By Huck Fairman
Although there is no doubt that we face a national (and global) emergency in the virus, there is also no doubt that we face a number of other very serious challenges. They include the climate crisis, and ongoing problems arising from inequality in education and income, inadequate infrastructure, and imbalances in our political systems.
What can individuals, and communities, do to respond to all of these in effective ways?
TV host and Life Success Coach Natasha Sherman (www.natashasherman.com) recently conducted a local conversation on the YouTube Channel with environmentalist, and director of the New Jersey chapter of The Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel. Their subject was just that: What can individuals do to help address this array of existential challenges?
Tittel is certainly one of the most experienced New Jerseyans to guide us in answering this question. He’s been an environmental advocate for over 20 years. In that role, he has successfully led or participated in numerous campaigns to preserve our land and water. These include: helping to pass New Jersey’s Global Warming Act, and The Highlands Act, preserving the Sterling Forest, pushing for surface water rules and corporate taxes to help preserve our environment. He has served on the transition teams for a number of New Jersey governors and participated in other policy groups. And he has served as the director of New Jersey’s Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest and largest environmental group. Nationally there are 3 million members. In New Jersey there are 22,000 members and as many as 60,000 supporters. And because local members set the agendas for their chapters, those chapters address a wide range of issues, including: preserving land and open spaces from development, opposing toxic sites, promoting better clean-up laws, supporting pro-choice, immigrants’ rights, and the $15/hour minimum wage, and reducing the usage of plastic bags.
And, in addressing climate change, one prominent Sierra Club focus has been opposing new pipelines, fossil fuel power plants, and generally the usage of fossil fuels. Sadly, New Jersey is one of the most polluted states, but instead of reducing fossil fuel usage, the fossil fuel industry is pushing proposals for eight additional pipelines, and five new natural gas power plants.
The industry’s campaign continues despite the growth and improvements in green technology. Renewable electric power and electric vehicles are viable alternatives increasing in numbers. Tittel pointed out that in 15 years all of the state’s electric power could come from renewables, thereby substantially reducing greenhouse gases. In 20 years New Jersey could be carbon free, a change that would create numerous jobs and cut health costs by billions of dollars, notably for asthma and cancers from toxic sites.
What Tittel urged us not to overlook is that we are at the beginning of a huge transition in power generation – indeed a revolution.
What is resisting this revolution, this vast improvement? Trump, Tittel unhesitatingly stated, is one culprit. (Rolling back 100 or more environmental protections.) But surprisingly, he also named Governor Phil Murphy, saying that while the governor has promised many green improvements, he has been very slow in implementing them. One step New Jersey citizens can take is to contact the governor and urge action. And among the actions needed is placing a moratorium on pipeline and power plant construction. And, we need to hear updates on the governor’s promised off-shore wind farm plans and construction. This project was touted as potentially generating half of the state’s power needs.
If the governor allows these pipelines and power plants to be built, the state will not reach its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Tittel also noted that the governor has not rolled back his predecessor, Chris Christie’s, anti-green regulations.
What is he waiting for? Among a number of Christie’s policies that need to be changed are those allowing development along the Jersey shore that will face destruction from sea level rise.
To get the governor to move on all of these environmental issues, Tittel urges citizens to write and/or call the governor and press him to act. Toward this same end, the Sierra Club has joined with 80 other groups in opposing the pipelines and power plants.
In addition, the Sierra Club publishes a very informative newspaper, The Jersey Sierran, which can help update and educate residents on the many issues we all face. And it offers suggestions on what we might do.
Not all of Tittel’s news was about existing problems. He was pleased to inform us that a number of towns, including Princeton, Hoboken and Jersey City, have either already reached or are planning to be carbon free. And the state itself is not without improvement; it just hasn’t yet done enough.
In prior years, Jersey residents have joined together to end ocean dumping, prevent intrusive highways and a jetport from destroying natural landscapes, preserves, and habitats. The Pinelands is the largest of the tracts to be saved.
On the individual or community levels, many have turned to organic foods, LED bulbs, and/or green or electric appliances, tools, and vehicles.
In short, Tittel urged everyone to participate, to become active and vocal, in re-focusing our governor’s slipping efforts (and our president’s unacceptable policies and behavior.)
At the same time Tittel recommended that we all get out and enjoy the beautiful nature that still abounds in New Jersey. If you are seeking support and community, investigate the Sierra Club, and when the virus subsides, attend the local Sierra Club talks and meetings. There’s no shortage of things to do.