One week after the People’s Climate March in New York City, participants from the University and the Middletown community gathered at 200 Church for a follow-up discussion focusing on moving forward with local environmental initiatives.
Three Middletown residents and about 20 University students met for an hour and a half, sharing cake, sentiments, and ideas. The objectives were clearly defined at the start of the meeting: harness the energy from the march, begin thinking about campaigns, and create a broader network of people for climate justice.
The theme was in line with that of the march and subsequent Flood Wall Street demonstration. While the goals of these initiatives were to fight climate change, they also intended to fight against the capitalism that many demonstrators and advocacy groups believe is at the root of climate change.
Local members of Capitalism vs. the Climate, a New England-based group, attended the meeting to provide a link between what students can do at the University level and in the surrounding area.
Middletown resident Steve Krevisky believes that it is crucial for communities to work together towards these goals.
“I teach over at Middlesex Community College, and that’s a constituency that can’t be ignored, because we do have a sustainability committee, and I think there’s connections that we could make,” Krevisky said. “If we can make those kinds of connections, maybe we will talk about specifics of what we can do.”
The discussion began by addressing two main issues: a natural gas line that will go through Connecticut and a coal processing plant in Bridgeport.
The Spectra Pipeline—set to extend through New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut—will come as close as Cromwell. If the pipeline is built, compression systems will have to be built as well, several of which would be located near schools and one near a nuclear power plant. Each new system (two in Connecticut and six in total) would release methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
“If the pipeline exploded near a nuclear plant, it will be horrible,” said Sophie Solokov ’18.
Meanwhile, in Bridgeport, efforts to close down the only remaining coal processing plant in Connecticut are contingent on the support of external groups.
“The asthma rate and hospitalization rate for Bridgeport is three times that of Connecticut as a whole,” said Genna Mastellone ’17.
Bridgeport residents have had a particularly difficult time ridding their community of the plant and its accompanying air pollution. On Monday, Oct. 6, University students are encouraged to attend a city council vote on legislation that, if passed, would initiate a phase-out of coal processing and a transition to natural gas, ensuring that Bridgeport residents whose livelihoods depend on the plant are not left jobless.
Mastellone spoke to the importance of the participation of University students in this vote.
“We’re trying to get people to mobilize to this event,” Mastellone said. “We’re going there to say that this is not something that they can ignore, that there are a lot of people who care and are listening. I think that Wesleyan’s role, in terms of the Bridgeport coal plant, is showing up when they ask us to show. The October 6 event is the biggest thing yet, and they would really like us there.”
Everyone present at the meeting was given the opportunity to share causes that they were interested in. All ideas, focusing on environmental issues, came back to the central premise of community outreach. As a result, participants reached a consensus to form a working group, or collection of working groups, to communicate and coordinate outreach with current University groups in order to mobilize action.
“Working groups is a great name for them; they’re not just thinking groups,” said Claire Marshall ’17.
Spencer Brown ’18 used the space to call for action, channeling his passion for environmental activism.
“I think we have to approach things from the level of ideas,” Brown said. “How are we actually going to get out of this crisis, and what are we going to put forth? I’m from the standpoint that things are going to happen, and once the crisis does happen, how can we prevent further crises from happening? I think we need to think about what we want to do, and then how we organize in a broader sense.”
The group plans to work as an intermediary in order to facilitate collaboration within the University as well as with the Middletown community. Middletown residents in attendance stressed that these interests can be further advanced if the town and the University are not treated as mutually exclusive entities.
Participants signed up for an email list in order to continue receiving information about future meetings of the working group, or groups. In the coming months, the group intends to foster a relationship between the University and Middletown’s environmental advocacy groups, creating a strong network of individuals dedicated to fighting climate change.