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Ramapo Green and 1STEP Screen The Sacrifice Zone

On April 16 1STEP and Ramapo Green hosted a virtual screening of The Sacrifice Zone, a documentary on the work of the Ironbound Community Corporation to combat pollution in Newark from industrial sources. Melissa Miles who was featured in the documentary and currently serves as the Executive Director of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance spoke to the audience afterwards.

The documentary began with stunning visuals of Ironbound-Newark residents going about their daily activities while planes from Newark Liberty International Airport flew over an incineration plant emitting ominous smoke. ICC Environmental Justice Director Maria Lopez and ICC Environmental Educator Emily Turonic led the camera crew on a bus tour of the area, pointing out the lack of buffer between the industrial and residential sectors. Within a mile of where people lived was an area nicknamed “Chemical Corridor” which contained many health risks, including the perpetually-burning Covanta Energy Center.

Most of the documentary hinged on the ICC’s fight against the negative effects the garbage incinerator plant had on residents. The protests were not new. Footage rolled from 1984 when Nancy Zak, who still works with the ICC today, argued against building the incinerator because it would emit cancer-causing air pollutants. Camden and Newark were chosen as the locations of the new plants. These counties were known for being some of the poorest in New Jersey with high minority populations.

Lopez called Ironbound-Newark a sacrifice zone, “a zone that deems these lives don’t matter so much.” Outraged by these environmental injustices, she and other ICC members were working to replace the current dependency on fossil fuels with a regenerative economy.

Representatives from Covanta claimed ICC members had always been hostile. They stated incinerators were better than landfills because they produced less methane, and the energy from burning garbage provided electricity to about 45,000 homes in the surrounding community. Director of Sustainability Mike Van Brunt and Vice President Richard Sandner agreed the community would shut down if the incinerator ceased operating.

ICC representatives combatted this argument by citing Covanta’s repeated violations of permit pollution limits and greenwashing campaigns. At the meeting to renew Covanta’s permit to continue operating, one protestor spoke up, “This facility emits more than 600 tons of air pollutants each year.”

Proud of the protests her organization had led against environmental injustices inflicted on marginalized communities, Miles said, “For the first time I felt like my identity was my strength instead of my weakness.”

“I would actually love a future in which my job is irrelevant,” Lopez said toward the end of the documentary. Currently, though, the idea of giving up when there was so much work left to do felt like severing her humanity and giving up on her community. She refused to stop fighting until there was justice.

In closing, the documentary stated Covanta’s permit was still pending based on public health concerns. The fact that it was not automatically renewed could be counted as a victory in itself as these concerns were mostly raised by the dedicated work of the ICC.

Miles then spoke live to the audience. She explained how the Department of Environmental Protections considered individual facilities rather than the cumulative effects of having several clustered in a small area. Environmental justice activists like her pushed for a new law analyzing the cumulative impacts, which has been passed but is currently undergoing a finalization of the rules.

Miles cited the Black Lives Matter movement as a large source of aid. “Suddenly everyone cared. No one wanted to be on the wrong side of history,” she said.

Miles inspired attendees to join the movement. “Our lived experience is our expertise… you do not need a degree to be an environmental organizer,” she said. They needed to collaborate to build a circular waste economy. “We have to think about the way we design products, we have to think beyond individual responsibility.”
Permission to screen The Sacrifice Zone can be purchased online, and the RCNJ library owns a copy. Anyone interested in taking action can get involved with the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN), a student-led zero waste movement of which RCNJ is a member.

Categories: Sustainability


Arbor Day Foundation Honors Ramapo College of New Jersey with 2020 Tree Campus Higher Education® Recognition

Lincoln, Neb. (March 22, 2021) – Ramapo College of New Jersey was honored with 2020 Tree Campus Higher Education® recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation for its commitment to effective urban forest management.

“Tree Campuses and their students set examples for not only their student bodies but the surrounding communities showcasing how trees create a healthier environment,” said Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation. “Because of Ramapo College’s participation, air will be purer, water cleaner and students and faculty will be surrounded by the shade and beauty trees provide.”

The Tree Campus Higher Education program honors colleges and universities for effective campus forest management and for engaging staff and students in conservation goals. Ramapo College achieved the title by meeting Tree Campus Higher Education’s five standards, which include maintaining a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance and student service-learning project. Currently there are 403 campuses across the United States with this recognition.

The Arbor Day Foundation has helped campuses throughout the country plant thousands of trees, and Tree Campus Higher Education colleges and universities invested more than $51 million in campus forest management last year. This work directly supports the Arbor Day Foundation’s Time for Trees initiative — an unprecedented effort to plant 100 million trees in forests and communities and inspire 5 million tree planters by 2022. Last year, Tree Campus Higher Education schools have collectively planted 39,178 trees and engaged 81,535 tree planters — helping us work toward these critical goals.

More information about the program is available at treecampushighered.org.

About the Arbor Day Foundation: The Arbor Day Foundation is a million-member nonprofit conservation and education organization with the mission to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. More information is available at arborday.org.

Tree Campus Plan (PDF)

Categories: campus sustainability, Sustainability


SGA Senate Unanimously Passes Divestment Task Force Bill

By Ben Hopper

A new bill to create a divestment task force was passed by the Ramapo Student Government Association (SGA) on Monday, March 15. This bill, proposed by Secretary of Sustainability Zoë Tucker-Borrut and introduced by Senate Vice President Nicholas Bykov, passed unanimously with a vote of 17-0-0 in favor of it.

Divestment is the act of shifting investments from going towards fossil fuels to being put towards more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives instead. Divestment brings a number of benefits with it including working to combat climate change through eliminating the use of fossil fuels. Along with its environmentally conscious benefits divestment has been shown to not bring any negative financial side effects with it.

In Tucker-Borrut’s presentation for divestment she used a quote from environmentalist Bill McKibben to illustrate the importance of college’s getting involved with divestment, “If their college’s endowment is invested in fossil-fuel stock, then their educations are being subsidized by investments that guarantee that they won’t have much of a planet on which to make use of their degree.”

As well Bykov has made clear the importance of divestment for colleges and Ramapo specifically saying, “As the Climate Crisis continues to worsen, it is becoming more and more important that Colleges and Universities divest their fundings out of companies with ties to fossil fuels. Fossil fuels will only become more risky investments as time passes, while the world looks to green energy and sustainable initiatives as the future. Divestment is especially important for Ramapo College, as it would illustrate the College’s commitment to sustainability as is expressed in our mission statement”

The divestment task force will be united by a singular goal that being to divest the fund of the Ramapo College Foundation shifting these investments away from fossil fuels. As well the divestment task force will work to create an investment strategy in one year in order to present it to the Board of Governors. The bill suggests that this investment strategy will work to be more financially beneficial than the investment strategy currently being considered by the board of directors.

The divestment task force will be formed after Summer and will hold meetings during both the Fall and Spring semesters.

bhopper@ramapo.edu

Categories: Sustainability


Consider a Sustainable Approach to Gifting this Year

Read this article on The Ramapo News


The holiday season: gift-giving, gift-receiving — all in gift wrapping. Though many may not realize it, December is a time of boundless waste creation, all of which ends up in landfills to start off the new year.

According to Stanford, Americans create 25% more trash during the holiday season than any other time of the year. That’s 25 million tons of garbage in just a month. All this waste is easily avoidable, too, with just a few simple changes and perhaps a few larger ones if you’re up for the cause.

Less wrapping

Wrapping paper, bows and ribbon all look wonderful when they’re sitting next to the tree, but after it’s all been ripped open they go straight into the garbage. Lowering your waste doesn’t mean nothing can be wrapped, though.

One way to ditch the paper is to package gifts in reusable boxes, bags or tins. These can be used year after year, so they aren’t wasteful, but if you really love to wrap you still have options. Choosing to use recycled paper gift wrap, or pages from your local newspaper can make creative, pretty presents.

Purchasing local

Black Friday online deals may be hard to resist, but the environmental benefit is worth it. Companies like Amazon, Walmart and Target will use tons of fuel and energy to ship individual items all month.

When you shop locally, you avoid all the packaging of online orders. You also may be able to find more unique items in your local shops than you can at big chains, with the extra holiday joy of knowing you’re supporting a small business!

Low waste gift items

If you’re looking to have a zero-waste (or lower than usual) gift exchange, the best thing you can do is purchase sustainable, low waste gift items. If your friends and family are looking to create less waste year round, this is the perfect time to spoil them with sustainable items!

No matter what the person your shopping for is into, the Zero Waste Store is a hub for plastic-free, environmentally friendly gifts. The Package Free Shop is another online store which promises zero waste shipping and has bundles for all sustainable needs.

Most of the time, the only thing between you and a low-waste gift is a bit of research. Sustainable, independent businesses are more popular than ever, so even the most niche interests likely have a sustainable, unique option available.

While giving back to family and friends for the love they show us all year is important, giving back to the earth in your choices this season makes the most wonderful time of the year just a bit more wonderful.

 

Written by Tori D’Amico (vdamico@ramapo.edu) on November 24, 2020


 

Categories: Sustainability


Ramapo Green Leads Discussion on Climate Activism

Read this article on The Ramapo News


On Oct. 21, Ramapo Green hosted a climate conference called “Reaching the Turning Point: The Youth Climate Movement and Our Election.” Moderators included director of the sustainability major Dr. Ashwani Vasishth, Dr. Michael Edelstein from the environmental studies program and adjunct professor and Executive Director of ClimateMama, Harriet Shugarman.

The event consisted of several different presentations with multiple speakers to discuss the different facets of environmentalism. Speakers approached the topic from all angles, but they mainly focused on the aspect of climate activism, showing Ramapo students all that is being and can be done.

Chief Vincent Mann from the Turtle Clan of the Ramapough-Lenape Nation began the day by giving a prayer of thanks to the creator of Mother Earth and for our lives. He talked about the intersection between climate change and issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement. He noted the visible changes in the world and in universities as youths gain awareness of the responsibility they have to each other and to future generations to find solutions.

Tipping Points: The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good

After the introductory prayer, Dr. Edelstein transitioned with a summary of the day’s objectives to discuss turning points with the youth climate movement and the upcoming presidential election.

A tipping point was defined as when a small change pushes a system into a large or accelerated response. In 1980, we exceeded the tipping point of 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere, and today we are at 411.15 ppm. Rising global temperatures and melting arctic ice have entered a positive feedback loop as a result.

Dr. Edelstein spoke about how today, colonialism, capitalism and corporate globalism drive us to use the resources 1.5 times more than Earth needs. Human activities like burning fossil fuels have already caused 1 degree Celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels.

Climate change is only one planetary boundary, but it can cause catastrophes by itself and amplify other more critical boundaries such as species loss. Dr. Edelstein shared personal experiences of witnessing damage caused by climate change. On Aug. 9, 2010, he was in Russia during a major heat event. Fires and crop failures were abundant, and nearly 55,000 people died.

Dr. Edelstein went on to summarize big oil’s historical hold on both US political parties. President Obama entered the U.S. in the Paris Agreement, but he did not remove the energy policy created by President Bush that favored big oil. This occurred even after InsideClimate News revealed Exxon Mobile had systematically funded climate denial despite 80 percent of their research proving the existence of climate change. Within the past four years, the Trump administration has weakened or withdrawn 462 environmental regulations.

There is a bright side. The world is on the verge of a paradigm change. Organizations such as Extinction Rebellion are advocating for nonviolent protests for climate action. Climate change has become a political issue that politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been elected on. This movement is being driven by people of color and youths, and as a result, 18 million people stated they will be climate-first voters in the 2020 election.

Young Voices of the Climate Action Movement

These diverse youth leaders were given an opportunity in the afternoon to share their journeys with climate change activism, and the ways they’ve turned their passion into action.

Two of the presenters are still in high school, but political climate action is still incredibly important to them. High school senior Rachel Lee gave a presentation about her involvement in Zero Hour, a New York City based youth-led organization that recognizes the intersections between climate change and oppression of minority groups.

“Now more than ever, students are rallying behind comprehensive solutions like the Green New Deal,” Lee said. “Unfortunately, many of us lack the ability to vote.”

Ashley Park, a high school junior, is engaged in activism that also aims to empower younger generations to interact with climate action. She became aware of her concern for the environment in fourth grade, and later on she realized how her passion for art could become a vehicle for the activism she wanted to partake in.

Park co-founded a magazine, “Generation Green,” to unite climate activism and art. She also works with the organization Voteless Not Voiceless, which gives an artistic platform to 13-17 year-olds and donates to support voter mobilization. One of Park’s accomplishments since beginning her role in climate activism was successfully protesting against a power plant being built in North Jersey.

“The movement that grew behind stopping the North Jersey power plant… transformed my almost lost hope into inspiration and even more motivation,” Park said.

Voting Climate-First

Dr. Vasishth began his segment dissecting the key points of the presidential nominee’s climate plans. Explaining Biden’s, he said the candidate’s day one objectives include limiting methane pollution for oil and gas operations, driving towards 100 percent clean energy and zero emissions vehicles, making U.S. government facilities more efficient, implementing new standards on building efficiency, making plans to conserve 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030 and enhancing reforestation and renewables on federal lands. The Trump administration, on the other hand, shows signs of following past trends of dismantling climate protections.

Dr. Vasishth then introduced the audience to a simulation program by Climate Interactive and MIT that dissects variables contributing to a global mean temperature increase. Currently, the program anticipates an increase of 4.1 degrees Celsius by 2100. Dr. Vasishth let participants request for him to alter certain variables in the program to see how that affected the anticipated temperature increase.

By raising a tax on carbon, implementing a total electrification of transport, supporting technological carbon removal, and implementing a total electrification of buildings and industry, the expected temperature increase was reduced to 2 degrees Celsius. Dr. Vasishth believed carbon price is the key to the problem and can lead to more changes for the better. There is only a ten-year window to implement changes before the planet is locked on a course of high global temperature increases, though, so they must be implemented quickly.

Voting was a major topic of conversation for the day. One presenter, Daphne Frias, spoke about her project “Box the Ballot,” which encourages voting and voter engagement by taking advantage of ballot harvesting. This practice is legal in 26 states when signed off and delivered within three days of collection.

“The reason young people don’t vote isn’t because they don’t necessarily feel empowered to vote,” Frias said. “It’s that there are barriers to vote that we aren’t recognizing.”

Frias’ campaign not only aims to engage young voters, but even youth who cannot vote yet. Minors are able collect ballots for the campaign, which Frias said they often do with parents, creating intergenerational dialogue about voting. “Box the Ballot” creates pamphlets for this purpose as well, teaching voters how to vet out climate-first options on their ballot.

“Many of you may be asking, what does this have to do with the climate crisis, this has everything to do with the climate crisis,” Frias said. “It’s a voting issue. For the first time in any American generation, we have to legitimately ponder if we have a future.”

Climate action was identified by Frias as an issue that can be confusing for voters, because the term Green New Deal can be used in vague contexts. Frias said she wants to “demystify” the climate crisis so that solutions can be more accessible.

Effective Climate Communication

In the same topic of creating communication between generations, Dr. Vasishth led a segment called “Effective Climate Communication.” He began by expressing his disapproval of Al Gore’s approach on talking about climate change. He argued that a barrage of bad news will paralyze people instead of inspiring them to action; language is vital to inciting change, and there should be a greater focus on dispelling metaphors and sayings that minimize how people view climate change.

Currently, American metaphors that create a warped view of climate change include “all on the surface” and “drop in the bucket.” As a result, Americans view the ocean as a resource, underestimate the damage caused by oil spills, and assume human activities are incapable of causing significant damage.

Dr. Vasishth presented several alternate metaphors to give a better view of the effects of climate change, mainly ocean acidification. One was that carbon dioxide is Earth’s heat-trapping blanket.

Despite making up about 0.03 percent of breathable air, the gas is responsible for absorbing most of the heat that gets trapped in the atmosphere. Another was that CO2 causes the osteoporosis of the sea. Similar to how the disease causes decalcification of bones, too much CO2 being absorbed by the ocean leads to acidification.

Professor Shugarman hosted a segment talking about her new book, “How to Talk to Your Kids about Climate Change,” and flipping the script onto older generations. She was inspired by growing up in Alberta, Canada, where many people worked in the oil industry and were reluctant to talk about the realities of the situation.

Having conversations with members of older generations about the current climate crisis has been made difficult due to the politicization of the issue. The key to starting the conversation is by being truthful, because the science is clear, according to Shugarman.

Ramapo students participating in the Sunrise Movement first year seminar course volunteered to share their personal stories of coming to care about the environment and encouraging others to do the same. One student expressed the challenges he has faced during the process of convincing his father to believe that climate change was a real problem.

Another relayed how her older sister became environmentally aware during her university years, and together they convinced their parents to care as well. Overall, the presentations were evidence of how today’s youth continue to mobilize in large numbers to protest, spread awareness and advocate for the changes needed to minimize the damage climate change has already been inflicting on the planet.

Sunrise Movement

The Sunrise Movement was a topic that several presenters talked about, as Ramapo will potentially be opening its own chapter of the organization soon.

Ananya Singh, who works with Sunrise Morris County, gave a short presentation that identified the barriers to activism, which Sunrise aims to break down for youth activists. Singh identified five barriers: apathy, inertia, isolation, self-doubt and fear. She aimed to help activists find ways to turn these barriers into strengths.

“We all are so much more capable than we were brought up to believe,” Singh said. The fifth barrier of fear was one she focused on especially, saying that fear is healthy to have in a certain amount, but that activists should not doubt their abilities.

“It’s so easy to believe that story,” Singh said. “That we’re not the right people at the right moment, but we are.”

Samantha DiFalco, also a member of Sunrise Morris County and a member of Food and Water Action New Jersey, spoke more about the movement during her presentation. She gave three main components that the movement needs in order to be successful: people power, political power and people’s alignment.

The first and third necessity work hand-in-hand, pointing to a need for passionate people to band together to create political power. DiFalco said that history shows when a movement has 3.5 percent of the population behind it, it is always successful. The power of the people is key to the Sunrise Movement, in making heard the voices of those concerned about climate change and promoting legislation addressing it.

“We know the time for middle of the road and weak legislation is far past,” DiFalco said. “I think a lot of people are critical of Biden’s climate plans and that’s ok, because they aren’t really where we need to be to fight this climate crisis.”

After hearing from young activists, alumni, professors and students, the day concluded leaving all attendees with more information about the climate crisis and gave them the tools to become part of the action against it.

 

Written by Danielle Bongiovanni (dbongiov@ramapo.edu) and Tori D’Amico (vdamico@ramapo.edu) on October 23, 2020


 

Categories: Sustainability


Potter Library Takes Sustainable Initiative in Eliminating Plastic Bags

Read this Article on The Ramapo News


Social distancing on campus has required many different resources to get creative with their methods of connecting with Ramapo students. Being one of the biggest assets to any student, the temporary George T. Potter Library made sure books were accessible.

They promoted their new access on Instagram, with a photo of books bagged and ready for pick up. This presentation did not sit well with sustainability activists from Ramapo.

Comments soon flooded in asking about the necessity of using plastic bags. Students commented that surface contact has been disproven as a major spread of the virus, and therefore single use plastic is not needed.

Better sustainable practices are a prominent cause on Ramapo’s campus. Ramapo Green, the overarching organization of all sustainable clubs on campus, has been pushing for a variety of different improvements, including severely limiting the presence of single-use plastics.

Plastic shopping bags are a long time enemy of nature-lovers. Whether they’re filling up landfills or being mistaken for jellyfish, their role in the ecosystem is no good.

The library heard the students, commenting back to invite collaboration between the students and future endeavors. Change was made quickly, and the original post has since been deleted.

In their new post, the library wrote “Curbside pickup is a great way to still check out library materials,” and added, “Please bring your own bag, or we have some if you need one.” The books in this photo are posed in stacks, out in the sun, ready to be picked up plastic free.

“Thank you for taking action on combating plastic pollution,” commented student Patrick Monahan. “Every step counts!”

Change happens quickly when students take initiative. The same students who asked for change filled the new comments section with thanks and emoji hearts, seeing their efforts turn into actions.

 

Written by Tori D’Amico (vdamico@ramapo.edu) on October 14, 2020


 

Categories: Sustainability


Earth Day 2020: A Three Day, Non-stop, Live, Online Event

 Join us on Earth Day, 2020–for three days of non-stop live events…!

Categories: Sustainability


Earth Day 2018

1STEP (Students Together for Environmental Progress) and several other Ramapo clubs came together for the “Jamapo Green BBQ” in celebration of Earth Day on April 22, 2018. The event included catered food from local vegan restaurants, an interactive performance by the Brazilian Percussion group, yoga sessions, a clothing swap, a t-shirt design event, and of course music. The turn out for the event was great and the weather couldn’t have been better.

The highlight of the day came with the unveiling of “Trashzilla,” a sculpture in the form of Godzilla, designed entirely out of trash collected from campus cleanups of the parking lot and other areas on campus. The idea for the project came from 1STEP co-president, Afnán Khairullah, and was assembled by volunteers from 1STEP and the Visual Arts Society over a series of weeks leading up to Earth Day.

Trashzilla is currently on display in the grove area on campus and will be there until April 27. Trashzilla serves as a reminder of the waste problem that permeates our campus. Too often we see improperly disposed of trash, especially materials that could be recycled. Hopefully this art installation will inspire members of the community to be more mindful of their waste disposal habits. Earth Day comes once a year, but shouldn’t we consider our relationship and impact on the Earth every day?


 

Categories: Sustainability


Film Screening: Plastic Planet

We are students in Professor Pat Keaton’s Global Communication Capstone Course.  For our project, we chose to create a campaign based on promoting sustainability and minimizing waste on Ramapo’s campus. Working closely with Ramapo Green and two of its participating organizations; 1STEP and the Garden Club, we hope to raise awareness and educate the Ramapo community on proper recycling, composting and waste-reduction habits. Our campaign will work to not only promote our events but assist the organizations on campus that have been working tirelessly on related projects.

For our first event, we will be screening Plastic Planet on Wednesday, Feb. 21 from 1–3pm in Friends Hall (SC-219). This documentary directed by Werner Boote provides an ​inside look at plastic and its effects not only on the planet but our health.

Along with the screening, we will have a panel discussion with members of the on-campus organization 1STEP, who will present their “Rethink Water” campaign, and Matthew Smith, Senior Organizer for Food & Water Watch, who will present their National “Take Back the Tap” campaign.

Come take part in this critical discussion.

Thank you,

Chris Bernstein, Paul Iannelli, Kristie Murru, Matt Stevens


Categories: Sustainability


CAMPUS SUSTAINABILITY DAY, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2017, 1-3 PM

A bunch of us went to the AASHE Conference in San Antonio, and feasted on an amazing array of ideas and products promoting campus sustainability

Join us, and we share these with the RCNJ community.

REGISTER HERE

Categories: Sustainability