Neha Middela, Contributing Photographer

New Haven community leaders, students, artists and scientists gathered in John S. Martinez School to learn about the particular impact that climate change will have on the city on Saturday afternoon. 

The New Haven Climathon was organized by Reimagining New Haven in the Era of Climate Change, a recently formed coalition of climate activists. Other organizations involved with planning the event included the City of New Haven, Sustainable CT, the Green Fund of Greater New Haven, Save the Sound and The Arts Council of Greater New Haven, among others. Attendees listened to presentations detailing the full range of community-based environmental work in New Haven and participated in workshops to encourage dialogue about climate solutions. 

“How do we engage others? It’s beyond sending an EventBrite,” presenter Doreen Abubakar and founder of the Community Place-Making Engagement Network said. “We are creating a community of people, engaged in learning about the environment … engaged in learning about climate change.” 

The event began with an introduction by Mercy Quaye of the social justice communications agency Narrative Project, followed by a welcome statement by Mayor Justin Elicker. Organizers from the New Haven Climate Movement and Save the Sound discussed their work to encourage local climate action. 

This was then followed by a presentation by local artist Kwadwo Adae, who spoke about his public artwork and murals in New Haven in partnership with the Urban Resources Initiative. 

Adae upheld the utility of community-based, collaborative environmental solutions and ended his presentation by saying that “rational responses are going to be what saves us all.” 

The 11 presentations, which were moderated by Mauro Diaz-Hernandez, a climate health program administrator at the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health, covered topics including rising sea levels in New Haven, the unequal effects of climate change on local communities, shifts in local food systems and the impacts of climate change on social services agencies.

Sylvia Reeves of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Melissa Kops of the CT Green Building Council joined experts from other organizations in discussing the biophysical impacts of climate change on New Haven and surrounding communities. 

John Truscinski of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation noted that the effects of climate change will result in a 20-inch rise in the sea level of the Long Island Sound by 2050, while Diaz-Hernandez noted that the “urban heat island” effect will lead to cities such as New Haven experiencing particularly high temperatures as a result of global warming.

Diaz-Hernandez invited audience participation in his presentation, asking the audience what they had seen and felt as a result of climate change. Responses from attendees included the presence of new invasive vines, changed migration behaviors of animals and shifting fluvial patterns, such as the drying up of the Mill River. 

A presentation by Cortney Renton, the executive director of CitySeed, underscored how local farmers were responding to concurrent crises of pandemic-related shortages, food scarcity and insecurity and climate change. Renton said that climate change creates unpredictable growing conditions which make it difficult for farmers to plan growing cycles. 

Presenters and audience members stressed that widespread community outreach was key to developing equitable and effective solutions to mitigate climate change, which disproportionately affects marginalized communities. 

“The primary area that is going to be affected by climate change in New Haven is Fair Haven, in which 60 percent of the population are Spanish speakers,” said Jenny Medina Morris, managing director of PR firm OmniCulture Communications. “This is one of the few climate change-related events that is trying to create awareness among this population.” 

A joint presentation by Tabitha Sookdeo ENV ’23, director of community engagement for Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services or IRIS, and Bruni Pizarro ENV ’19, executive director of Junta for Progressive Action, outlined how climate change creates and exacerbates local and global inequities. 

Sookdeo named several current international crises which have been prompted by climate change such as the humanitarian crisis in Syria, droughts and food insecurity in Guatemala and hurricanes in the Caribbean. She contended that refugees, internally-displaced persons and stateless people are “at the frontlines” of climate change, which necessitates “systems to absorb the impact of climate change induced disaster.” 

“This is equivalent to housekeeping, if you don’t take care of your home it falls apart, if you don’t take care of the earth, it falls apart,” attendee Kay Anderson told the News. “I would like to see more communication between different organizations who are working on the same issues. They should all be supporting each other’s work. It’s not the riverfront or the forest, it’s both.” 

Abubakar also emphasized the importance of outreach to a diverse array of stakeholders, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.

“In order to make change, we have to be able to translate this information to everyday people,” said Abubakar. “I’m one of those grassroots people who have to understand it myself. When I heard about the estuary reserve allocation for the state of Connecticut and how all of the research is being done, I was like, ‘this is our time now.’” 

The John S. Martinez School is located at 100 James St.