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Students organize climate rally for American Rescue Plan funds Student organizers with the New Haven Climate Movement led a rally demanding that New Haven allocate $9 million towards climate initiatives in the city. Anastasia Hufham reports. Photos by Lukas Flippo, Zoe Berg and Vaibhav Sharma. Video by Maya Weldon-Lagrimas.

On Friday, the New Haven Climate Movement held a rally on the New Haven Green and at City Hall to demand that the city dedicate 10 percent of its incoming American Rescue Plan funding to climate initiatives.

The rally, titled “New Haven Act Now”, was affiliated with Fridays for Future — a youth-led global climate strike movement. Adrian Huq, co-founder of the NHCM Youth Action Team, emceed the event as participants, clad in black, chanted and marched across the New Haven Green while holding signs. Their primary demand is that the City of New Haven allocate 10 percent of the $90 million it receives in American Rescue Plan funding towards projects fighting climate change. According to Huq, such projects could include increasing green jobs, investing in better public transportation and implementing energy efficiency outreach and programs for low-income families.

Adrian Huq

“We see these funds as a way to really transform New Haven,” Huq told the News. “It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to access this funding, and we think it would be very valuable if at least 10 percent could be allocated towards projects that will help our community and help our planet.”

The rally started on the corner of Church and Chapel Streets before moving to an area of the Green directly across from Phelps Gate. Students and NHMC organizers shared how climate change has affected the places they love.

Speakers emphasized climate change’s effect on racial and socioeconomic equality and the need to hold elected officials and academic institutions accountable for their environmental impacts.

“Yale is culpable, too,” said Sebastian Duque ’24, co-chair of political outreach for the Yale Student Environmental Coalition. “We’re urging the university to divest its investment in fossil fuels and reinvest it in the community, and thoroughly fund a speedy transition to a carbon-free campus that is investing in the community.”

Sebastian Duque '24

University President Peter Salovey has previously responded to student criticisms about Yale’s investments in fossil fuels, most recently in mid-September, when Harvard University announced that it would pull all investments from the fossil fuel industry. Then, Salovey explained that only 2.6 percent of the endowment was invested in fossil fuel-related companies, with that percentage expected to decrease in the future.

A committee on fossil fuel investment principles has publicly identified particularly bad actors in the industry; Yale will no longer invest in these companies, he explained. The University has previously argued that the total withdrawal from the fossil fuel industry by responsible investors would allow worse actors to take their place.

“Yale students have spoken clearly on this issue, and they have been heard,” Salovey wrote in a Sept. 14 email to the News. “Yale’s action has also been directly informed by the Yale Investments Office’s longstanding insistence on applying ethics to investment decisions, as well as by the faculty’s strong belief that Yale must do its part to fight climate change.”

On Friday, Tara Bhat ’25 shared how her first two weeks at Yale were impacted by the threats of Hurricanes Henri and Ida, two extreme weather events exacerbated by the Earth’s changing climate. An organizer with the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, Bhat referenced Harvard’s announcement that the university would divest from fossil fuels. Speakers at Friday’s rally heralded Yale’s rival’s decision as proof that grassroots activism can force large institutions to make change.

“[Harvard’s] recent divestment puts a magnifying glass on Yale, and it shows just how far behind we are at this point in the climate crisis,” said Bhat. “Their continued investment makes it crystal clear that when given the option, Yale chooses profit over the futures of their students, faculty, community and the earth.”

After stopping at Phelps Gate, protesters made their way to the cemetery on the New Haven Green. There, Huq and other organizers distributed postcards to participants which read: “Due to terminal climate inaction, I am grieving the loss of …” Rally participants were invited to fill in the blank and then place their postcards in a cardboard coffin.

Some participants shared information on global losses due to climate change, which included recent drowning victims in New York City, limited access to clean water and destroyed habitats for endangered species.

A rally participant puts a postcard in the cardboard coffin.

The rally then continued to its final stop at City Hall. Mayor Justin Elicker stepped out of the building as the protesters surrounded the steps and staged a “die-in.” Participants, including Elicker, knelt or lay down on the steps and sidewalk for 29 seconds, which Huq marked by beating on an upside-down bucket. The 29 seconds represented the 29 years of “failure to act” since the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change first publicly acknowledged climate change as a threat, according to Huq.

Rosie Hampson and Young In Kim, both organizers with NHCM and students at Wilbur Cross High School, shared facts on how climate change affects public health and the global economy.

“The climate crisis is an all-encompassing issue,” said Kim. “When we fight climate change, we fight for countless other causes,” including education, poverty, racial justice and severe weather events.

Huq reiterated NHCM’s demand that $9 million of the city’s incoming American Rescue Plan funding be allocated towards climate initiatives. In response to the demand, Elicker said his administration is compiling input from many community meetings to develop a plan, which he will then present to New Haven’s Board of Alders. He committed to allocating “a portion” of the funds towards climate initiatives but did not promise the $9 million figure.

Huq then asked Elicker his plan to cut emissions and prevent global warming.

“The City of New Haven has a strong record and we are making progress, but we absolutely have more work to be doing,” Elicker said.

He cited the city’s efforts to increase sustainable transportation with more cyclist and pedestrian-friendly transportation networks, as well as moves toward reducing electricity consumption. He reported that the city purchased 100 percent renewable energy for all municipal electricity use and stated his desire to create a climate and sustainability office.

Elicker also mentioned his efforts to secure more funding from Yale and the state for environmental uses. He said that New Haven has received $49 million in additional funding from the state to invest in infrastructure.

“In the end, equity isn’t just about the City of New Haven playing a strong role in climate change, but it is about those with the resources actually putting those resources up,” he said. “We are having positive conversations with the university about its commitment to this city.”

At the rally’s end, Huq gave the mayor the postcards participants had written to mourn climate change.

Following Elicker’s address, Huq told the News that progress toward the city’s goal of reducing emissions to zero by 2030 has been “slow.” They also noted that losing two years of climate mobilization to the pandemic left them worried about the city’s progress.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released earlier this year stated that without urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the earth’s global warming will surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius and lead to “irreversible” damage to ecosystems and communities worldwide.

Anastasia Hufham | anastasia.hufham@yale.edu