Bright residents still have not returned home after Superstorm Sandy.  This holds true for many other towns throughout the coastal community up and down the Jersey Shore.

If you would like to help the Jersey Shore’s ongoing recovery process, check out volunteer opportunities with Occupy Sandy NJ or Coastal Habitat for Humanity.

So what do we do now?  What have we learned?  How do we prepare for the next storm?

A lot of folks are talking about talking about rebuilding more resiliently and sustainably to keep New Jerseyans safe from the next storm.  Many of these discussions focus on Barrier Island towns like Sea Bright.  Do we retreat and let the land be reclaimed by nature?  Did we have a right to build on Barrier Islands in the first place?  Should we all migrate inland?  Now, I am extremely biased because I love Sea Bright, but I think there are solid points on both sides of this controversial argument.

All folks should be able to make their own decision about where they choose to live, raise a family or own a business.  However, I think in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it is vital for everyone to understand the risks of living in a flood plain and the vulnerabilities of the New Jersey coastline.  It is especially important for folks to understand these risks as they relate to climate change and sea level rise.  The climate system is changing and will continue to change as humans continue to interact with it.

For more information about climate change and sea level rise in your area, check out ClimateCentral.org and resources from the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance.

A lot of these issues; climate change, sea level rise, responsible recovery, land use planning, resiliency and so on were raised at a conference I attended today.

The topic of buyouts came up in every session of the day.  Regardless of your opinion on where folks should or should not live, state acquisitions of properties in certain floodways that are prone to flood or storm damage could help New Jersey prepare for the next storm.  I’m certainly not saying that every resident on the Barrier Islands should retreat so that the land can return to nature or that we should all migrate inland tomorrow, I am merely entertaining the idea of buyouts because I know that climate change and sea level rise are occurring.  As a 20-something environmentalist, it is important for me to keep track of these trends so that I can prepare myself for the years to come and to plan for my own future.

Moving on to a less controversial topic along the same lines…

Open Space in Monmouth County, NJ

Open Space in Monmouth County, NJ

More natural buffers, like marshlands, could help mitigate floodwater from future storm events.  Increased plots of open space in North Jersey could help reduce pollution runoff into local waterways and ultimately the ocean.  Less impervious surfaces could help rainwater to be absorbed back into the groundwater table and reduce local flooding from smaller storm events.  Farmland and sustainable farming practices could also reduce soil compaction.   Creating areas of open space that support native plants could help to filter runoff and slow down the rate of flooding events, all the while filtering toxins out of rainwater before it recharges the groundwater table, and therefore the water that we drink.

Sounds great, right?  Except…New Jersey currently has no money for new projects like these.  All of the open space funds from the last voter approved ballot measure in 2009 have been allocated completely.  The Assembly has not held a hearing that would allow for voters to choose to renew funding for open space, farmland and historic preservation programs.

New Jerseyans: Call your two State Assembly representatives and tell them that open space, farmland, and historic preservation are important to you. 

  • Ask them to urge the Assembly Speaker to post the open space funding bill, ACR 205, for a vote before the end of this year so that you can have a chance to vote to renew open space funding in the November 2014 election.
  • Then, please call Speaker Oliver directly and ask her to schedule the open space bill, ACR 205, for a vote this year.  Find your legislators here.

For more information about the critical need for a stable source of open space funding and to keep the ‘garden’ in ‘Garden State,’ please check out New Jersey Keep It Green.

A 20-something Environmentalist at Blue Vision Summit 4

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By now, you have all been bombarded by the phrases “go green” and “be sustainable” in the media, in advertising and from peers, but have you heard of the phrase “go blue?”

Not to give you all horrible SAT flashbacks, but “blue” is to the ocean as “green” is to the environment. So, when I attended the Blue Vision Summit in Washington, D.C. last week, I expected to learn more about ocean policies and helping to protect the marine environment, but I never expected to find myself submerged so deeply into ocean issues with such an interesting group of people from all over America and abroad.

Blue Vision Summit (BVS) is held every other year in Washington, D.C. and serves as one of the nation’s largest ocean movement strategy conference. BVS brings hundreds of individuals concerned about the ocean and marine conservation together to take unified action on key issues and policies impacting the ocean. Each Summit reserves one day for advocates to meet and educate members of Congress on Capital Hall.

BVS is organized by Blue Frontier Campaign, a group, founded in 2003, that “highlights the economic, environmental, recreational and spiritual benefits of healthy and abundant seas…through outreach and service to hundreds of marine grassroots organizations.” Blue Frontier works to unite grassroots groups together with “private, civil and governmental organizations for the purpose of creating a visible and effective blue movement to advance sound policies and practices from coastal watersheds to deep ocean waters.”

Blue Vision Summit 2013 focused on three areas: responding to coastal disasters like Superstorm Sandy in ways that will protect ecosystems, making climate change a blue issue, and highlighting youth leadership for ocean conservation.

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Claudio Garzon’s shark sculpture made out of plastic debris found on the beach.

BVS carried out these themes in a variety of different ways. The first night of the conference, we all learned about marine debris from “artivists” (artist + activist = artivist) or “creative conservationists” who showed us their work. Many of the artivists used plastic debris collected on their local beaches to make beautiful art with a message.

We also watched a number of interesting documentaries about ocean conservation issues. My favorite was a short animated film called the “Song of the Spindle,” about a conversation between a man and a whale. I also liked a documentary about the Nightingale Island Disaster, put together by Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit founded in 2004.

I enjoyed every day of Blue Vision Summit, especially Healthy Ocean Hill Day on Capital Hill, and came home with what I think are two very important take aways:

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Ocean advocates and Congressman Rush Holt during Healthy Ocean Hill Day

One: Every state is a coastal state

BVS had representatives from 24 states, Borneo, Canada and Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa northeast of Guinea, southeast of Liberia and southwest of the Atlantic Ocean. One of the states that brought a number of ocean advocates was Colorado. Well, yes, there is no ocean in Colorado, but these passionate individuals realize that every action we take ultimately has an impact on the ocean. Fertilizer and pesticides are carried from stream to stream, river to river, and eventually the ocean. This reason, as well as many more, is why the Colorado Ocean Coalition was formed to protect the ocean “from a mile high.”

Another interesting partnership that was showcased at BVS was that of Iowa farmers and conservationists in the Gulf of Mexico. Watch the segment of the video Ocean Frontiers below to see how the farmers came to realize that the Mississippi River carried their actions all the way to the Gulf of Mexico:

Two: Kids are Kicking Ass for the Ocean

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9 year old Mackenzie asked the panelists “how can I get money to start a group near me for the ocean?”

Towards the end of the conference, Blue Frontier organized a panel of youth advocates to speak about their work to save the ocean. Now, the environmental community is awesome for so many reasons, but my favorite has to be how we all inspire and motivate each other. I was so inspired by the 7th grader I spoke with a month or so ago about plastic pollution and by the young ocean advocates at Blue Vision Summit last week. These kids are not waiting until they grow up to save the ocean, they are working hard at marine conservation now. They were also tired of people saying they are the advocates of the future; they are working for change right now. The panelists from Teens for Oceans, The Harbor School, and 5 Gyres believe that youth make excellent advocates because of their curiosity, fresh perspective and inspiration from the world around them. One panelist spoke about how adults feel jaded and frustrated by marine issues, while kids feel empowered and see problems as an opportunity to make a positive change.

After three days at Blue Vision Summit, I felt empowered by the advocates around me, young and old, and all of the different types of people: artists, film makers, policy makers, government employees, nonprofit volunteers, to do the best I can do to “go blue.”

What Democracy Looks Like: Forward on Climate Rally

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A 20-something environmentalist’s experience as a part of the
largest climate rally in U.S. history

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“Hey Obama, we don’t want no climate drama!” and  “Hey, hey, ho, ho, KXL has got to go!”  were two of my favorite chants from my first rally.  On Sunday, February 17, 2013, I traveled with Delaware Sierra Club and a student group I was involved with at the University of Delaware, Students for the Environment, to Washington, D.C. to urge President Obama to move “Forward on Climate.”

The idea behind Forward on Climate, organized by 350.org and the Sierra Club, is to call on Barack Obama to lead on climate and take responsibility as President of the United States to move beyond coal and natural gas, ignite a clean energy economy, limit carbon pollution from dirty power plants and most importantly, reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Accepting tar sands oil from Canada through the Keystone XL pipeline has been called “game over for climate” by James Hansen, climatologist, activist and head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  Tar sands oil is considered “tough” or “unconventional” oil, which requires more water and energy than conventional oil extraction. Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.

I joined Forward on Climate because I want the man I voted for in my first election and in the 2012 election to leave a legacy of change, and begin solving the climate crisis.  I want President Obama to end fracking and mountaintop removal and reject Keystone XL, so I hopped on a bus to DC.

The bus we took from Delaware was one of 120 buses from all over the United States traveling to the nation’s capital for what was supposed to be “the largest climate change rally in history.”  On the bus, we were all excited and had no idea what to expect; we picked out our signs and talked about recent eco-political news (Obama’s nomination for the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, John Kerry as Secretary of State).

We arrived to a sunny, but brisk day in Washington, D.C.  As the bus pulled up near the Washington Monument, we could already see signs from environmentalists coming from as far as Maine and Kentucky.  Following the crowds, we began walking toward the Monument, taking part in small “pump-up” rallies along the way.  One group of students even brought a speaker that was carted around blasting Dubstep.

The rally spot on the field near the National Monument quickly filled with tons and tons of people.  It was hard to determine just how many of us there were.  We listened with starry eyes to the inspiring Bill McKibben say “All I ever wanted was to see a movement of people to stop climate change and now I see it,” a statement that was met with loud cheers.

Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, Van Jones, Rebuild the Dream President, and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse also spoke at the rally before the march yesterday.  It was refreshing to hear a climate hawk who also happened to be a politician.  One of my favorite moments from yesterday was when a Red-tailed Hawk actually flew over the stage.  It made me feel like the rest of my climate hawk friends who couldn’t make the rally were with us in spirit.

Maria T. Cardona, Lationvations Founder and the Rev. Leenox Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus President and CEO kept the momentum going throughout the rally.  First Nation women, Chief Jacqueline Thomas (Saik’uz First Nation) and Crystal Lameman (Beaver Lake Cree First Nations) informed the massive crowd of their heritage and culture and the intimate connection their people have with the land.  I was also pleasantly surprised to hear California billionaire, Thomas Steyer, passionately describe the Keystone XL pipeline as a “bad investment.”  I was glad to see an economic perspective during the rally, to help strengthen our argument.

After the rally was over, we took to the pavement shouting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “This is what democracy looks like!”  It was amazing to be surrounded by so many people that were so passionate and invested in the health of the planet and the future of energy in America.  The Occupy Movement had a heavy presence, as well as representatives from over 160 environmental groups from across the country.  I was so happy to see ralliers from the Appalachian community speaking out against mountaintop removal, shouting “mountains are for climbing, stop the mining!”

In an e-mail from Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, he said, “They said we’d never get 10,000 on a frigid February day. Our staff laughed and said we’d get 25,000. Then you laughed and sent more than 40,000.”  I am proud to say that I was part of the largest climate rally in history, one of more than 45,000 on the National Mall yesterday.

Across the country, there were also “solidarity rallies” taking place, for those environmentalists who want to speak out for climate action, but could not make it to Washington, D.C.  Over 20 rallies happened in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington State.  More than one million online activists joined in on Thunderclap! too, solidified the message to President Obama: we want to move climate forward.

Our voice was so loud, that despite typical business as usual and climate silence throughout the national media, Forward on Climate broke through:

Some National News:

Some International News:

I vote, volunteer and work for the environment, but my voice for the planet has never been louder than it was yesterday, one of the 45,000 voices shouting together for climate action.

As seen on: EnviroPolitics Blog

As seen on Power Shift’s Blog

Bill McKibben Asks Rutgers University to “Do The Math”

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billAll we’re asking for is for the type of planet we were born on. It’s not radical,” said Bill
McKibben in the Rutgers University Student Center (New Brunswick, NJ) on Monday, February 4, 2013. “Radicalism is the scientists of fossil fuel companies who are altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere more than any human has before them,” he added.

I had the privilege of attending Bill McKibben’s Do the Math Tour: Why Climate Change Matters and What You Can Do About It on Monday and enjoyed every minute of it.  McKibben was a wonderful, funny, and down to earth speaker who motivated me to attend the Climate Rally on Sunday, February 17 in Washington.  To read more about my experience and find out more about the Do The Math Tour, please read my post on Mother Earth News.

Bottled Water? What’s next? Bagged Air?

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In college, I was involved with the Delaware Environmental Institute Student Programs Committee, where we encouraged students to become more “bottled water aware” and offered alternatives to buying bottled water (see Bottled Water Awareness on Campus).  After graduation, I began working for an ocean advocacy non-profit, where we also try to discourage our network of citizens, businesses and organizations from buying bottled water.

But why?

A lot of bottled water companies boast using “mineral water” and “natural spring water” in their product.  That water has to be safe to drink, right?  And when I’m in a hurry to leave my house, bottled water is just so much easier and more convenient than filling up my own stainless steel bottle or Nalgene.  What’s so bad about that?

Well, consider this…

  • The U.S. bottled water industry consumes over 50 million barrels of oil a year, enough oil to fuel 3 million cars for one year.
  • The EPA estimates that nearly a quarter of one popular brand of bottled water, for example, originally comes from tap water at a price at least 300 times the cost of tap water.
  • The recommended eight glasses of water a day for one year costs about $1,400 in bottled water versus only 49 cents in tap water.
  • The composition of tap water, which is regulated by the EPA, is also more closely monitored by the government than bottled water, which has looser restrictions imposed by the Food and Drug Administration and only when the bottled water is shipped across state lines.
  • The plastic the bottles are made from contains unhealthy synthetic chemicals like BPA and phthalates (endocrine disruptors that have been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, autism and obesity), which may leach into the water or the environment after disposal.

The environmental, health, and economic costs of bottled water listed above are considered “hidden costs” of the $11.7 BILLION (!!) industry.  Check out this really awesome video that further explains the idea of a “hidden cost:”

Not convinced yet?  There are cities in the United States that are banning the sale of bottled water because it is so harmful.  Earlier this month, Concord, Massachusetts  became one of the first communities in the U.S. to ban the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles.

My hope is that other cities follow suit, until the United States has banned bottled water completely.  If we allow this industry to continue to grow, what would come next, bagged air?

Featured on: Eco News Network

How to Help Restore the Shore

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Through all of the destruction and heartbreak caused by Super storm Sandy, I hope that we learn to respect nature’s boundaries.  Sandy has brought an opportunity to rebuild smartly and stop over building in  floodplains.  The storm has also shown the value of wetlands and their ability to store and absorb rainwater.  I hope that from Sandy we become more capable of handling stronger climate-change fueled storms.  I also hope that Sandy ends climate silence in the US and the conversation started by Mayor Bloomberg will be carried out by newly re-elected Barack Obama.

Reflecting on the past week or so, I have become an expert at living like a nomad, bouncing from house with power to house with power, as my parents and I continue to wait for power in my hometown…I wait in line to get gas on the day specifically assigned to me by the Governor…I drive through intersections with unlit traffic lights, which may be the weirdest part about not having power.

I went back to my apartment in Sea Bright on the day assigned to me by the town, in the presence of the National Guard.  I waited in line to get on a bus to be taken to my apartment, since no cars are allowed through town.  I am lucky, my studio apartment in a house on Ocean Avenue was spared.  The house itself has been given a 2 on the scale of 1-5, 1 being untouched and 5 being condemned.  Some of the other houses along Ocean Avenue have been spray painted with 5’s, Sandy having come in the back of the house and out the garage to the front.  Beach clubs have been leveled.  The owner of the house I live in has called Sea Bright home all his life and he feels like seeing the town is going “to the wake of a close friend.”  The rest of the Jersey Shore is in similar condition and needs help (see Jersey Shore Hurricane News on Facebook and Twitter).  I believe that the Shore will be open for business again come Memorial Day, celebrating the ultimate Jersey comeback, but we need help to get there.

National Guard was present to help assist people into Sea Bright

Line to get into Sea Bright

Red Cross in Sea Bright did an excellent job!

My walk way down before and after. The beach erosion is crazy and the vegetation is gone.

Jetty that Sandy uncovered in Sea Bright NJ

Here’s how to help Restore the Shore:

Buy some sweet clothes, 100% of the proceeds go to hurricane relief:

Donate to:

  • United Way
  • Boys and Girls Club:
  • Text BegreatNJ to 20222 to donate $10 through phone bill.
  • Checks mailed to: 822 Clifton Avenue, Clifton NJ 07013 Indicate “Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund” in the memo line.
  • Salvation Army:
  • Mail donations to: PO Box 3170, Union NJ 07083 Indicate “Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund” in the memo line.
  • Community FoodBank of New Jersey:
  • In need of meals in a can; canned fruit, vegetables and soup, peanut butter, granola bars, shelf stable milk, cereal
  • Donations can be dropped at the Food Bank 31 Evans Terminal, Hillside,NJ
  • Donations can be made online at www.CFBNJ.org/helpnow 
  • Urban League of Essex County:
  • In need of canned goods, cereal, milk, sandwiches, dry goods, diapers
  • Donations may be dropped off 508 Central Avenue, Newark NJ
  • Donations can be made online at www.ulec.org/content/donate
  • For more info call (973) 624-9535 or go to info@ulec.org
  • Red Cross:
  • Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10, or visit redcross.org, call (800) RED-CROSS
  • Newark’s Covenant House:
  • Caring for children evacuated from Atlantic City
  • Supplies needed: fuel, groceries, clothes, diapers or donations. To assist e-mail jscozzo@covenanthouse.org
  • Governor Chris Christie and First Lady Mary Pat Christie’s Sandy NJ Relief Fund

Volunteer Opportunities:

Climate Change Education

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Below is my perspective on climate change education.  I gave this speech at the MADE CLEAR (Maryland and Delaware Climate Change Education, Assessment and Research) Climate Change Education Summit at the University of Maryland on September 19, 2011.  I felt honored to be one of four panelists, and the only undergraduate student, that spoke at the Summit.  I’ve included the YouTube video of my speech too.

Looking back on my childhood, I fondly remember watching the stages of butterfly metamorphosis in the first grade, catching and identifying insects in the fifth grade, and going on nature walks with my camera by eighth grade.  When I reached high school, I took AP Environmental Science, a class where we were able to test the water quality of Black River, the closest body of water to my school in Chester, New Jersey.  I do realize that unlike me, not every child growing up in the United States enjoys nerdy activities, like bird watching.  Can the appreciation that I have for the planet, which seemed to develop naturally, be taught to those who spent their childhoods inside playing video games, oblivious to the ecosystems in their own backyards?

My peers and I grew up in what seems to be the “Pre-Climate Change” generation.  Although climate change has been occurring since the Industrial Revolution, the idea of human impact on the environment did not saturate the media until the early 21st century.  The “Green Revolution” in America will certainly impact the curriculum of the next generation, but where does that leave students my age?  In my experiences at the University of Delaware, I have seen students manifesting the idea of “conspicuous consumption.”  At first glance, a student wearing a hemp necklace, Tom’s shoes and a floral skirt with Nalgeen and canvas bag in hand appears earth-friendly.  Ask that student how much he or she drives around campus, whether he or she consumes local food, or whether he or she pressures congressman to pass renewable energy policies and the answer may surprise you.

Although students my age seem to be coming a little late in the game to the environmental discussion, I have hope for our climate future because of the incredible children that I had the pleasure of meeting through my job at the Hunterdon County Parks Department Summer Nature Program.  Every weekday for eight weeks during the past two summers, I would arrive at Mountain Farm/Teetertown Preserve, to implement the one week program I developed for my third and fourth grade nature campers.

Educators must be discussing some form of climate change awareness, as my eight and nine year old campers are already familiar with “going green.”  My campers could identify our composting bin, were asking where the recycling bin was, and were proudly explaining the organic and locally grown foods that are a part of their diet.  Two summers ago, I discussed global warming, carbon dioxide emissions and the dwindling polar bear population with the campers.  We coupled this discussion with a sustainability game where we brainstormed ways to be energy efficient in each room of the house. The campers surprised me every week; already familiar with “squiggly” light bulbs, biodiesel (one camper recognized “French fries” as an alternative form of energy), and hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.

This past summer, I did an activity to illustrate the concept of river pollution flowing downstream.  I drew a river across ten pieces of paper and asked each camper to take a piece.  I told them that they had all become millionaires and could afford whatever house they wanted on the riverfront property.  As I’m sure you can imagine, the children had rather creative ideas: floating trampolines and zoos, roller coasters, helicopter landing pads, and rather eccentric pets.  I had one camper, however, named Adam who drew a simple yellow house, with a fenced in yard for his dog to play in and a swing set for his kids to play on.  When I asked him why he chose to draw his part of the river in such a way he told me, “I don’t want anything I don’t need.”

Now, while Adam is a rarity, it only takes one person with a great idea to make major, progressive changes in our society.  The earlier children learn about their responsibility as a steward of the planet, the more time they have to develop into concerned conservationists and serve as the voice of the future, which is why I am a strong advocate for environmental education being incorporated into the curriculum as early as possible.

Though bringing environmental aspects into the classroom has proven to work efficiently (at least with my campers), there is no better way to learn than experiencing something first hand.  The children at Nature Camp are learning about the environment not in a confined classroom but instead outdoors, which allows for them to be surrounded by the beauty of nature and understand the idea of conservation through their own personal experience.  It is incredibly exciting as a Nature Program Leader to see young girls wearing snakes as necklaces and watching campers’ smiles stretch wide when they find a skull inside an owl pellet.  Having a camper come up and ask if we can check on the swallow fledglings in the barn or having a swarm of children running at me and screaming how someone found a frog or an insect gives me hope for the future.  If these young children foster an appreciation for all things outdoors, they will learn to live sustainably as adults.

The idea of an interactive, hands-on approach to climate change education can be successful for my peers, those of us who were out of the elementary school system before the “greening” of the American media.  Through traveling to the ACPA (American College Personnel Association) Institute on Sustainability in Boulder, Colorado, this past June, I became familiar with Ohio State University’s Buckeye Metro Farm.  What started as an initiative by a few members of a student group has, become a model for climate change education.  Passionate students with a vision were lucky enough to obtain some land on campus property for three plots, totaling roughly an acre of farmland, and a number of grants and support from faculty and staff to make their dream a reality.  One of the plots is even headed towards certified organic.  The OSU Student Farm involves students from Metro High School and local organizations to help plant and sell their products at the Farmer’s Market.  The University’s Dining and Catering Services buys products to use in the campus dining halls.  The Horticulture and Crop Science department offers an organic gardening class taught on the Student Farm.  The department has even created a concentration within the Horticulture and Crop Science curriculum on sustainable food systems due to the Farm’s popularity among students.  It seems to be a well-oiled machine at this point that involves not only the students and the University, but the surrounding community.

The OSU Student Farm can serve as a model for climate change education at the college-level.  Not only are students literally digging in the dirt, they are giving back to the community and have the option of receiving college credit for their experience to boot.

In the end, I am hopeful for our future.  I believe that education is the key to progressing towards a greener American climate: environmentally, politically, and economically.  To quote Baba Dioum, a great ecologist: “For in the end, we will conserve only what we love.  We will love only what we understand.  We will understand only what we are taught.”