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Environmental advocates join Queens lawmakers in the waters off Rockaway Beach for ‘Tuvalu Challenge’ on Earth Day

Apr. 24, 2023 By Bill Parry

State Senator James Sanders delivered a stern Earth Day warning to climate change deniers while he was joined by colleagues in government and advocates during his second annual “Tuvalu Challenge” from the surf of Rockaway Beach on April 22.

Sanders went into the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Beach 86th Street and Shorefront Parkway and commemorated a similar address by Foreign Minister Simon Kofe of the South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu on Nov. 5, 2021, to dramatize the plight of his endangered country from climate change by standing in the ocean.

New York State Senator James Sanders Jr. (D-Queens), right, and New York Assembly Member Khaleel Anderson (D-Queens) leave the water after taking the Tuvalu Challenge on Earth Day to demand New York take climate action this legislative session, Saturday, April 22, 2023 in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. (Jason DeCrow/AP)

“Humanity must vanquish climate change or climate change will vanquish humanity. We are at the point where we have to do something about this problem, or this problem is going to do something about us,” Sanders warned. “New York is home to every culture you can think of, so when New York passes legislation, that means the world watches. When New York says we’re going to make a decision to stop spending our tax funds and we’re going to stop funding climate destruction, that sends a wave through the nation, which then ripples across our entire world. Actually, New York has an outsized role to play in global climate, politics, global climate justice, politics — the marketplace of New York can be used as a catalyst to transform the global economy.”

Sanders urged the passage of the New York Tropical Deforestation-Free Procurement Act, which would require contractors that sell tropical forest-risk commodities to state agencies or authorities to certify that they are not contributing to tropical primary forest degradation or tropical deforestation directly or through their supply chains.

Sanders based his Earth Day address on a similar speech by Simon Kofe, the foreign minister of the South Pacific nation of Tuvalu, an island that is disappearing due to rising tides. (Courtesy of Sanders’ office)

“Tropical forests play a major role in reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and help fight climate change,” Sanders said. “As we commemorate Earth Day, we must acknowledge that what happens around the world impacts southeast Queens and vice versa. By protecting tropical forests, we protect southeast Queens from flooding and climate change.”

This year, Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson joined Sanders, Black Surfing Association founder Lou Harris and Marcus Sibley, northeast director of conservation partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation, in the surf.

“New York must put its money where its mouth is and fully fund the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA),” Anderson said. “Through the Tuvalu challenge, we visibly mark the rise in sea levels. We have to meet the magnitude of the moment and lead by example. New York can fulfill the promises of the CLCPA by ensuring equitable implementation of the law and expanding access to clean and green renewable energy.”

Anderson reminded the curious onlookers on shore that New York broke a 50-year record this year for the least snowy winter in Big Apple history.

“It’s time to ensure that New York State purchases with taxpayer dollars are not exacerbating our planetary crises,” said Jeff Conant, director of the International Forest Program, Friends of the Earth. “We are proud to be standing with Senator Sanders on Saturday — in the waters off Rockaway Beach — to ensure that the state’s purchasing protects the world’s tropical rainforests, which stabilize our climate and maintain global biodiversity.”

Sibley said he took the Tuvalu Challenge to address the realities of climate impacts and urge lawmakers to pass pertinent legislation.

“Senator Sanders has been a tremendous leader on climate — and his Tuvalu Challenge drives home how climate change directly affects us here in New York,” he said. “This Earth Day event is an important part of our efforts to ensure that New York takes action this summer to Stop Funding Climate Destruction. The New York Tropical Deforestation-Free Procurement Act is one of the most important actions the state can take on climate this summer.”

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