WEST ORANGE, NJ Residents of West Orange gathered outside City Hall on February 20 for a student-led climate change rally, complete with a composting demonstration by Roosevelt Middle School’s Environmental Club. Spurred by the landslide that prompted the evacuation of the Ron Jolyn apartment complex after the remnants of Hurricane Ida flooded the northeast in September 2021, a climate action pledge was presented to the West Orange Township Council, calling for action on a number of climate issues.
“A lot of them are climate adaptation,” said Svanfridur Mura, a sophomore at West Orange’s Newark Academy who organized the rally with Golda Och Academy junior Daniel Shapiro, in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “It’s less about reducing carbon emissions, because climate change is already here. We’re going to have more rain and flooding, so we have to adapt to that and fix it afterwards.
The 13-point pledge asks council to preserve Mount Pleasant Forest and the Hecker Carriage House, create a stronger tree ordinance that reduces the number of trees to be cut down, ban the sale and planting of invasive species, to ban construction on steep slopes and ridgelines, to ban leaf blowers and gas-powered trimmers, to require Essex County to define the boundaries of the Turtle Back Zoo, to use funding of the city’s open space and recreation trust solely for land preservation, reduce carbon emissions by electrifying city vehicles and finding clean energy for city buildings, join a program of energy aggregation, promoting a walkable and cycling city, building electric charging stations for cars, establishing a plan to reduce carbon emissions and ending permits for the s new constructions heated by fossil fuels.
Mura first became involved in climate change activism when she was a student at RMS. She skipped school to demonstrate outside City Hall, demanding action on climate change. She was inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, now 19, who started a school strike for the climate change movement in 2018. RMS director Lionel Hush put her in touch with local organization Our Green West Orange, which advocates for local climate action.
“When I started, I had a hard time finding someone,” Mura said of encouraging others to join her protests, which have since grown. “I’m glad we’re bringing other students now, and they’re bringing their parents. We make it intergenerational.
Councilor Bill Rutherford, who is the council’s liaison to the West Orange Open Space and Recreation Commission, did not speak at the rally but was present.
“Every movement for change is led by young people,” Rutherford said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “They bring an urgency that is needed.”
He signed the pledge, while saying he was not yet able to commit to banning gas-powered leaf blowers and trimmers or ending permits for new construction heated by heaters. fossils. Rutherford said there was room for conversation and compromise when discussing climate change initiatives.
“The kind of change we need won’t happen overnight,” Rutherford said. “But we can talk about it. I think we need uncomfortable conversations. There’s a lot of goodwill at West Orange. How can we come together to focus on work? »
Mura understands that some people might not understand the science of climate change — or the seriousness of its consequences. But she said it’s easier to understand than most realize.
“We focus on common sense issues,” Mura said. “A lot of things don’t require a lot of education to understand. I think some people think it is, but if you show up and listen, it can be really easy.
Photos by Amanda Valentovic