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An Interview with Pamela Perron

Can you tell us a little about your motivation to champion environmental and  sustainability issues? 
The reason I became active in environmental protection is selfish, really.  I simply crave grandchildren.  But I have to ask myself, how can I encourage my adult children to bring babies into this world, when climate change may well destroy the planet?   
After watching the movie Blue Gold and reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein in 2015, I decided that I have to do as much as I can to preserve our environment for future generations.   
We hear a lot that we should think globally but act locally.  Can you tell us how you translate that into your own actions, and a little about what we as individuals could be doing better in Ridgewood to help the environment? 
I started the League of Women Voters of Ridgewood’s Water Committee (now the LWV Climate Committee), which sponsors yearly forums with the Ridgewood Water utility to educate residents about our most precious resource.                                             
As a member of Green Ridgewood, the environmental advisory committee to the Ridgewood Village Council, I met with downtown restaurant owners as part of our Green Business certification program. Twelve restaurants/food establishments have now been recognized for their sustainable practices. We plan to continue the dialogue with local eateries to share best practices.   
The Green Ridgewood subcommittee on renewable energy has been researching how the village can help build out the renewable energy supply industry by aggregating residents’ electricity purchasing.  We have arranged for a consultant/expert to present a proposal to the Village Council in 2021.  This exciting program could double the amount of electricity that our community gets from wind and solar resources.  
I personally never buy or drink water in single-use plastic bottles because they are the byproduct of fossil fuel processing and foul our rivers and oceans.  Tap water is much safer, so I always carry my own reusable water bottle.   
As the Village Council’s liaison to the Central Business District Advisory Committee, I have been investigating ways to help businesses recycle their cardboard, bottles and cans.  (We haven’t come up with a viable solution yet, so any creative ideas on this would be welcome.) At Green Ridgewood’s Earth Day/Daffodil Fest, I bought a composter barrel and am practicing the fine art of turning food scraps into gold for the garden. Since the People’s Republic of China now refuses to accept the United States’ recycled material, I think my next step will be to urge the New Jersey Legislature to reconsider passing a bottle & can deposit bill, thereby requiring the manufacturers to take responsibility for the garbage they’ve created.   
There are many things that we as individuals can do right here in Ridgewood to protect our environment: 
  1. Get educated.  Many local, state and national organizations publish guidance on how to combat climate change.  The Sierra Club and the Audubon Society are good starting points.  The Ridgewood Public Library, the League of Women Voters, the Unitarian Society and this website conduct webinars, publish newsletters, and provide helpful tips.   
  1. Curb greenhouse gas emissions.  Walk, bike, or take public transportation when safe to do so.  Opt for an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle next time you’re in the market to buy a car.  Eat less meat.  A significant percentage of greenhouse gasses, specifically methane, come from raising beef and pork.  Going vegetarian is therefore both a protest and an effective measure to reduce global warming.   You can also sign up with a third-party supplier of electricity to get renewable energy from wind and solar sources rather than from fossil fuels.   
  1. Drink tap water.  Bottled tap water is ten times more expensive than tap water.  Single-use plastic is more often tossed in the garbage rather than recycled.  So much plastic garbage ends up in the oceans that it is killing marine life. 
  1. Compost kitchen waste.  Give back to the Earth what we have taken from it. 
  1. Plant natives.  Every spring, I replace hybrid ornamentals in my yard with native plants to provide habitat for birds, bees and insects.  Native plants also require less irrigation, thereby conserving water.   
  1. Quit pesticides.  What we spread on our lawns ends up in our water. 
  1. Patronize “green businesses. Green Ridgewood has certified twelve downtown eateries for their sustainable practices.   
  1. Get active.  Write to local elected officials to give them good ideas.  Contact our state Assemblymen and Senator to urge their support of pending environment friendly bills, let Governor Murphy know what you think.   
What are some of the key policies or changes you would like to see enacted in Ridgewood? 
I’d like to see:  
  • 350 municipal trees per year planted on municipal property to revitalize the tree canopy along with a maintenance program to water and prune as needed. 
  • Passage of a tree protection ordinance 
  • Replanting of the tree wells in downtown Ridgewood 
  • Establishment of a renewable energy aggregation program for residents 
  • Tiered pricing for residential water usage to encourage conservation 
  • Creation of a recycling program for downtown businesses  
  • Completion of the Kings Pond renovation 
  • Creation of a passive park at the end of Hammond Road 
  • Food waste composting for residents and food establishments 
  • Removal of vending machines that sell plastic bottled drinks and unhealthy snacks on Village property.   
Understanding that there are lots of competing issues and concerns for the residents of Ridgewood, how do we raise the profile of sustainability and environmental issues? 
Fun events in our natural areas grab the attention of children and adults.  For example, the Ridgewood Wildscape Association holds periodic brook and pond cleanups.  Ridgewood Walks also conducts educational outdoor tours.  
However, it’s hard right now because during the pandemic, people aren’t keen to meet in person.  On the other hand, people are outside walking, biking, attending socially distanced events in our parks.  These last present an opportunity to splice in some public service announcements, i.e., teachable moments on sustainability and climate action.   
We know humans tend to prioritize short term issues.  How do we educate people that we need to act now for something that will profoundly impact us in 10 to 20 years? 
Educate the children, and they will teach their parents.  That’s why I am so glad that New Jersey public schools will start teaching students about climate change this year.   
Currently in Ridgewood, the Planning Board is writing a new Master Plan that will guide land use, transportation, commerce and environmental protection for the next twenty years.  I encourage residents to learn about the Master Plan on the Visioning website and to get involved in brainstorming environmental solutions.  Speak up and be heard on these issues!  
There are also several climate action organizations in our area that welcome volunteers.  Ridgewood High School, the Unitarian Society Environmental Justice Committee, Green Ridgewood and the Green Team, Sierra Club NJ, Food and Water Watch NJ, just to name a few. 
Again, contacting our elected officials in the NJ Legislature really makes a difference.  Our District 40 Assemblymen Christopher DePhillips and Kevin Rooney and Senator Kristin Corrado need to hear from us.   
What is the role of education in moving the needle around sustainability and environmental issues? 
Some environmental issues are so complex, we need to hear about them again and again, but in different ways with each iteration.  So, I think the role of education is to repeat the facts of climate change together with potential solutions across different media to reach various groups of people.  Some people read books and newspapers; others learn by building a mulch pile.  For children, the message needs to be framed for their age level and maturity.   With each repetition, we learn another aspect of the world around us.  For example, environmental injustice has been exposed in the last few years, demanding new approaches to combat environmental degradation in communities like Kearney, Paterson and Newark. Advocates waged a long campaign, reiterating the unfairness of pollution in these overburdened communities until Governor Murphy signed the Environmental Justice Law in September 2020. 
In an effort to accelerate electrification, lots of towns around the US are passing ordinances banning gas lines to new construction homes and buildings.  Do you think Ridgewood should be pursuing similar rules for new construction?  
Several municipalities in California, Washington state and Massachusetts recently passed laws to strongly encourage all-electric appliances in new construction or banning fossil fuel hook-ups outright.  The reason being that gas-fired appliances contribute to climate warming.  I am also concerned that extracting and transporting gas demands thousands of wells and miles of pipelines.  That infrastructure has been known to leak, and the gas released, methane, is 20 to 80 times worse than carbon dioxide for the environment.  However, when the city of Berkeley passed such a ban, the California Restaurant Association sued, claiming restaurants couldn’t properly cook their meals.  I would like to see the outcome of that litigation before presenting similar legislation in Ridgewood.  Perhaps a compromise would be best — requiring electric furnaces, washers and dryers while allowing gas stoves. 
As mentioned above, Ridgewood is in the process of developing its new Master Plan.  The chapter on land use should include these requirements or at least some type of incentive to developers and homeowners to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.     

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