NJ students plead for more to be done on climate change

Pooja Rayapaneni, 17, Samiya Pathak, 17, and Jisae Son, 16, all attend Bergen County Academies, a magnet high school in Hackensack.

They also have in common being members of the Sunrise Bergen County Student Initiative, whose work focuses on climate education, protection and advocacy through community-focused volunteer work. In August, the group received the Environmental Protection Agency’s Presidential Youth Environmental Award for their work in their region. Their work included hosting a climate summit with 40 speakers, educational events for young children, climate art galleries in parks featuring local artists, and park and river cleanups. .

The three recently spoke to the USA TODAY Network about their concerns about the current climate change crisis. Rayapaneni resides in Paramus, Pathak in Waldwick and Son in Old Tappan.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you become interested in the climate change crisis?

Rayapaneni: “I was really immersed in the climate change crisis during the [2020 Covid] quarantine and especially with the Black Lives Matter movement and acknowledging the privilege I have of living in Bergen County and living in the United States and not really acknowledging that many marginalized communities face many crises including climate change.

Pooja Rayapaneni poses with one of the signs she uses during protests in Paramus on August 9, 2022. Rayapaneni helps lead Sunrise Bergen, a youth-led section of the Sunrise movement that engages young adults in climate change.

Are you ever angry, upset, disillusioned or frustrated by the climate change crisis, and especially on the East Coast where you live? What makes you feel that way?

Pathak: “There is a lot of frustration… especially when on the East Coast there are people who live in communities that are affected where their own homes are destroyed by the climate crisis because of these floods. It’s so heartbreaking to see this. People on the East Coast, people I might know, my classmates, they might have their houses flooded and they might have to go through these crises, and not enough is being done and that’s pretty frustrating have.

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Do you sometimes have hope – if so, what is it?

Pathak: “I love seeing all the young people, people our age really fighting for it. How the young people who got involved in Sunrise County Bergen and their own environmental action clubs and organizations have been truly amazing and it really brings out the hope.

Samiya Pathak poses with one of the signs she uses during protests in Paramus on August 9, 2022. Pathak helps lead Sunrise Bergen, a youth-led section of the Sunrise Movement that engages young adults in climate change.

Is there a specific example of how the climate crisis is affecting the area where you live?

Rayapaneni: “I have lived in Paramus all my life. We’re building almost everywhere, new roads, new buildings, new facilities, and there doesn’t seem to be a transition to more clean energy and more renewable infrastructure, and that’s really disheartening.

What have you learned from associating with other young activists like yourself as well as people of different races and genders who are passionate about the same issue?

Son: “We were able to go to the awards ceremony [for Presidential Environmental Youth Award] and for me, I thought it was pretty cool to see that there was this band, the Monarch Butterfly Project. It was this group of very young children; I think they were 5 or 6 years old. And it was just crazy to see kids so young already getting involved in the movement.

What do you see happening with East Coast climate change and America’s part of this crisis in the next two years or in the long term?

Jisae Son poses with one of the signs she uses during protests in Paramus on August 9, 2022. Son helps lead Sunrise Bergen, a youth-led section of the Sunrise movement that engages young adults in climate change.

Rayapaneni: I don’t think anything will happen in the long term if we don’t maintain this momentum. We just need to keep coming out and rallying support for legislation to pass like the Cut Inflation Act. And hold our Representatives and Senators accountable for their actions in Congress. »

– This article is part of a USA TODAY Network reporting project called “Perilous Course,” a collaborative examination of how people up and down the East Coast are grappling with the climate crisis. Journalists in more than 35 newsrooms from New Hampshire to Florida speak with everyday people about real-world impacts, dig into the science and investigate the government’s response, or lack thereof.

Teresa H. Sadler