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Be an Environmental Justice Changemaker for Earth Day 2023

By Fern Gillespie
Folks celebrating Earth Day on Saturday, April 23, in New York City are witnessing the impact of climate change. Already, the metro area is experiencing the warmest winter since 1932. New Jersey has been experiencing wildfires in forests like the West Coast. In addition, major problems caused by climate change in New York City remain with widespread coastal flooding, accelerated beach erosion, and the disappearance of important barrier and recreational beaches. Heat and heat waves pose one of the biggest threats that disproportionately affect Black and low-income New Yorkers, with hundreds of deaths annually.

Heather McTeer Toney, an attorney, environmentalist, and first Black mayor of
Greenville, Mississippi, is the former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast Region under President Barack Obama. In her new book, Before the Streetlights Come On: Black America’s Urgent Call for Climate Solutions, Toney points out that climate change is a central issue of racial justice and affects every aspect of life for Black communities. She stresses that Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change–making up 13 percent of the US population but breathing 40 percent dirtier air. Thereby being twice as likely to be hospitalized or die from climate-related health problems than their white counterparts.
Chi Osse, City Council Member for Brooklyn, is an outspoken environmental justice advocate on bringing awareness of climate change’s ramifications to Black Brooklynites. “The disparate lived environments of New Yorkers are evident — from proximity to chemical dangers to minimal tree coverage on residential blocks,” he told Our Time Press. “As the globe continues to warm, some lower-income and predominantly POC blocks will get hotter, and summers will become more unbearable, while others will be more prone to flooding. The fight for climate justice is inherently linked to the fights for racial and socioeconomic justice in New York City and beyond.”
The Climate Action Roadmap was developed by Lincoln Restler, City Council Member for Brooklyn, to reduce building emissions, curb vehicular emissions, expand green spaces and green infrastructure, and achieve zero waste.

“The climate crisis will continue to have the deepest, most immediate impact on Black and brown working-class neighborhoods across our City,” Restler told Our Time Press. “These communities have long been the epicenter of environmental injustice and are the first to feel the impacts of extreme heat and cold, poor air quality, and rising sea levels. We can and must prevent climate change via local solutions, which is why I am hyper-focused on implementing our comprehensive District 33 Climate Action Roadmap to drive down emissions and implement resiliency initiatives at the neighborhood level.”
Governor Kathy Hochul has recently announced that $425 million will be made available through the next round of the State’s Water Infrastructure Improvement and Intermunicipal Grant programs. It is the first spending under the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022. New York State agencies, local governments, and partners will be able to access funding to protect water quality, help communities adapt to climate change, improve resiliency, and create green jobs. The Bond Act funding will support new and expanded projects across the state to safeguard drinking water sources, reduce pollution, and protect communities and natural resources from climate change. Applications and full eligibility criteria will become available at on May 3.

Toney has observed that young environmental justice advocates have become creative social entrepreneurs. “Young people are able to connect things to the climate that I would never have imagined. I’ve seen them turn playing video games into creating what a green economy and clean climate will look like in a virtual space,” she told the Southern Environmental Law Center. “They are completely tearing up the blueprint of climate-related jobs and industries, saying: Nope, I want to mix climate and fashion. How do we make sustainable shoes? Can I create a skincare line that is non-toxic?”
That’s the sustainability green theme for Earth Day 2023 — to explore creative strategies for combating climate change. It is: “Take action. Be a part of the green revolution. Act boldly. Innovate broadly. Implement equitably.” Be an environmental justice changemaker.