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EDITORIAL: After Ida, climate justice should be on your mind

Climate justice should be at the forefront of Rutgers' agenda

Rutgers must do more to support its communities in the wake of natural disasters and climate change, especially considering environmental inequality.  – Photo by Azaria Johnson

When Tropical Storm Ida hit New Brunswick, most of us were in Rutgers buildings, be it an office, dorm or library. While rain pelted our windows, and our phones buzzed with alert after alert, we hunkered down and waited out the storm. Even though some buildings were hit with flooding or leaking ceilings, Rutgers students were, for the most part, safe.

The same cannot be said for all New Jersey residents. At least 27 people lost their lives in the storm that is considered the worst since Hurricane Sandy.

Nationally, Tropical Storm Ida will cost states about $95 billion. “Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said damage to city infrastructure was estimated at $35 million,” according to NPR. The devastation was so widespread that President Joseph R. Biden signed a disaster declaration covering several counties in New Jersey, including Middlesex.

The problems caused by Tropical Storm Ida are magnified for those who cannot afford to bounce back from disasters financially. Some New Jersey residents, like families in Manville, have even resorted to GoFundMe pages to raise money for storm relief. The homeless population in affected states was evidently hit the hardest, with nowhere to take shelter during a violent storm.

A tropical storm like Ida may seem like a once-in-a-decade occurrence, but climate change brings with it more and more occurrences of extreme weather. “For decades, scientists have warned … weather would be more extreme, and climate change was here. And we're living through it now. We don't have any more time," President Biden said while visiting New Jersey after the storm.

While climate change is a challenge for everyone who happens to live on planet Earth, there is no denying that the poorest among us will be hit the hardest. Economic inequality is a global epidemic — one that New Jersey and New Brunswick are not immune to.

New Jersey has identified overburdened communities (OBCs), including New Brunswick, with a 38 percent poverty rate, Newark and Camden, that are more likely to be in need of environmental justice initiatives. You can keep up with New Jersey legislation on the topic here.

Rutgers has been involved in certain climate and environmental justice initiatives, like the Price Institute for environmental justice at Rutgers—Newark or the Climate Task Force. The Price Institute hosts events, spotlighting different areas of climate justice and encouraging students to be part of the solution.

The purpose of the Climate Task Force is to “develop Rutgers’ strategies for contributing to achieving global net-zero carbon dioxide emissions ('carbon neutrality') and for enhancing the capacity of the university and the state of New Jersey to manage the risks of a changing climate ('climate resilience'),” according to their website.

While both of these programs are valuable, Rutgers must do more. In the event of a natural disaster, Rutgers could offer shelter to those with nowhere else to go or those with housing destroyed by the storm. Auditoriums, lecture halls and other large spaces could be turned into emergency housing in the event it is needed.

Rutgers should also organize post-storm clean-ups, food drives and more to support the communities that they occupy. Of course, all this comes with a price tag, but the responsibility remains despite the cost.

Rutgers must also do more to promote the idea of environmental justice. While student organizations send out information about a whole host of social justice issues, the climate crisis is not always included in the conversation because not everyone realizes it is also a social justice issue. There are plenty of clubs concerning climate change that promote environmental responsibility, but we could all be doing more to promote climate justice.

“Students and teachers can learn about the climate crisis, participate in actions such as letter-writing campaigns or demonstrations like the recent global youth-led climate strike, and lobby lawmakers for greater efforts towards climate justice,” as suggested by Columbia Climate School. 

Students can do their part to help clean up the community, keep up with New Jersey legislation on the topic and push for Rutgers to help those communities, too. Clubs are a great way to mobilize the student body into helping out after a natural disaster. Student organizations must push Rutgers to do the same.

The fact of the matter is this issue will only get worse, and we must do our part to minimize the damage while also realizing that some parts of this problem are out of our control. We can’t stop another Tropical Storm Ida, but we can prepare for it and mobilize to help our communities afterward.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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