Queens Gazette Feature Interview with
Forest Hills Green Team
Mark Laster and Dan Miner are the co-chairs of the Forest Hills Green Team (FHGT), a group of volunteers interested in greening NYC and responding to climate change, focused on local applications and activities in and around Forest Hills.
Mark Laster is a long-time Rego Park resident who was recently elected the vice chair secretary of Community Board 6. Mark is also a volunteer leader for the Medical Reserve Corps and a member of Borough President Melinda Katz’s Complete Count Committee for Census 2020. He is a licensed clinical social worker with over 38 years of experience.
Dan Miner is a long-time Forest Hills resident who worked for a long time at Long Island City Partnership, an economic development nonprofit, and is currently working with a company making energy conservation upgrades at NYCHA projects. He has a long volunteer history with environmental groups, including Sierra Club and 350NYC, and likes landscaping and gardening. His environmental activism website is www.beyondoilnyc.org.
FHGT community gardening and beautification projects have included revitalizing and maintaining the school garden at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School; helping to start the school and community garden at Forest Hills HS, as well as the Ecological and Permaculture Design Program at FHHS; and receiving a Love Your Block grant to beautify the area surrounding the Yellowstone Blvd. LIRR overpass, as well as organizing the initial volunteer work day in May 2019. Regular work at the Yellowstone LIRR overpass has significantly improved the appearance of the area, which is passed by thousands daily.
Advocacy projects have included hosting presentations on the NYS Climate & Community Protection Act and the Off Fossil Fuels Act; testifying in support of congestion pricing; testifying in favor of safe, sustainable NYC shoreline protection and against the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed multi-billion-dollar harbor barrier.
FHGT holds monthly meetings at Queens Library at Forest Hills. For info, visit at www.facebook.com/groups/foresthillsgreenteam/ and www.meetup.com/ForestHillsGreenTeamMeetup/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.
QG: How did you come to be so passionately involved in environmentalism?
DM: I became aware of the global crisis at an early age. As the Limits to Growth report of the early 1970s warned, you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. Fortunately, many more people have become aware of it also. In order to avoid the worst-case scenarios predicted by scientists, humans must sharply reduce their use of fossil fuels very rapidly. It’s technically possible. Greed, apathy and complacency are the biggest challenges. If you become aware of the problem, it’s important to get involved.
ML: I became involved in environmental activism because protecting and preserving our planet is a fundamental part of my religious commitment. When the opportunity presented to get more involved in environmental activism, I capitalized on my numerous civic commitments in order to start and grow the Forest Hills Green Team.
QG: Do you think people are becoming more environmentally aware?
Both: Gradually. Not happening fast enough. We need a Green New Deal.
DM: Humans have already put enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to produce extreme changes that have not been seen in millions of years. The consequences so far have already been catastrophic. Even if we stopped all use of fossil fuels tomorrow, the processes set in motion would continue for a long time. We don’t know where the tipping points are after which the process becomes unstoppable, and human civilization as we know it will not survive. That’s exactly what will happen if the Republican administration remains in power and continues to block emergency responses. To avoid the worst-case scenarios, it’s essential that it be removed from power in the 2020 election, so emergency measures like a Green New Deal can be passed and implemented.
Many centrist Democrats like Joe Biden don’t really grasp the situation, and/or are too beholden to corporate interests to take the bold actions needed. Progressive Democrats like AOC, Warren and Sanders get it and will be able to do what is needed.
QG: What do you love about and enjoy doing in Queens?
DM: I like Yellowstone Park between Yellowstone Blvd. and 108th St.; and MacDonald Park, as well as Austin Street.
ML: I enjoy visiting historical sites with my wife throughout the borough.
QG: What’s going on at Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School (MELS), Forest Hills HS, and the Yellowstone Blvd. / LIRR overpass area?
Both: We feel that a great way to connect with environmentally concerned neighbors is our gardening projects. We wanted to start a community garden, but found that open space is very limited in our community – and that MELS already started a school garden. We got involved and revitalized it. Now the MELS teachers and parents association are much more involved. This led us to Forest Hills HS, which was already interested in environmental and sustainability projects. We introduced FHHS to Beyond Organic Design (BOD), an ecological design nonprofit specializing in teaching to K-12. BOD is now doing a yearlong classroom program at FHHS. It will be great preparation for the growing number of green jobs in the city, as energy conservation requirements become more demanding for NYC buildings. Graduates will also receive the internationally recognized Permaculture Design Certificate.
Thousands of people pass by the Yellowstone Blvd. LIRR overpass area every day. We received one of the few coveted Love Your Block grants, and organized a volunteer work day this past May to clean up the area and replant it with perennial plants, many of which have flowers that feed birds, bees and other pollinators. We continue to upgrade the overpass area.
QG: Is your work mainly local, or do you also try to connect Forest Hills residents to what’s going on in the city, state, the US, and the world, since ecology is all about inter-connectedness and systems?
Both: Yes we do. Gardening and sustainable landscaping are very important – but not as important as supporting legislation and elected officials who are responding to the global climate crisis. We connect our neighbors with various advocacy groups and campaigns. This work is extremely important in this upcoming election year.
QG: What can Queens residents do?
Both: We meet once a month at the FH Library. Visit our Facebook page to find out when. Come to our events or help identify a new project location. (See links above.)
QG: Are there any hobbies or other things you like to do to relax?
ML: I enjoy reading and watching science fiction, as well as reading books written by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
—Annette Hanze Alberts