A new coalition determined to tackle climate change gathered in a Crown Street art gallery—not to hide out, but to reach out.
The coalition of six environmental groups gathered at Artspace to pitch to about 50 people who sipped drinks and munched snacks donated by Elm City Market and Romeo & Cesare’s. The event took place Wednesday night to coincide with Futurecast, a new Artspace exhibit that focuses on climate change. (Read about that here.)
Event organizers asked people to sign an online pledge called the the Healthy City/Healthy Climate Challenge. The pledge asks citizens to commit to walking, biking or taking public transport twice a month; eating vegetarian twice a week; joining an environmental action alert list; choosing a 100 percent renewable source of electricity; recycling all glass, cans, paper and plastic; and composting.
“Walking and biking means you see your neighbors more; you see the trees and seasons change. The Center for Disease Control actually has a lot of pages on its site about the relationship between health and transportation,” said Chris Schweitzer of the New Haven/Leon Sister Cities Project. “People in New York City are, on average, five or six pounds lighter than people from the suburbs, because they walk so much.”
More than the pledge, the event was aimed at local enviro-networking. Organizers recognized that the campaign to avoid some of the catastrophic effects of climate change takes place not just in labs and the lobbies of government buildings, but also in living rooms, bike paths, and artist studios.
“I am personally daunted by climate change when I hear about a city twice the size of New Haven in the Philippines laid flat,” said Joel Tolman (pictured), director of community engagement for Common Ground High School. “But then I remember that we have climate change because of collective action.”
And collective action can change the course of the planet’s warming. This was Wednesday night’s message.
A commitment to change in one’s mode of transportation will mean more citywide exercise, less stress, longer life expectancies, cleaner air, and a more connected community, Schweitzer argued.
The decision to join an action alert list will build support for policy changes on a municipal level, said Laura McMillan, communications director for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. These may include more bicycle lanes and paths, government incentives for more energy-efficient homes, cleaner transportation options, and more green spaces. “We want to put a little grassroots pressure on state legislators,” she said. “A lot of pressure,” Schweitzer corrected her.
Miranda Bailey-Russomano, a 17-year-old student at Common Ground who signed the pledge and hopes to convince her friends to do so as well, said she sees the HC/HC Challenge as a guide to “changing particular habits, instead of getting stuck in the old routine.” She said she plans to ask her parents to switch to a renewable electricity source. “But that will be a challenge because it’s out of my control,” she said.
In Connecticut, new FEMA maps have had Branford residents worried about insurance premiums rising along with sea levels. Artspace’s Futurecast show offers up a comparably grim set of visuals for potential realities to come. Now, the city’s united environmental team is challenging the public to envision a greener possibility—and, with relatively modest lifestyle changes, begin to bring it about.
Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven, New Haven Bioregional Group and the Yale Office of Sustainability were also represented at the event. Take the pledge here.