Natasha Khazzam, Contributing Photographer

Youth in New Haven held another protest on Friday advocating for increased environmental education in public schools and other climate goals.

This round of demands rang against the backdrop of Hurricane Fiona, which devastated communities on the island of Puerto Rico earlier this year and has left around half of inhabitants without power. The group of around 70 then marched to the New Haven City Hall to have their demands heard by the city officials.

 “I want to use my voice to [alleviate] our community’s burden from power plants [and] sewage pollution … but I can’t do it alone,” said Alex Rodriguez, an environmental justice specialist for Save the Sound, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce water pollution in New Haven. “We need a community.” 

Rodriguez acknowledged recent strides in Connecticut’s environmental policy, including the passage of a requirement that the state transition all public transportation vehicles to electric models by 2030.

The New Haven Climate Movement, or NHCM, also succeeded in its recent pushes for increased access to climate education across New Haven public schools. As a part of the Climate Justice Schools Initiative, which was formed by the NHCM alongside the New Haven Climate Health Education Project, five public high schools began receiving at least 30 hours of climate change education per grade level as of January 2022. These schools include High School in the Community, Metropolitan Business Academy, Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, Wilbur Cross High School and Sound School.

Kiana Flores ’25, a New Haven resident and co-founder of the NHCM’s youth branch, underscored local air and water pollution of the Long Island Sound and Quinnipiac River. Flores urged individuals to electrify appliances when possible, choose sustainable modes of transportation and support global advocacy to mitigate the harmful effects of pollution. 

Residents of New Haven County experienced the highest rate of asthma hospitalizations — which research has found to be linked to air pollution — in the state, per a government report. 

Selin Goren ’24 noted that the repercussions of climate change disproportionately impact highly vulnerable countries and communities, as evidenced by flooding in Pakistan during the past six months and the devastation in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Fiona. 

Other crowd-sourced suggestions for local policy changes included reducing the city’s reliance on fossil fuels, widespread electrification and an increase in low-emissions public transit.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker spoke at the protest and emphasized coordination between New Haven policymakers and the New Haven community as a vehicle for environmental change. He outlined the city’s new climate office, which has a budget of $5 million — $2 million of which goes towards improving the electrification of buildings and vehicles throughout New Haven, and another $2 million which will be directly invested in energy renewability resources.

Still, speakers demanded that other institutions reform their climate policy. Lumisa Bista ’24, a representative from the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, highlighted Yale’s ongoing ties to climate change.

As of June 2016, Yale University invested three percent of its endowment — $740 million — in YB Institutional Limited, a fund operated by the Baupost Group, which was found to have invested over $1 billion in Puerto Rican debt. This debt has since weakened the Puerto Rican economy, impairing the island’s ability to recover from the bevy of recent hurricanes. In 2015, Yale accepted $150 million from Stephen A. Schwarzman ’69 to build the eponymous Schwarzman Center, which activists say has been historically connected to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Bista advocated for the University to cancel its indirect investments in both fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt.

“Yale’s investment practices put profit over people,” Bista said. 

Bista also called for Yale to divest from the fossil-fuel producing companies, into which Yale had invested approximately $800 million as of April 2021. The University has not moved to divest from fossil fuels as some of its peers have, but deemed ExxonMobil and Chevron ineligible for its dollars earlier this year. 

“None of these issues exist in a vacuum,” Dave Cruz-Bustamante, a student at Wilbur Cross High School, told the News. He emphasized the multifaceted influence of climate change, connecting environmental issues to crop failure in Latin America and its negative implications on the livelihoods of Latinx agricultural workers.

Both Cruz-Bustamante and Goren emphasized the importance of community protests as strides towards environmental progress.

“Like a hummingbird, trying to fight the forest fire with a single drop of water, we are all vulnerable individually, yet so powerful collectively,” Goren said, referencing climate activist Wangari Maathai’s short film, “I Will Be a Hummingbird.”

The NHCM has been active since 2015.

Natasha Khazzam | Natasha.khazzam@yale.edu

NATASHA KHAZZAM
Natasha Khazzam covers housing and homelessness for city desk. She previously covered climate and the environment. Originally from Great Neck, New York, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history and English.