The first ever Hudson County Climate Town Hall drew a crowd of over 200 on April 17th, with dozens standing in the back of the packed Jersey City Council chambers, and hundreds more watching via live stream. If there was one takeaway from the evening, it’s that in Hudson County, the threat of climate change is a major political issue capable of mobilizing citizens from all corners of the community.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla opened the event by acknowledging their pleasant surprise that so many constituents showed up to a town hall about climate change. They stood together and addressed the crowd by outlining the ways they are attempting to mitigate climate change now, while also discussing the challenges both cities will face in the future. Mayor Bhalla received loud applause at the announcement that the city of Hoboken was in the process of purchasing 100% renewable energy, while Mayor Fulop stressed the importance of environmental justice, as sewage overflows that pollute Jersey City disproportionately affect low income communities.
Notably absent, however, was any talk of a Green New Deal or what that would look like at the city level. While advocates for structural change who work to address the climate emergency may have been disappointed by this omission, a packed county-wide town hall sent both mayors a strong message: “Your constituents care and they are watching.”
Physical oceanographer Philip Orton of Stevens Institute of Technology kicked off a panel of experts and advocates by showing the impact sea level rise will have on the community over the next 60 years. His research shows, even under conservative estimates. large portions of Hudson County will be rendered virtually unlivable by major increases in monthly flooding. Kim Gaddy of Clean Water Action of New Jersey stressed the impact of fossil fuel pollution on our children’s health, particularly in communities of color. She pointed out that in Newark, a city with heavily polluted air thanks to housing the Northeast’s largest trash incinerator and the country’s third-largest port, over one quarter of the schoolchildren (including all three of her own) have asthma, a rate double the national average.
The star of the event was 16-year-old Ananya Singh of the Sunrise Movement, who received the loudest ovation of the evening for her impassioned speech about fighting for her future under the specter of a changing planet. Though she roused the crowd with her hopeful rhetoric, particularly in regards to the Green New Deal, the teenage activist was also clear about naming the culprit standing in the way of reform: energy companies. “I think when we have environmental science classes… they focus entirely on the intensity of the problem, and ‘oh, here are the solutions—clean energy, and things like that,” Ms Singh said in response to a question about how climate change could be better addressed in the education system. “But it’s not often understood that there’s a huge barrier to achieving those solutions, which is fossil fuel money.”
Of course, when it comes to fossil fuel money, New Jersey is still very much on the take. Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club reminded attendees that Governor Murphy faces proposals for 13 new fossil fuel projects—eight pipelines and five power plants—and has given no indication that his Department of Environmental Protection will block any of them, in spite of his executive order to transition New Jersey to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
Therefore, Tittel and the Sierra Club, along with Food & Water Watch, Clean Water Action NJ, Empower NJ, Bluewave NJ, and The Climate Mobilization advocated for a statewide moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Citizens who want to oppose these 13 proposals can join the “Moratorium Mondays” campaign, spearheaded by Food and Water Watch. Every Monday, constituents call Governor Murphy’s office to demand that no more fossil fuel infrastructure projects be built in the state until greenhouse gasses are classified as a pollutant, and regulated as such. If you want to start calling Governor Murphy, Click Here.
“Everything we’ve ever gotten in this state when it comes to the environment wasn’t because politicians gave it to us,” Tittel said. “Special interests have always fought us, big money has always been there. It happened because we stood together.”
The Climate Mobilization (TCM) is an international organization that has been building a grassroots movement demanding a government response to the climate emergency on the scale of the home front mobilization during World War II. The Hoboken chapter holds regular meetings at the Hoboken Public Library which are open to the public, visit them at www.facebook.com/tcmhoboken or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.