Young Climate Activists Take Root in North Bergen

NB Earth Talks

By Arely Sorto, Class of 2024

Young and hopeful eyes stare at the tree sapling they planted in the ground; you can smell the fresh soil in the air. Here the tree, they hope, will stay for a very long time. Long enough for the volunteers that helped plant this tree to visit with their own children someday.

The growing concern of climate change has called many younger generations to fight for their future. According to Pew Research Center, among the 13,749 U.S. adults that were surveyed, 32% of individuals belonging to Gen Z (9-24) and 28% of individuals belonging to the Millennial generation (25-40) say they have personally taken action against climate change in the past year.

Many of these young adults have addressed climate change by donating money, volunteering, attending a rally, or contacting an elected official. 

“To make it a reality, you have to actually put the work in,” said Sus, 24, who prefers to go by the name ‘SexySustainabiliy’ or Sus for short. They are a sustainable costume designer who resides in North Bergen. Sus is one of the founders of NB Earth Talks, an environmental conservation organization in North Bergen, NJ. 

Sus was attending a Zoom meeting for another environmental organization, the Sierra Club, when she met her colleague. Isabella Rodriguez, 19, is a student at FIT and a long time resident of North Bergen, NJ. Rodriguez initiated the conversation with Sus after asking what she could do to get involved with helping North Bergen establish a composting site.

Two weeks later, they met in person and created NB Earth Talks in February of 2021. 

“We needed to create some presence, like establish our own team,” said Rodriguez. The founders say they had initially created the organization after North Bergen had rejected their offer to join the town’s official green team.

At the time North Bergen’s green team only allowed officials and teachers to join. Now Isabella thanks North Bergen for not letting them join because it allowed them to create their own organization. 

The most difficult part of starting the organization was deciding on a name. Isabella and Sus laugh at the memory of the potential names they originally came up with.

But aside from choosing names, they made sure the first thing they did was to complete an outline of the things they wanted to see in the community. Some of these goals included planting trees, putting in compost bins, making clean energy available for the community, and cleanups.

After planning out the outline, they had to find a way to let others know about the new organization.

According to Pew Research Center, the younger generations are engaging with the topic of climate change on social media. Their research shows that 45% of Gen Z and 40% of Millenials who are active on social media engage with content that focuses on climate change by interacting, sharing, following, or posting.

“We make posts, put hashtags, make it as easily accessible as possible for people to read and do it quickly, and understanding the algorithm of Instagram,” said Sus. The organization is most active on Instagram, with over 800 followers currently. Each post carries a message for their followers, whether that is notifying when the next green team meeting will be or listing the names of sustainable businesses. 

Followers engage in the comment section of each post to ask questions or praise the work that the organization has done. This social media platform has allowed other individuals to help the organization complete goals that they have planned on their outline.

“Organizations that come from local communities is what sparks big change,” said Stephanie Martinez, 21, a resident of North Bergen and a volunteer for NB Earth Talks. She discovered NB Earth Talks through one of Sus’s personal Instagram stories. 

Since then, Martinez has been attending the green team meetings. She has gone to the Board of Commissioners meetings in North Bergen, and she frequently visits the composting location in town. 

Sus and Rodriguez have also reached out to people personally and established genuine connections. This way, according to Sus, is the only way to get anything done and establish engagement within the community. 

“I decided to volunteer with NB Earth Talks because I wanted to work with others to help a community I’ve been a part of for most of my life,” said Kenny Perez, 25, another resident from North Bergen who volunteers for NB Earth Talks. He was made aware of the organization from the founders, Rodriguez and Sus. 

As a volunteer, he has traveled to green fairs to spread awareness of composting and he has also helped to raise money for the Hudson County Tree fund, hoping to plant more native trees in his neighborhood and across Hudson County. He would love to see the organization grow larger in order to spread awareness and complete more projects.

Together, with the help of volunteers, NB Earth Talks has established a composting site in James J. Braddock Park. These bins have collected almost 2,000 lbs of waste beginning in August of 2021. They have created the Hudson County Tree Planting Fund, which currently has raised over $4, 000 and with this money they have been able to plant over 20 trees spread out across North Bergen, Kearny, Secaucus, Bayonne, Paramus, and Newark. 

Climate change is a real concern for young people.

There are many factors that fall under climate change according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The website lists indicators that are related to the causes and effects of climate change. Some of them include warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, and changes in the patterns and the amount of rainfall. 

“They’re looking forward to what is going to happen to the world and their lives as they get older,” said Patricia Ann Redden, an emeritus professor in the Chemistry department at Saint Peter’s University. She teaches Introduction to Climate Change, which is a part of the Environmental Studies program.  

According to Redden, climate change is affecting many parts of our environment that will ultimately affect people. She mentions rising ocean temperatures that will affect currents in the ocean which affect the climate; infectious diseases are moving up north because the insects that carry them are able to move into new areas that are warming up; changes in animal and plant life that may not be able to live in these rising temperatures. 

“There is a lot of anxiety around it, because the people that make the decisions are the people that don’t think that it’s actually happening,” said Sus. Many of these effects caused by climate change are what is driving most of the activism that is so popular among the younger generations.

“It just goes so deep and I really feel so sad for my younger sister, who is only 4 years younger than me,” said Rodriguez. She expresses worry over her career and future because things are so bad, she can’t even imagine what it is going to be like for her younger sister. 

But movements like NB Earth Talks might be the inspiration young people need to make a difference.

 “I also feel like it’s pretty inspiring to see people around us actually getting involved and seeing people do things locally, it makes me really happy” said Sus. They say while there might be a lot of climate anxiety, that it actually feels like a difference can be made as the people around them start to get involved.

“The world that you’re living in, it’s so much bigger than what you think it is and everything that you do has an impact and you have the power to make a difference,” said Rodriguez.

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