One after another, New Haven environmental leaders spoke in front of the Board of Alders City Services and Environmental Policy Committee on Thursday and hammered home a sobering message: Climate change is here, and the city must act.

Those who spoke at the hearing voiced thoughts on the city’s new sustainability plan. While each speaker focused on different aspects of climate change, from the raw science of greenhouse gases to the national political scene, everyone expressed the need for one thing in particular: urgency.

“As the gravity of climate change is more widely acknowledged, the urgency to act is not so much,” said Geremy Shulick, a resident of Wooster Square and a volunteer at the New Haven Climate Movement. “Climate change is very low on the laundry list of political action right now.”

Yet Schulik and the rest of the speakers at Thursday’s hearing praised city officials for crafting the new sustainability plan, lauding it as an important first step in dealing with climate change. Under the plan, New Haven aims to become carbon neutral by 2050. To fulfill these objectives, the plan offers 97 proposals, ranging from small-scale changes, such as teaching residents how to build rain gardens, to broader goals, like integrating clean energy into the city’s infrastructure.

For Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, executive director of the New Haven Land Trust, the framework marks a moment of pride. Several years ago, Elicker and Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola, now chairman of the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee, worked hard to lobby the city to address rising sea levels. But initially, their efforts came to naught — until the city announced its new climate framework in January.

“There are huge portions of our city that in 12 years from now will be flooded,” Elicker said on Thursday.

But the city’s framework gives him hope.

“I’m proud of New Haven today,” he said.

Chris Ozyck, a New Haven resident who works at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, also praised the city for its action. Given that he lives in the coastal neighborhood of Fair Haven, which is especially threatened by rising sea levels, Ozyck is particularly invested in the city’s climate plan.

“In Fair Haven, we’re losing our shoreline, we’re losing our park,” he said. As a result, Ozyck said he “really applauds the Board of Alders” for their efforts.

Referring to a map that showed the predicted sea level rise in New Haven by 2030, Elicker urged the committee to spread the word about the dangers of climate change.

Several attendees expressed the need for local governments to lead the way on climate policy due to the absence of leadership at the national level.

“You need to make some courageous decisions,” Elicker told the alders in attendance. “Cities have to step up.”

Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa agreed, emphasizing the need for people in power to educate the public on climate issues. She underscored that it is the responsibility of city officials to reach out to climate change deniers.

“We have to come up with a creative way of explaining [climate change],” Festa said. “We have to be able to explain it on different levels.”

Like Festa, Nora Heaphy ’21, a member of Fossil Free Yale, stressed the need for unity in devising climate policy and praised the city’s sustainability framework as a “united vision.”

One concern with the city’s plan — and with climate policy in general — is the high cost of installing green technologies and building sustainable infrastructure.

But those at the meeting said cost is not a reason for inaction.

“These things are expensive,” Elicker said. “But in the long run, the cost of not doing something is way beyond the cost of doing something.”

Chris Schweitzer, program director of New Haven Leon Sister City Project, noted that the cost of climate-related disasters is already high and will continue to rise unless the city takes action. He called climate change an “economic disaster.”

For Schweitzer, the city’s plan represents a promising solution.

“The framework is a great tool to get us back on track, to create jobs and create healthier communities,” he said.

The five warmest years on record have all taken place since 2010.

Max Graham |