WEST ORANGE, NJ – In conjunction with people being asked to turn their non-essential lights out this Saturday in support of energy conservation, the West Orange Energy Commission (WOEC) held its Earth Day event to support Earth Hour.

West Orange officials and local students joined others from throughout the region at this event, which was held at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park’s Visitor’s Center on Thursday.

Mike Brick, chair of the WOEC, said it was important to support Earth Hour this year with the denial of climate change by major leaders in Washington.

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“Many people aren’t aware that Thomas Edison believed in solar energy, knowing that fossil fuel will eventually not be sustainable,” he said in his remarks about the importance of moving toward more sustainable, environmentally safe energy as well as the importance of recycling. “The building next door to us—the Edison Lab Factory building—is a recycling project. It was built in 1910 with reinforced concrete, which was invented by Edison. When it is renovated, it will have 330 rental apartments…it is one of the largest redevelopment projects in New Jersey.”

Richard Isaacson of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter spoke to the crowd about the club’s efforts to move forward initiatives that will focus on the state using more wind, solar and tidal energy rather than fossil fuel.

“Climate change is happening,” he said. “Some folks prefer to be blind to this fact. There is an attempt to put an oil pipeline in this state. We are fighting that effort, and fighting for using renewable sources.”

Brick urged attendees to support the Sierra Club.

“It’s tough times to protect the environment as our Federal government is going the other way on environmental issues,” he said. “Earth Hour is all about educating people about protecting our global environment.”  

He also encouraged people to get in touch with nature by hiking in the South Mountain Reservation, which Brick said was the first planned suburban large park in the United States.

“We are fortunate that the founders of this region had the foresight to preserve 2,300 acres of land for future generation to enjoy,” he said. “It stopped suburban sprawl in this area.”

Students from West Orange High School (WOHS) and the Liberty Middle School participated at this event. The WOHS students presented three unique lanterns that they designed as part of the school’s “Liter of Light” program.

Katie Gardner, who teaches engineering design courses at the high school, and Ryan DelGuercio, supervisor of engineering and technology at WOHS, joined the students in showing the crowd the lighting options they are working on that would produce solar powered sources of light that would be affordable and long-lasting.

The students who presented were Nelson Bonitacio, Luke Brill and Jax Appollon.

Liberty Middle School science honors students Rose Murphy-Braunstein and Riya Goel spoke about the importance of solar energy and the risks brought about by global warming.

Teachers and students from the Unity Charter School in Morristown spoke about the environmental sustainable principles that are the focus of the school’s curriculum. School founder, Lisa Brick, said she started the school because “young people have to realize the Earth is us, and we are responsible for its health and well-being.”

“The unprecedented attacks on the environmental protections we’ve put in place wouldn’t be happening if we had a sustainable environmental education through the United States,” she said.

West Orange council members Susan McCartney and Jerry Guarino also spoke to those in attendance. McCartney spoke about the township’s monarch butterfly/milkweed project to help repopulate the monarch butterfly population in West Orange. She said that each township school has pledged to plant milkweed this spring.

Guarino spoke about the township’s “complete streets” project that would make walking around West Orange safer and reduce the need to drive everywhere.

“The less driving you have to do, the more energy you save,” he said.

Representing the Edison National Historic Park at the event were assistant superintendent Theresa Jung and chief of interpretation and education Karen Sloat-Olsen, who provided an overview of Thomas Edison’s continuing large impact on our lives and environment.