Environmental activists from across the city chanted for climate action in front of City Hall Wednesday afternoon, just weeks before diplomats will convene in Paris for potentially historic climate talks.
The protest was organized by the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, New Haven Neighborhood Housing Services and the New Haven/León Sister City Project and featured speeches from representatives organizations including Fossil Free Yale and Save the Sound. Speakers highlighted issues from ocean acidification to climate justice. Roughly 40 people, including Yale students and local environmentalists, attended the event. Organizers of the protest said the event was meant to put pressure on all levels of government to craft a solution to fight global climate change. The protest was called in anticipation of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, due to begin in Paris on Nov. 30.
“Climate change is a sneaky problem of our century, and we are responsible to stop it,” protest organizer Ceyda Durmaz said. “We cannot wait until it becomes profitable for governments and corporations to fight climate change — it will be too late.”
Sarah Ganong, media coordinator for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Save the Sound, said the Paris talks — which she will attend — have two goals. The first is to provide financing for poor countries to organize efforts against climate change; the second is to agree on measures that limit global temperature increases by two degrees centigrade, she said.
Durmaz, who works as an environmental community organizer with the New Haven/León Sister City Project, said action on climate change cannot be delayed. Climate change is an imminent crisis, she said, and governments must act sooner rather than later.
Climate change is a key issue for New Haven residents, said Kathy Fay, manager of the Home Improvement and Energy Conservation Lab at Neighborhood Housing Services. She said reducing air pollution is particularly critical for New Haven. Partly as a result of air pollution, asthma rates for Elm City youth are approaching 25 percent, Fay said.
Fay said New Haven’s geographic location presents it with unique difficulties, explaining that the city lies in a part of the country where winds tend to come from the west, meaning that pollutants from coal plants in the Midwest blow over the Appalachian Mountains and into Connecticut.
Chris Garaffa, an organizer for far-left activist group Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, said the problem of climate change tends to have undue impact on causes like police brutality and injustice in the judicial system, issues the group has protested against in the past.
“I think when we’re looking at the issue of police brutality and the environment, environmental destruction tends to hurt poor black and brown communities the most,” he said.
Garaffa pointed to the prolonged drought in California, which he said has had a disproportionate impact on the low-income Hispanic communities of the Central Valley. He added that historically black, urban communities like Newark, New Jersey, which are close to industrial centers, often face severe pollution crises.
Other organizers echoed that sentiment. Emma Phelps ’19, who spoke on behalf of Fossil Free Yale, said climate justice — which lies at the intersection of environmental action and social justice — is an “exciting concept” in environmental activism.
The remarks extended to other issues as well. Ganong said ocean acidification is an important and often-overlooked issue in climate activism. Ocean acidification causes populations of fish and crustaceans to shrink, which endangers the livelihoods of fishing communities, she said. Ganong added the solution to ocean acidification remains unclear, making it all the more threatening in coming years.
Garaffa said he was pleased with the turnout at the event. Chris Schweitzer, one of the protest’s organizers, said the environmental activist movement has slowly built a strong and broad network in the city.
At the end of the protest, organizers handed out postcards for attendees to send to Gov. Dannel Malloy to urge him to move the state towards 100 percent clean energy.
“We have a bounteous earth and lots of gifts,” Schweitzer said. “But we need to respect the boundaries.”