Illustration by michelle D’urbano.
One of the most common small talk topics is the weather, and the record-breaking heat waves felt around the world have sparked a bigger conversation about climate change.
With recent findings about the effects of climate change and government mandated bans on plastic bags and straws to save the environment, the average person bears most of the responsibility of ensuring that these harmful practices will subside. However, only 90 companies emit nearly two-thirds of industrial greenhouse gas emissions, with some of the world’s most recognizable celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Drake, and Taylor Swift following suit in their controversial 15-30 minute long flights, multiple homes, and constant on-the-go lifestyles.
While these celebrities and corporations received some backlash online, the quintessential task of helping the planet — before it’s too late — falls heavily on the average person, who will be affected the most by the consequences of these actions.
(Photo Credit: The Guardian)
With concerns for the future of our planet growing by the day, environmental groups around the world have been doing their part in helping the community and spreading awareness on this issue.
Friends of Ferris Triangle Park, a local environmental organization based in the Greenville area of Jersey City, was founded by President Natasha Arbelo, who works alongside her husband Brett Miller and Vice President Ray Baylon.
As residents of the Greenville area, Arbelo (35) and Miller (31) founded the organization almost two years ago after realizing that Greenville didn’t have any environmental events for the community.
Arbelo, who coordinates the events and makes all the purchases, and her husband, who is a gardener at Central Park, were inspired to start their organization after a visit to their local community center (run by Monica Shaw) that they frequently volunteered at.
“I remember I stopped by one day with some extra art supplies I had that I wanted to donate. A family of children that was sitting around ran up to me and kept asking if they could do arts and crafts. After I sat with them for a few minutes and inquired about their school, they told me they didn’t have art or music anymore, likely because there were no teachers available,” Arbelo told Slice of Culture.
Arbelo was in complete shock from hearing this news, especially since many fond memories that she had growing up took place in her art, music and home economics classes. They were a way for her to escape from her home life and let her thoughts out through more creative outlets.
After discussing this news, the couple made it their mission to provide the kids in the Greenville area with some fun events free of charge.
“We would never think to charge anything like we’ve seen at other parks. We thought about what we passionate about, which was ‘Art, Nature, and Education,’ and that’s been our theme moving forward since day one,” Arbelo added.
Miller’s gardening experience and love of plants along with Arbelo’s love of bringing people together with the same creative passion helped them collaborate with Baylon, who works at the Liberty State Park Nature Center with kids on a daily basis, in creating Friends of Ferris Triangle Park.
Community response for these events have been great so far, they said, with residents showing a real interest in events in Greenville.
“Our Christmas Tree lighting event brought in about 250 people. Our park is a tiny park, but I like to think that it’s mighty.”
The organization has had three events so far, with their fourth event coming up on Saturday, Sept. 24.
“We’ve had park clean ups, clothing donation drives and volunteers that help clean up the park once a month. We also want people to understand that this area has a lot of wonderful people. In the next few years, we believe that there will be so many things that the community can enjoy, like a community garden, compost bins in parks and making the arts front and center here,” the organization said.
Businesses like Trader Joes in Hoboken, Whealth Kitchen, Seize the Sweets, and Lady G Empanadas, as well as Arbelo and Miller’s artist friends have all donated items and volunteered their time by creating with the children in the park and constantly asking how they can do more to help.
Like any other organization, there are some challenges that arise.
“Our only difficulty has been bringing people to our monthly meetings, but that’s something that we are constantly working on perfecting because we want more community input,” Arbelo said.
However, their work with other organizations has made these challenges much easier to tackle.
“We also work with other organizations and non profits because working together we get further along. We recently even assisted in making a pollinator garden alongside Friends of Bayside Park,” they said.
The organization’s first community event was The Fall Planting Festival at Ferris Triangle Park back in October.
“During that event, we had three arts and crafts tables, 100 pumpkins for painting, over 200 donated Halloween costumes for the kids in the community, two tables of desserts made by Seize the Sweets, and we we were able to plant flower beds with the parents and their children,” Arbelo said.
“We were able to provide all of this for free for the community with a small budget of only $400.”
Arbelo and Miller’s motivation for planning the event was to give families the kind of events they grew up with and for the children in Greenville, including their daughter Helena, to have the same opportunities of fun events within their community as those that live in the Downtown area of Jersey City.
As we experienced scorching temperatures this summer, reports started circulating from an account — called Celebrity Jets on Twitter — of celebrities who frequently used private jets to travel shorter distances, and many people’s favorite A-listers made the list.
Many people online held these celebrities accountable for taking such short flights, especially during the current climate crisis, and questioned why they didn’t use cars or other more environmentally friendly methods of transportation.
While celebrities tend to have busier lives than the average person and seemingly need to get to places faster, they still avoid much of the responsibility and contribute to the narrative that we, the average consumers that help finance their extravagant lifestyles, are the only ones who can reduce the effects of climate change if we stop using our cars so much or if we drink out of metal straws or if we compost our waste.
The idea that climate change is a “far-off event” when we’re seeing the effects of it right now in our hometowns is one of the most damaging misconceptions about this ongoing crisis, according to Arbelo.
“Our summers are breaking records nearly every year for high temperatures and we are very slow to react to these changes. We need to both invest in and create green spaces within our city,” she added.
Arbelo also acknowledges the importance of making small individual changes to combat climate change, despite feeling discouraged from learning about how most fossil fuel consumption and carbon gas emissions are a result of a select few individuals and corporations.
“While we may not all be able to fight climate change individually, we can still do our part to help advocate for something as simple as more street trees, which have been shown to lower ground temperatures, reduce asthma rates, and alleviate flooding and runoff,” Arbelo said.
”We need to get this idea out there that climate change is something we can all help to tackle through small individual steps.”
After Taylor Swift was caught in the crossfire for allegedly being the worst offender on this viral list, Swift’s spokesperson stated that her jet is frequently loaned out to other people to ease the tension.
Most fans were unhappy with the response, claiming that Swift’s team refuses to take accountability for emitting over 1,100 times more carbon emissions from her jet in the past eight months than the average person does in a year.
While memes were made about these findings in true internet fashion, it proved one point that has consistently been made over the course of human history: that most people won’t care about the consequences of climate change until it’s too late.
Drake also attempted to defend multiple instances of using his private jet for less than 15 minutes by claiming that the planes were just being moved to the airports for storage and that no one was on the flights.
With research showing that private jets cause 5-14 times more pollution than the average plane and 50 times more pollution than trains, the idea that having no one on board these flights is arguably worse because of how much carbon emissions private jets emit alone.
While this list on Twitter doesn’t state how often these celebrities were on board these private jets, it still momentarily sparked the conversation of how the rich and famous are largely responsible for the most environmentally damaging actions but are rarely blamed.
Arbelo is passionate about spreading awareness of different ways we can reduce our carbon footprint, but she understands why people in Greenville specifically might not bother with it too much.
“Every single weekend, the community center has 120 people in line trying to get bags of food. Every Sunday, Claudia (who runs SALTNJ) has a line around the block to get one of her boxes of food donations that she gets from Wegman’s and Trader Joe’s. There are other food banks that can tell you the same story,” she said.
Problems with food scarcity and the current housing crisis that has now made Jersey City the most expensive city to live in in the country, with rent skyrocketing to over $3,300 according to a report from Rent.com, have caused people to put the current climate crisis on the back burner.
“The problems for the members of our community are so big to them, that truly, climate change is far down on the list of things to worry about,” Arbelo said.
”For us, it’s important to take this issue as seriously as they do. For us, we just want to be able to educate by doing and that’s what we’ve successfully done. We make it fun family time doing educational, nature based activities rather than a time to preach.”
Climate change isn’t a new topic, but it has become a recent hot topic of conversation in the political space.
President Biden announced his plans to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 three months into his presidency. He also recently signed the largest federal clean energy bill in American history into law that allocates over $300 billion to be invested in climate change initiatives.
While this bill is a small step in the right direction as far as attempting to tackle climate change, it arguably isn’t nearly enough to help reverse some of the damage that has already been caused.
More regulations would need to be added to the bill for any sort of positive change to occur, such as no longer adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2050 to prevent the planet’s temperature from rising and setting new standards for more energy efficient cars and electricity to make up for lost time.
With many politicians either not believing in the drastic effects of climate change or being complacent in the matter, climate activists are worried that no one in office will be tackling this issue enough and that younger generations will have to suffer from problems the older generations in office won’t have to deal with.
As more millennial and Gen Z voters take to the polls, there’s still some hope that they’ll elect leaders in office who will continue to address these issues. And while voting doesn’t solve everything, it might help us elect people who truly represent our country as it is now. After all, it’s up to us to save the world.