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    Imminent Horizons
    Thursday, May 23, 2024

    Earth Day panel focuses on environmental justice, climate resiliency

    Imminent Horizons project logo

    Mystic ― Rahiem Eleazer, environmental liaison for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, said Monday the first step in climate justice is showing the environment the reciprocity that it’s due, after generations of a consumer mentality have devastated the environment.

    The second is addressing communities left to the side or targeted for negative by-products or waste, he said. For example, communities that have landfills placed in them because a higher priority was placed on richer communities, and tribal communities that have been provided leftover property or property they didn’t want to live in.

    He made the comments as a panel convened on Earth Day at Mystic Aquarium’s Milne Center for Ocean Science and Conservation to discuss environmental justice and community resiliency.

    When asked about indigenous practices, Eleazer said a lot of practices traditionally are focused on adding value back to the environment.

    The panel also featured Tim Clark, the Resilient Southeastern Connecticut Program Director with The Nature Conservancy, an environmental organization; Cierra Patrick, the City of Groton’s economic development manager; and Lynn Stoddard, the founder and executive director of Sustainable CT, a program in which cities and towns earn certification by taking steps toward becoming more sustainable.

    Patrick, who has been assisting in the development of the City of Groton’s first-ever community resiliency plan and who serves on the Connecticut Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory Council, discussed the importance of engaging the community, whether that means having virtual meetings, going out to meet people in person, or partnering with the Nature Conservancy on a plant giveaway to promote pollinator pathways.

    In response to an audience member’s question about education, Patrick said it’s very important to engage youth and let them lead the discussion.

    Clark said a resilient southeastern Connecticut is one that is more like a naturally occurring landscape, and it’s important to design systems that act more that way.

    “We need to not have pollution go into our waterways. We need to not have sewer overflows that go out into Long Island Sound and pollute the waters,” he said. “These are all interrelated systems, and I think we really need to figure out what are the steps we can take to basically keep those natural systems behaving naturally: able to adapt to everything that’s being thrown at them in this time of increasing change.”

    When asked about calls to action for people, Patrick encouraged people to get in touch with their municipality to find out ways to get involved, and Eleazer encouraged people to reach out to tribal nations. Clark encouraged people to figure out what they are most passionate about and tackle that.

    Eleazer said the goal is community-based and collaborative solutions.

    Clark also emphasized the importance of collaboration and said climate change and sea level rise don’t respect municipal boundaries.

    When asked about how to engage a wider spectrum of voices, Patrick spoke about having everyone continue to return to the table and making the table available to everyone. She said it’s important to not only hold meetings in a municipal building, but go out to the community.

    Mike Urgo, president of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, talked about the General Assembly and said environmental bills being considered in the state legislature can be found on the CTLCV’s 2024 Legislative Watchlist.

    Maryam Elahi, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, which hosted the event, said “access to a safe, healthy environment is a basic human right that should be afforded to all. It is not a privilege just for those with resources.”

    Elahi said all kids should be able to run around and play in clean and safe parks, be in lead-free schools, and drink water without concerns about pollutants.

    Susette Tibus, president and CEO of Mystic Aquarium, said the event is a rallying cry “urging individuals, communities, governments and businesses to unite and pursue solutions that ensure a sustainable and just future for generations to come.”

    k.drelich@theday.com

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