Replace your front lawn’s grass with azaleas and mountain laurels.
Plug your computer into a power strip and not directly into a wall outlet.
And host a climate change poetry competition in your high school English class.
Those were some of the individual climate change-fighting actions recommended by a group of local environmental activists and city officials on Wednesday during a press conference denouncing “Earth Overshoot” Day, or the point in time this year when humans have exhausted the full amount of natural ecological resources that the earth can regenerate in one year.
Organized by New Haven León Sister City Project Director Chris Schweitzer, Mayor Toni Harp, City Engineer Giovanni Zinn, and other members of the New Haven Climate Movement, the press conference on the New Haven Green presented city residents with specific actions that any individual can take to help mitigate one’s contribution to manmade climate change.
“What this means to me is that for the remaining five months of this year, humans on earth will be consuming the natural resources at a deficit rate,” Harp said. “It means that human consumption of natural resources is unsustainable. It means that humans must become more reliant on alternative forms of energy.”
Schweitzer said that this was the third “Earth Overshoot” Day he had helped organize in New Haven. Each year, he said, the day on which humans have exhausted the planet’s annual allotment of natural resources has gotten earlier and earlier. In 2017, this day fell on Aug. 5; in 2016, on Aug. 15.
Harp, Schweitzer, and Zinn said New Haven has not laid dormant on the issue as climate change continues to alter weather patterns and result in higher water levels.
The city passed a climate and sustainability framework in 2017 that includes 97 different actions designed to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 2001 levels by 2050. Those actions include improving access to the public bus system, building out hundreds of bioswales that promote rainwater infiltration, and launching a new bike share program.
On Wednesday afternoon, Schweitzer and two interns at the sister city organization pitched three more projects that allow everyday New Haveners to reduce their carbon footprint.
Grace Gillooly, a 17-year-old high school student from North Haven, presented the Living Yard Project, which encourages city residents to convert their front and back lawns from grass to more ecofriendly perennials like azaleas and mountain laurels.
She said that the maintenance required for grass lawns consumes thousands of gallons of water each year and results in the emission of pollutants from gas-powered lawn mowers.
Local perennials like azaleas and mountain laurels and local trees like oak trees do a much better job than grass and popular non-native trees like Norwegian spruces of creating animal habitats, fostering biodiversity, and reducing the greenhouse-gas-producing lawn maintenance, Gillooly.
Nina Bamberg, a 27-year-old English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Meriden, said that her project, the Climate Health Education Project, encourages English, social studies, arts, and science high school teachers to adopt climate-related curricula in their classrooms.
She put together an online resource particularly for non-science teachers who still want to be proactive about teaching their students about the importance of climate change.
One resource included on her website is a list of poems about climate change. Bamberg said teachers at High School in the Community (HSC) used some of her suggested curriculum this year, and even held a climate change poetry competition. Her site includes a link to HSC student Lucy Valeta’s “Dear Mother Earth” poem, which won the school’s competition.
Schweitzer also included a plug during the press conference for the Elm Energy Efficiency Project’s “Strip It” campaign, which encourages city residents to plug electronics and home appliances into power strips instead of directly into wall electrical outlets.
“The idea is to put power strips in because each power strip will save about $65 on energy,” Schweitzer said. He said the average family in Connecticut waste about $300 each year in electricity on electronic appliances that use energy simply because they are plugged into a wall outlet. Since 70 percent of New Haven residents are tenants instead of homeowners, he said, the “Strip It” campaign represents an easy way for tenants to reduce their electricity bill and reduce their carbon footprint.
“It’s a $4 investment,” he said about buying a power strip, “and it has a great rate of return.”
$8 Million For Living Shorelines
Harp and Zinn also announced that the city has received $8 million in bond money from the state to build out “living shorelines” to provide a natural protection against erosion for coastal parks like East Shore Park and Long Wharf.
“As water levels change,” Zinn said, “the shoreline protection and the ecosystem you’ve set up moves alongside with it. So it continues to provide protection even with changing water levels.”
Zinn said the city is looking to build out natural, resilient protectors like intertidal marshes and dunes as a means of protecting the city’s shorelines from erosion because of rising water levels.
“It is truly an emergency,” Zinn said about the threats of climate change. “It is something that we as a community have to continue to rally around.”
Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch the full press conference.