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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

A Child Shall Lead Them: Connecticut Youth Lead The Climate Charge

The world has the teenage climate warrior Greta Thunberg, but Connecticut is home to several young warriors of its own. High schoolers in the New Haven Climate Movement convinced the city to declare a climate emergency, while Yale’s Endowment Justice Coalition actively seeks the university’s divestment from fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt. Green Eco Warriors is a youth climate program founded by Leticia Colón de Mejias, who is one of Connecticut’s foremost mentors to youth regarding the climate crisis, and the mostly 20-something group from New Haven’s Sunrise Movement hub promotes the Green New Deal.

All these groups, and others, had planned robust rallies and marches to call for urgent climate action on April 22 to 24 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. However, after the state shut down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, all the activities proceeded on-line, and included virtual rallies, teach-ins, poster-making, tree-decorating and much more.  

According to Adrien Huq, a 16-year-old senior at New Haven’s Metropolitan Business Academy and one of the organizers with the New Haven Climate Movement, “There’s new excitement and urgency around the climate emergency. It’s a new decade and we need to see strong action because not a lot happened in the last decade. Earth Day is about taking solid action this time, not just a one-day thing or just planting a tree. Being an environmentalist is great, but we also need people pushing for strong action at the governmental level, especially the state level.” 

Another group, the Sunrise Movement hub, burst upon the scene shortly after the 2018 mid-term elections when a large group of young people occupied the Congressional office of incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, demanding the government pass legislation for a Green New Deal to “stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process,” says Tyler Wakefield, a leader with the group. “It’s an attempt to center justice in our approach to stopping this crisis. It recognizes our country’s and cities’ long history of racist and classist energy, housing, health care, transportation and food policy that has left communities of color and low-wealth communities far more vulnerable to climate change.” 

Adult climate activists focused on the “Stop the Money Pipeline” campaign, advancing the idea that if banks and other financial institutions stop extending loans and providing insurance coverage for fracked gas and highly polluting tar sands and other kinds of oil pipelines, then that greenhouse gas-emitting infrastructure can’t be built. Hartford has long been considered the insurance capital of the world, and activists—led by co-organizer the Connecticut chapter of the Sierra Club—recently carried out an “on-line accountability walking tour” to visit a number of insurance companies headquartered in the city. The purpose was “to demand that they stop their investments in fossil fuels, that they invest in renewable energy and stop insuring fossil fuel companies,” says Angel Serrano, lead organizer for the event with Connecticut Citizen Action Group. He added that the focus was on social justice, environmental justice, climate change and energy. 

Sena Wazer, a 16-year-old student at UConn, is co-chair of another Sunrise group and a passionate speaker who roused her peers and elders at three climate strikes at the Capitol last year. The youth’s demands included no new fossil fuel expansion; expanded energy efficiency and renewable energy; and ensured climate education for all public-school children, “because every child deserves to know what is happening to their future,” she says. “We cannot keep building natural gas power plants when we need to be moving away from fossil fuels, and renewable energy is the future.”

In a speech last December, she made her case to political leaders, telling them: “I spend every day panicking about climate change, doing whatever I can to help combat it, but yet in your position of power, you continue to sit by and do nothing. But we’re not waiting any longer: Stand up or step aside.”

The activists say the bills that were being debated in the Connecticut General Assembly this year before the shutdown didn’t go nearly far enough in tackling the climate crisis. Although the state relies more on fracked natural gas than any other fuel source, they say it is not a bridge to a clean energy future. Some have called it “a gangplank to catastrophe,” since natural gas is almost 100 percent methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas that is 100 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over a 10-year period, which is the critical time for action.

Another focus for local climate groups is Killingly, near the Rhode Island border. It’s the site of a fracked gas power plant first denied, then approved, by the Connecticut Siting Council. 

“If it’s built and operates, it will increase greenhouse gas emissions over 5 percent in the state, which makes it increasingly difficult to meet our climate mandates,” says Kate Donnelly, one of the organizers of opposition to the plant. The plant’s owner, NTE, says gas is cleaner than the coal- and oil-powered plants it’s replacing, but opponents say renewable energy is cleaner still, and underscore again the methane problem.  

Advocates for a stable climate say Connecticut doesn’t need the plant, as energy demand has remained flat throughout the region, and ISO New England, the region’s energy grid operator, last year reduced its need for power. 

Donnelly adds that local residents are concerned because emissions from the plant would increase air pollution, and Windham County already has the highest asthma rates in the state. “We have state reps and senators, farmers, businesspeople, the elderly and parents” involved in efforts to stop the plant, she says. “Our strategy is to educate people as much as we can and then put pressure on the governor through protests, writing letters, lobbying.” 

The Connecticut Climate Crisis Mobilization, a 90-member coalition that came together last summer to promote September’s youth climate strike in Hartford, met for several months before the planned Earth Day events to build support and carry out their own “lightning round rally and actions.” They also planned a forum that will make the connections between the coronavirus, the climate emergency and the economic crisis. 

Local Resources

Connecticut Climate Crisis Mobilization • CTClimateCrisisMobilization.org

CT Citizen Action Group • [email protected] • CCAG.net/take-action.html

New Haven Climate Movement • [email protected]
NewHavenClimateMovement.org

No More Dirty Power in Killingly • 860-604-4846 (Sierra Club Connecticut)

Sierra Club Connecticut • 860-578-4750 • Connecticut.SierraClub.org

Sunrise CT • FB, Instagram, Twitter: Sunrise Movement Connecticut

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