Protesters gather at Gaughran’s office to demand fossil fuel divestment

By Mike Gaisser and Matt Rainis 

A group of about ten high school and college-aged activists gathered outside Senator Jim Gaughran’s office in Syosset last Friday to express their frustration over his reluctance to support the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, a state bill to divest taxpayer money in pensions from fossil fuel companies. 

“Our own Democratic state senator does not support fossil fuel divestment in New York state,” Lucas Kelly, the Hub Coordinator of Sunrise Huntington, said. “We’re supposed to be a liberal state, and we’re not acting aggressively enough to tackle the climate crisis.” 

“The Senator is reviewing the bill,” according to a statement released by Gaughran’s office. A later statement said that he trusts New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. DiNapoli has attempted to convince fossil fuel companies, such as ExxonMobil, to reduce their carbon footprint and cut greenhouse gas emissions as opposed to divestment. 

Before the protest, environmental activists from Sunrise Huntington met with the Senator. “[The purpose] was to get Jim Gaughran to sign our Green New Deal that had four major points, one of them including divest from fossil fuels,” Grace Tyrell, one of the activists, said. “And he disagreed with that point so he did not sign it.” 

The other three points that Gaughran agreed on were calling for at least a billion dollars in New York’s budget to address climate change, calling for Gov. Cuomo and the Public Service Commission to halt new fossil fuel infrastructure, and supporting the Climate and Community Investment Act. Which would ensure a transition off fossil fuels. But his decision not to sign the young activists’ pledge disappointed them and they gathered outside at noon. 

The activists held homemade signs and chanted slogans. Kelly held a sign that read “Honk if you hate fossil fuel enablers”, as cars that drove by honked at them. The wind was cuttingly cold, but the young dissidents stayed resolute.

Another activist, Zadie Lauer, was adamant about the urgency of the climate crisis. “I think that you need to focus on the bigger picture here,” Lauer said. “Which is that climate change is here and we need to do something now. If we invest our money that we are putting towards fossil fuels into solar energy, wind energy, we’ll be much more successful. Also it will create more jobs in the future because it’s an upcoming industry, which is going to benefit the entire world.”

Approximately 7,200 new clean energy jobs were added in 2018, according to the 2019 New York Clean Energy Industry Report. Which was 4.8 percent increase from 2017. Overall, nearly 159,000 workers were employed in clean energy in 2018. 

As the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act remains in committee, the activists plan to keep fighting for a more livable planet. “[Fossil fuels] pollute our water, they pollute our soil, they pollute the air that we breathe,” Tyrell said.

Burning fossil fuels emits a number of air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. This can cause health problems, such as asthma and bronchitis. Nitrogen oxides cause acidity in lakes and streams to increase. 

Despite the obstacles in their way, the young activists remain positive. “I’m pretty hopeful. I know there are other state senators out there who know the urgency, more than Mr. Gaughran, and know how much is on the line,” Kelly said. “I think that we can convince Mr. Gaughran, but if we cannot convince him we will continue to protest.”

About Mike Gaisser 3 Articles
Journalism student at Stony Brook University.