April 16, 2007

Local Residents Rally For the Environment

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Last Saturday, approximately 350 Central New Yorkers gathered on the Ithaca Commons to urge Congress to “Step it Up.” A national effort to raise awarness about global warming, Step it Up organized 1,364 rallies nationwide on Saturday in an effort to motivate Congress to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The idea for Step It Up came from a group of students and scholar-in-residence Bill McKibben at Middlebury College in January as a grassroots effort to spread awareness about the growing problem of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. Rather than organizing a nationwide rally in one place, the group decided to motivate communities to address global warming issues locally.
“We thought that it would be a lot better for people to gather in their own communities because we think that what really motivates people to action is realizing what effect global warming will have on them,” said Jamie Henn, a senior at Middlebury College and an organizer of Step It Up. “Many of the rallies are being held at churches and schools and other places that really symbolize the heart of the community.”
Collectively, the Step it Up rallies around the nation were intended to show support for legislation in Congress that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The law would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by two percent every year and would make the cap and trade agreements national policy. Cap and trade agreements, which are already implemented in nine states in the Northeast, set restrictions for carbon dioxide emissions for businesses. Businesses are given a specific allowance, or credit, for carbon dioxide emissions, and cannot exceed their given credit. Businesses who do not go over their limit may sell their excess credits to businesses who do exceed their limit.
“It’s a method of using market principles to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” said Dan Lamb, a representative from Maurice Hinchey’s office. “It’s a proven method with built-in economic incentives because credits equal money.”
To bring attention to the rallies, a picture of all the attendees at each Step it Up event nationwide will be sent to Congress along with a petition including the signatures of the participants.
The Ithaca Step it Up was organized in just three weeks by the Climate Change Action Group of Ithaca, a small group of local activists who have been meeting for the past couple months and to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Central New York through education, collaboration and community action.
“I knew it was something that we had to participate in because global warming is something that will affect everyone,” said Singrid Kulkowitz, a member of the Climate Change Action Group and the primary organizer of the event.
Mayor Carolyn Peterson spoke about the steps Ithaca has already taken to curb carbon emissions, such as implementing LEDs on traffic lights and maintaining a widespread public transportation system. In the near future, she hopes that Ithaca will receive 5 power of its power from wind energy and update the public transportation system to include two hybrid vehicles. For all her work in this area, Peterson is featured on the website coolmayors.org, which recognizes mayors who have been proactive in implementing changes that reduce energy use.
“Our federal government will not be proactive, so cities have to take an active role,” Peterson said. “The people of Ithaca are very receptive to the steps being taken to reduce greenhouse gases ,and we have a strong interest in sustainability.”
Though the focus of Step it Up was on community action, Lamb spoke more globally about the need for the government to pass legislation to reduce carbon emissions. After criticizing the current administration for failing to take action against the problem of global warming, and then offering hope for a more environmentally friendly administration in the upcoming years, Lamb encouraged the audience to continue to push the government into positive change.
“We should do this again often,” Lamb said. “Maybe every Saturday until we get some legislation in place.”
In her address, Barbara Lifton, a representative from New York’s 125th district, echoed Lamb’s view by citing the connection between environmental and other global problems.
“There is a link between energy and peace. Our need for oil has driven the daily disaster we see in Iraq…instead of stepping up, the Bush administration has stepped back,” Lifton said.
Others at the event pushed for even more drastic change. Margot Alexander is part of the Tompkins County Campaign for Impeachment, a group that has over 600 signatures on a petition pushing lawmakers to impeach President Bush.
“Something big has to happen,” Alexander said. “I believe it could happen and I think the will of the people is undeniable.”
Aside from the political topics brought up by the speakers, all of them stressed the importance of creating a better world for the next generation to live in.
“There’s a saying that goes ‘good planets are hard to find,’ and what motivates me most is my children and my grandchildren, because they will inherit the earth,” Kulkowitz said.
Children also participated in the event by drawing their vision for the future of Earth in pictures of people and nature on cloth squares that were hung around the Commons pavilion.
“The depth of their thinking about it is amazing,” said Colleen Kearns, who helped to organize Step it Up. “It ranges from political to making the world beautiful.”
Eight-year-old Abby Cooper listed all of the actions humans can take to improve the environment on her square, like buying local products, turning off unnecessary lights, saving trees and stopping war.
“I’m doing this to help the Earth and not to pollute the air because it’s harder for people to breath,” Cooper said.
The rally ended with the entire group singing “This Land is Your Land” to an acoustic guitar.
Student groups at Cornell will be holding their own set of events this week to raise awareness about the importance of reducing carbon emissions. The “Drive Not to Drive,” a campaign to encourage people to give up their cars for a week and organized by the Engineers for a Sustainable World, kicked off on Saturday. Also, Feel the Heat week, which is organized by the Sustainability Hub and brings together all the groups on campus that focus on sustainability, will be holding events all week to bring this problem to the attention of Cornell students and staff.
“I think that Cornell Students are very aware of global issues but sometimes don’t realize what an impact each individual can make, both in a positive and negative way,” said Tamar Sharabi, ’07, a member of Engineers for a Sustainable World. “Sometimes it’s easier to have short sighted goals because we are bombarded by materialism, but we have to realize we live on one planet and we are one people and we are brought together by Mother Earth.”