Let’s rise above the opposition to offshore wind | Opinion

By Ronald Tuff and James Thompson

Recently, the heat index in Newark surged past 100 degrees on two successive days. Mayor Ras Baraka announced a “Code Red” heat alert. He told residents to protect themselves and watch out for their neighbors in the midst of an inescapable, climate-induced heatwave that posed a serious, and in some cases, life-threatening danger.

And, 120 miles to the south, at an Atlantic City public hearing on the state’s offshore wind plans, the heat was on in a different way.

From the moment the hearing started, a group of 20 to 30 people interrupted it repeatedly. They disregarded the agenda and rules of order set for the meeting. Instead of taking their turn at the microphone, they loudly and disruptively shouted out their opposition to wind turbines off the coast. Their presence was menacing.

Their timing could not have been more striking. Here they were, opposing offshore wind development to fight climate change in the midst of the worst heat wave of the hottest month on record

Then, they said that the Black community had not been consulted about offshore wind.

Almost every single one of these protesters was Caucasian. We are African American and collectively, we have worked with the state’s BIPOC communities for over four decades.                       

We said that over the past four years, colleagues from the state’s environmental, faith and community organizations and state government have worked together with us to conduct meetings to raise awareness about offshore wind with New Jersey’s African American community.

From Atlantic City to Gloucester and Middlesex counties to Trenton, Newark, Paterson, Jersey City and more, these meetings have given hundreds of BIPOC community members the chance to learn, ask questions, and become informed. 

We have discussed the urgent need for clean energy in the face of a climate emergency. We have talked about how heat waves like the one we experienced last week disproportionately endanger Black and Brown communities. We have called for cooling centers, emergency generators, and other measures to protect vulnerable populations from excessive heat and severe storms. We have pressed the state and wind developers to fund job readiness and training programs so that all New Jerseyans can benefit from the state’s energy transition.

We have voiced support for safeguards to protect the marine environment from harm related to offshore wind.

We said that if we work together, we can be sure that offshore wind development creates economic and environmental benefits that are good for all New Jerseyans.The protestors were neither satisfied nor quieted. Later in the hearing, one of them referred to the president of the Atlantic City Council, who was presiding over the meeting, as “boy.” We probably don’t need to tell you that the president of the Atlantic City Council is a fellow African American.

Reporters have uncovered that several far-right wing donors and organizations have been supporting opposition to offshore wind development. These donors are afraid that the transition to clean energy will mean an end to the fossil fuel era and the billions of dollars in profits they have enjoyed.

From our perspective, the clean energy future cannot come quickly enough.

Fossil fuels are driving the unbearable heat waves that BIPOC communities suffer. A recent study showed that Newark suffers the second worst urban heat island effect in the country. Urban Heat Island effect refers to the fact that concrete, asphalt, and a lack of trees and green space combine to trap heat, endangering the health of community members. On average, during the summer, Newark is more than eight degrees hotter than rural areas while also suffering from high levels of air pollution - also due to burning fossil fuels.

The heat and air pollution are not an inconvenience. They are a matter of health for every Newark resident. For our children, elders and chronically-ill community members, they can be a matter of life and death.

So to elected and state officials subjected to those trying to shut down offshore wind, we have one message: be proud of the plans that the state has set and stay the course.

Remember the promise of a clean energy future - healthier air, a more stable climate, economic development, and jobs that can lift many to a better life.

Remember the devastation that would result from inaction in the face of climate change. More deadly heat waves, more Superstorm Sandys, and rising sea levels will displace Shore communities.

Remember that thousands of New Jerseyans’ lives and futures hang in the balance. If the recent heat has anything to teach us, it’s that now is no time to slow down the progress on offshore wind.