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New Haven climate activists want the city to commit to moving away from using fossil fuels

Patricia Joseph, a student at Engineering & Science University Magnet School, rallied alongside other members of the New Haven Climate Movement's Youth Action Team on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, to urge Mayor Justin Elicker to commit $9 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to fight climate change.
Courtesy New Haven Climate Movement
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Patricia Joseph, a student at Engineering & Science University Magnet School, rallied alongside other members of the New Haven Climate Movement's Youth Action Team on Saturday, Dec. 4, to urge Mayor Justin Elicker to commit $9 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to fight climate change.

Young people in New Haven want the city to change the way it thinks about climate change.

Over the weekend, mostly student activists held a rally to raise awareness about the health impacts of climate change in the New Haven community. They called for more urgency in the way Mayor Justin Elicker and the city Board of Alders are reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuels with electrifying public transportation.

“In April of this year, the New Haven Board of Alders passed a resolution to electrify all buildings and vehicles, but this doesn’t mean our work is done,” said Talia Kolodkin, a freshman at Yale University.

The Elicker administration did not respond to requests for comment.

The event was held by the New Haven Climate Movement, a group of residents and local organizations dedicated to climate action. Their focuses include the city switching to 100% renewable energy, improved public health, green jobs and equitable transportation.

Activists want Elicker to commit 10% of the $91 million in federal coronavirus relief funding towards climate solutions that they recommend through their New Haven Rescue Plan proposal.

“The significant amount of federal funds allocated to New Haven offers us a once in a generation opportunity to give the climate emergency the attention it deserves,” said Adrian Huq, co-founder of the group’s youth action team and a sophomore at Tufts University.

Kolodkin recognizes the electrification of New Haven vehicles, appliances and buildings is expensive, but argues that continued damage caused by fossil fuel use will have long-lasting economic and public health effects. Rosie Hampson, a sophomore at Wilbur Cross High School, said New Haven is home to the highest number of asthma hospitalizations in Connecticut.

“This prevalence of asthma is due to the fossil fuel industry,” she said.

Kawtar Nadama, a senior at Engineering & Science University Magnet School, wants more significance to be placed on climate education. She said the city’s Board of Education needs to recognize the impact climate change has on students, especially structural changes to older schools that would help cut down greenhouse gas emissions.

“We want them to fulfill their responsibility of educating and protecting the youth they serve,” she said.

Last month, the city Board of Alders approved a resolution to support the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a multistate proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by investing in electric vehicles and introducing a carbon credit that requires companies to pay for their contributions to pollution. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, and several other Northeastern states, had pulled their support of the initiative.

Eli Sabin, who serves on the New Haven Board of Alders, called the rally "inspiring."

"As a coastal community threatened by rising sea levels, the increasing frequency of bad storms, and very high asthma rates, we need to be making progress now on electrification of buildings and vehicles, increased density and bike and pedestrian safety, and investments in public transit. Building a greener city with less pollution from cars and buildings will have huge public health and environmental benefits,” Sabin said.

Nadama’s classmate, Patricia Joseph, said, “There is no better gift the city can give us during this holiday season other than preventing climate change.”

“Mayor Elicker, we want you to know that we are still waiting, hoping and wishing for the gift of a healthy future,” Joseph said.

Julio is a former intern with WSHU Public Radio.