Boris Tsang/Sun File Photo

Climate Justice Cornell protests for University divestment during the 2020-2021 school year.

October 27, 2021

Following a Successful Divestment Campaign, Climate Justice Cornell Takes Aim at Local Environmental Policy

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Climate Justice Cornell, a student organization focused on climate action centering social justice, has narrowed their efforts to local political and environmental activism this semester. The group is back on campus since their successful campaign for the University to divest from fossil fuels last year. 

Now CJC has broadened its focus to Cornell and Ithaca this semester, according to Leila Reimanis ’24, a coordinator for CJC, and Siobhan Hull ’24, a member of CJC who assists with outreach and member retention.

“We are seeking to strengthen our relationships with the Cornell and Ithaca community,” Hull said.  

CJC, originally named KyotoNOW!, started in 2001 in response to the U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, an international pledge to reduce emissions. According to Hull, the original student leaders pushed the University to participate in the protocol despite the national rejection. 

During the 2016-2017 school year, the organization rebranded to CJC because the Paris Climate Accords, an international treaty that aimed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, became more recognizable to students than the Kyoto Protocol.

The name change also reflected a changing climate action movement according to Julia Gonzales ’23, previous treasurer of the organization and a member of CJC since her freshman year. She said that feeling like part of meaningful climate action is what draws her to the organization.

“Historically, certain groups have benefited from the causes of climate change more than others, and in the future, the impacts of climate change will be unevenly distributed,” Gonzales said. “We think it’s important that the needs of marginalized groups are emphasized in future climate action.”

As part of their move to focusing on local politics, the group promoted an Environmental Rights Rally hosted on the Ithaca Commons by the Environmental Advocates New York, an non-profit organization that fights for environmental protections and healthy, equitable communities on Oct. 12.

The rally involved a number of local activists and elected officials expressing their support for Proposition Two, a bill in the New York state legislature that would add the human right to “clean water, clean air and a healthful environment” to the New York Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

“The rally increased community awareness about the existence of the proposition,” Hull said, “Wore voters will now remember to flip their ballot over in November and vote YES on proposition two.”

Beyond this rally, Gonzales said that CJC has signed onto several letters to Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) regarding state climate change policies, including the Climate and Community Investment Act. Recently, it called on Hochul to adopt a Building Electrification Equity Platform, which would prioritize the investment of funds into energy efficiency within buildings in disadvantaged communities.

Gonzales said the group has also met with Ithaca’s director of sustainability, Luis Aguirre-Torres, to discuss implementation avenues for the Ithaca Green New Deal, which the council passed unanimously in June 2019. CJC members held a discussion about climate justice in the Ithaca community, canvassed for the Ithaca Common Council solidarity slate and sent a letter urging the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to deny a request from the Seneca Lake Greenidge power plant to renew their Title IV, acid rain, and Title V, greenhouse gas, air permits.

Going forward, CJC’s Ithaca Green New Deal action team hopes to host several in-person events designed to renew environmental justice energy within the community and Common Council.

“We have not yet determined whether this will take the form of a rally or some other event, but it is our aim to promote community engagement,” said Hull.

Brandon Restler ’23, CJC’s co-general body coordinator, said that his favorite part of CJC membership is seeing  the impact of the organization’s actions on the community.

“While some of our initiatives are more successful than others,” said Restler, “it’s nice to know that it’s possible to make a difference –– however large or small.”