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The Power of Community

By: Sharon Waskow & Christine Campbell

April 17, 2020

Decades of inaction on all levels of government have left a wave of frustrated and exhausted environmentally minded people wondering how to make a difference. Though there are many effective national and international environmental groups to join, simply writing a check or attending a rally with strangers can leave a person feeling out of the loop and lacking a true voice. What's missing is a sense of community; a tangible sign that we are not in this alone and that we can work together to make a difference, even if only in our own neighborhood.

Photo Credit: Nancy Anderson Diptyc Upper West Side
Photo Credit: Nancy Anderson/Sallan — View looking down Broadway UWS (left) Riverside Park (right)

Many of us have been discouraged hearing environmental science experts state that individual actions count for very little in the fight. Our energy, they say, should be directed at influencing legislators to create policy. This is undoubtedly necessary. But how, after decades of inaction on climate issues by the very same legislators one is trying to influence, do you keep the momentum of policy agitation going? More importantly, how do you move an individual from climate apathy to caring about the common good? And how do you tap into the tremendous energy of the upcoming generation?

These questions and ideals are the guiding principles of It's Easy Being Green (IEBG). We are a neighborhood group, operating in a slice of the Upper Westside of Manhattan focused on climate crisis education and personal action. By gathering up like minded and committed individuals and by coming together to form a cohesive group, we have created that missing sense of community. By having this close neighborhood network to call on, we can vent our frustrations then brainstorm about new initiatives and soldier on, where we once might have given up.

By using long standing community networks, we have been able tap into a preexisting and deep rooted desire to make a difference. We have seen firsthand how, through education and the sharing of personal experience, we can make a change in an individual's mindset and behavior and propel someone to take action for the bigger picture. As an example, the neighbor who resisted separating her food scraps for NYC's compost program because she worried the bins would attract rats, after giving it a try, is now signing and promoting petitions to expand the program to other boroughs. Personal action and education in the form of a city agency workshop in her building and neighbor to neighbor conversations made the difference.

How to Compost In NYC During COVID-19
Graphic: How to Compost In NYC During COVID-19

Since its formation in March 2019, IEBG's members, primarily senior citizens, have provided the engine for a variety of activities. We write and disseminate monthly newsletters which inform readers of our activities, provide links to relevant articles and list opportunities for advocacy. Our personal action blasts describe easy to implement changes readers can make on behalf of the planet. For example, the blast entitled "Meat, What's the Beef?" alerted readers to the outsized contribution beef production makes to greenhouse gases and encouraged participation in Meatless Mondays.

IEBG partners with local politicians and environmental groups; hosts talks by civic leaders and members speak about our efforts at community board meetings. In addition, we work to influence local grocery stores to reduce reliance on single use plastics, leading one local retailer to offer a compostable container option for take out food and to establish a plastic bag free line ahead of the March 1st deadline. We have created materials and a consultancy on how to convince coop boards to sign on for the city's composting program and offer our help to any who are interested in getting started with the city's program in their building.

IEBG also took advantage of its proximity to Columbia University to tap the knowledge of students in their graduate Climate and Society program. When we learned that students in the program were studying climate science and learning ways to communicate concepts to the public, IEBG members were eager to be an audience. Up to that point, the students had had very little opportunity to interact with the public at large. Together the idea of hosting a series of Climate Cafes was born.

Held in a member's apartment with refreshments donated by the catering service of a local market, three graduate students from the program deftly explained the difference between weather and climate while we posed questions and offered suggestions. The intergenerational conversation was lively and went on for three and a half hours, well over the scheduled time. It was a win/win evening. We learned technical details about climate science and the students got to practice presentation skills. Plans to schedule the next climate cafe commenced the next day.

In another IEBG intergenerational effort, several members served as mentors to two undergraduate women at Barnard as they wrote and received a grant to bring speakers on sustainability in the food industry to campus. Sadly that event, as well as the second Climate Cafe, had to be postponed due to the disruption of the coronavirus.

IEBG is sponsored by Bloomingdale Aging in Place and by the 104th Street and 102nd & 103rd Street Block Associations.

IEBG logo


Sharon Waskow has over 30 years experience as an educator of elementary, secondary and adult learners. She holds a B.A. in English ,an M.S. in Reading and an MLS in school librarianship. She has taught teachers how to create project-based curriculum on climate. She currently co-leads It's Easy Being Green. You can reach her at It's Easy Being Green

Christine Campbell is a retired science educator. She holds a B.A. in Science, an M.A. in Health Administration and an M.A. in Education. She currently co-leads It's Easy Being Green with Sharon. You can reach her at It's Easy Being Green

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