New York is Ready to Flip the Switch for Climate Justice

On December 8, exactly a month after the election, ACE Fellows joined the NY Renews Coalition for a town hall at the People’s Meeting House to convince Governor Cuomo to flip the switch—a switch that would transform New York on a path towards clean, renewable energy. I was given an incredible opportunity to express the youth perspective during this gathering, and despite how tremulous I felt my voice to be, it was amazing to simply be able to speak.

The event began with heartfelt pieces by a student jazz quartet. Gradually, the room filled up with the radiating enthusiasm of over 350 people who understood the urgency of climate change, but still remained undoubtedly optimistic to share their voices. The main objective was to educate everyone on the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act (NYS CCPA) and delineate to government officials, particularly Governor Cuomo, the critical need for this shift.

I merely want to live in a world where clean air and justice is a norm, rather than a privilege.

Alongside me on stage were incredible folks and organizations working with the NY Renews Coalition, the group that’s pushing this legislative platform. Eddie Jones, Rev. Johnson, a nurse from New York State Nurses Association, and a representative from Good Old Lower East Side also delivered their stories, and their individualistic narratives all showcased the impacts of climate change and its correlation to policies, whether that be in terms of green jobs, security, health or overall justice.

After each speaker did their part, the hosts explained the connection between each experience and how the NYS CCPA would address it. This was my first time speaking in front of such a mammoth group of strangers and perhaps that was the reason why the reverberating words from the mic felt so surreal. I talked about my native country, Bangladesh, where annual flooding and children missing school was just as common as breathing contaminated air and how some of those experiences were parallel to the climate impacts that New York endured during Hurricane Sandy. The crowd’s approbation and empathy made the whole talking ordeal a lot less unnerving but my favorite part came with the honor of getting to “flip the switch,” which, to be fair, was actually a lever.

There was an art piece representing switches that were flipped after each respective speech to an accompanying attribute the NYS CCPA would support (green jobs, security, health, or justice). In the end, the biggest switch—or lever, as I would say—represented the ultimate transition to a more sustainable world. That’s how I interpreted it anyway; after all, it is art. I had the honor to pull the cumbersome lever to help depict the final transition and it was probably my most memorable moment of the town hall (not just because I ended up struggling to complete the task).  

To me, this was more than an honor because it meant that the youth voice could aid the seemingly impossible goal of an equitable society that relies solely on renewable energy. This simple task conveyed a more significant message regarding how it is necessary for everyone to unite under this common goal. It inevitably aligned with my request to the audience and to Governor Cuomo: similar to the aspirations of others from my generation, I merely want to live in a world where clean air and justice is a norm, rather than a privilege. My hope is that New York continues setting a precedent nationally when it comes to ambitious but just bills such as the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act. As for the United States as a whole, I’m rather optimistic that one day, frontline communities will no longer be susceptible to super hurricanes, extreme floods, or extensive droughts because of national policies that could mitigate the immensely negative climate impacts.

I’m grateful for the opportunity I had on December 8. More importantly, I’m grateful for the hall full of people that were present and ready to call the governor’s office during the final call to action. I hope we all continue to never resort to silence.

Aryaana Khan

Aryaana Khan is a 2016-2017 Action Fellow in New York City. She attends Manhattan Hunter Science High School.