Environmental justice organizations work on impacts on New York City communities

Informational pamphlets are made to give out during 350NYC meetings. Photo by Corallys Plasencia

By Corallys Placencia

Activists from all over New York City gathered at the New York Society for Ethical Culture building in mid-July to discuss future plans for climate-related issues, awareness and suitability campaigns. 350NYC, a local branch of a global grassroots network of volunteers, are working to solve the climate crisis in a city that never sleeps.

That meeting is one of several each month where 350NYC members come together to talk about their current agenda. The meeting covered everything from launching the group’s new website, having a guest speaker, and planning for future outreach events and rallies.

“We also do a lot around individual education, awareness raising, activism, and advocacy,” said Dan Miner, an active member from Queens. “We certainly encourage individuals to learn more about climate change, get involved in various different campaigns.”

The group consists of several teams or working groups that tackle many areas of action and involvement. Coordinator Deirdre “Dee” Aherne, who worked for decades with other causes such as the women’s rights and LGBTQ movements, said she feels that promoting these meetings helps create community and bring new members.

Dan Miner (center) and members discuss action on local initiatives. Photo by Corallys Plasencia

“I decided that really I needed to focus on climate change because it was something that had been haunting me for a long time,” Aherne said. “And I think for my own sanity I needed to be active.”

There’s no doubt events like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Flint Michigan’s lead-contaminated water crisis of 2015 has raised awareness of environmental problems, especially in poor communities and communities of color. Some awareness about this issue is being brought to light now with the formation of what are called environmental justice groups.

Groups such as The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA) along with the 350NYC are pushing for more action on environmental issues.

“We are an alliance of about seven different community-based organizations from some of the most environmentally burdened communities in New York City,” said Pamela Soto, research analyst from the NYC-EJA.

“Nowadays a lot of work has shifted to climate change because even though that’s like a global issue, really front-line communities have been getting worse,” Soto said. “There’s research out there that shows that.”

Soto said poor communities have been having a harder time bouncing back from different climate-related events. She noted that as the research analyst, their advocacy is really grounded in doing research.

One thing that NYC-EJA members indicated they want to do is to make sure that poor communities of color can be allocated funds because they located in vulnerable coastal areas.

“In our climate justice agenda, we pointed out on places where the city had some really good proposals and also a few places where they could do better specifically for low-income communities of color,” said Soto.

A 2016 article from The New York Times talked about how New York City was awarded $281 million towards hurricane protection. Lower Manhattan specifically was given $176 million of that to help create a new flood protection system that could go all around it, from Lower East Side to Battery Park City.

“After Sandy, there was a huge influx of federal funds for recovery and resiliency efforts for the city,” Soto said. “What we’ve seen through our research is that it hasn’t really hit all of the communities equally.”

About $35.8 million of those funds went towards public housing projects to repair damages from disasters like Sandy and finding ways to protect low-income properties.

“Lower Manhattan has a received kind of a lion’s share of that funding, but we know there are other communities, you know especially the South Bronx and diverse communities in Brooklyn that haven’t received adequate resiliency investments,” Soto said.

Environmental awareness, along with climate change, is important more than ever for 350NYC. Research presented by the group shows the city is a large producer of greenhouse gases so the network plans to offer more sustainable solutions. Not only is reducing those emissions on their agenda but also taking action in reducing it by promoting the divestment from fossil fuels and reinvesting into renewable energy.

Deirdre Aherne (pink) next to Dan Miner and 350 members as they prepare to finalize meeting. Photo by Corallys Plasencia

“We work on a project called ‘Switch to Winds,’” Aherne said. “It’s to get the city to adopt to more offshore wind for power purchasing, the other is to get individuals to switch their individual electric bills to wind power.”

Progress is being made. An April 2017 article by the New York City Council reports that the council along, with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, are going to study environmental justice communities and neighborhoods with low-income populations and communities of color. The study will cover everything from pollution to health impacts and be available to the public to access the information on a map online. The goal is to have these neighborhoods get “equal access” to protection from the environmental impacts and help with the planning of the infrastructure within communities.

Future events are already in the works for the 350NYC, with one main goal being Climate Week NYC, Sept. 18-24. It is being touted as a “collaborative space for climate events in support of the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

This is particularly relevant following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. In the agreement it states:

“The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

As people become aware of the global climate situation, Miner said that doing nothing is less likely an option. He feels that some people are predisposed by personality and an awareness to activate towards activist projects.

“I’m simply one of those people,” Miner said. ‘The more you know the more you have an obligation to do something.”

About Corallys Plasencia 3 Articles
Corallys Plasencia is a graduate journalism student at Emerson College. She obtained her B.S in Operational Meteorology, Communications and Broadcast Media Minor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Corallys wants to grow her knowledge of journalism while at Emerson and as an NBCUniversal Fellow with NBC New York's weather department, she hopes to continue her passion in becoming a Meteorologist or TV Host in the future.