As wildfires raged and reports of climate crises dominated the news cycle, the students of the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies Green Teams 2021 summer program brought not only the scientific method and careful research but a sense of urgency and growing impatience to their final presentations at the Kasser Theater August 4.
A desire to break through the noise was on display from the start, as the day began not with a slide show but with a dance performance choreographed to a recording of renowned 18-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg.
“We have to acknowledge that the older generations have failed. All political movements in their current form have failed. But Homo sapiens have not yet failed,” intoned the voice of Thunberg as Green Team program alumna Kaitlyn Esposito and current program member Morgan Nash danced to their own choreography, accompanied by Melissa Nash and Alexandra Butman. The piece was titled “Wake Up!”
A theme of being behind the curve and needing to catch up reverberated throughout the 12 presentations on diverse projects ranging from vertical farms to mass transit electric vehicles to upgrades for affordable housing to novel clean energy storage.
City of Newark Green Team member Lucia Wiggers, a Geosciences major from Williams College, noted that growing Newark’s tree canopy is one tool for reducing its high land surface temperature. “Newark is one of the most intense heat islands in the country,” said Wiggers, “with a high percentage of impervious surfaces.”
But Wiggers lamented the timeframe for impact: “This should be done as soon as possible because it takes 20 years for a tree to be planted before it has climate benefits.”
Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell, who started on the job just two days prior to the event, picked up on the mood.
“There’s this notion that young people are sort of selfish and narcissistic because they are staring at their phones and doing Instagram … but I actually think that people your age are more public-service oriented than most. And are more dedicated to doing something about the world than most.
“The other thing that I think characterizes younger folks is that you are impatient. You don’t want to sit in a classroom for five years or 10 years and say, ‘Okay I’m learning, and I’ll do something someday. No, I want to do something today.’”
Koppell continued: “If the bargain is I get a little bit of arrogance and a little bit of cockiness that goes with your impatience to be the difference maker in the world, I’ll totally take that. Keep your passion, keep your impatience. We need you out there solving the problems that we are dealing with as a world.”
PSEG Chief Operating Officer Ralph LaRossa kept paying the directness forward. He told students that, although PSEG is selling its fossil fuel plants, “Don’t clap – because someone is buying them.” Why? “Because it’s cheap. Burning natural gas is cheap.” He urged students to work to find climate solutions that also fit the pocketbooks of corporations and individuals.
“Your real challenge is not just to come up with the great ideas but to come up with the cheap great ideas because they win in the marketplace. That at the end of the day is how you make real change.”
The daylong event also worked to stretch the view beyond New Jersey with the inclusion of keynote speakers Laurie Wiegand-Jackson, owner and president of Utility Advantage, and Heba Allah Essam E. Khalil, professor of Sustainable Urbanism and senior coordinator of Cairo University’s Architecture Engineering and Technology Program, who connected via Zoom from Egypt to discuss climate issues of the “Global South.”
“Being less consuming doesn’t mean you are more green,” Khalil said regarding the developing world, while also cautioning about the recent rapid population growth of Global South cities such as Cairo which now numbers more than 9 million.
“When looking at the data, it can be scary and disheartening to see the effects we humans have already had on the environment, and we can too easily find ourselves arguing whether or not we have enough time to rectify our Earth, but that won’t get anything done,” said Matt Murray, Montclair State student and member of the PSEG Green Team. “But the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies is an epicenter for growth and knowledge in sustainability, and shows students how this field is not only able to be utilized anywhere and everywhere but needs to be utilized anywhere and everywhere.”
“Time is of the essence,” adds Montclair State student and fellow PSEG Green Team member Ingrid Witty. “However it is still possible to avert further crises if we know how. We need to find
answers; this is why future research is critical and must be implemented. Education is the future.”
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