John Nolan, a science teacher at , took a bus to Trenton on March 15 to lobby legislators to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an initiative by a number of states to cut emissions that Gov. Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of in 2011.
It was one of the most thrilling experiences of his life, Nolan said.
He almost didn't go, and wasn't planning to just a few days prior. But he changed his mind.
"I was literally heating my lunch in the faculty lounge and I realized I have to go."
Nolan, a Wyckoff resident, has taught at Paramus High School for eight years. Before that, he was air quality testing manager, and has followed climate change issues for 21 years.
For Nolan, climate change is the most important issue facing the world.
"I believe very strongly we need to do everything in our power to reduce emissions," he said. "We need to throw more money, not less, at this situation."
Nolan had never lobbied anyone in his life. But Environment NJ, an environmental group that provided Nolan and others transportation to Trenton, had assemblymen Bob Smith and John McKeon give pointers on how to lobby.
Still, it was hard to get up the nerve to just go up and talk to legislators.
"For the first half hour, I was too intimidated to approach people cold," Nolan said.
But after spending two hours on a bus to Trenton and another hour learning how to lobby, Nolan got angry with himself and started approaching people. Surprisingly, he said, they listened.
Many lawmakers stopped what they were doing to listen to Nolan, some even taking notes.
"I had done my homework on this issue and I made sure not to waste their time with simple points they already knew.
The bill to rejoin RGGI passed in the Senate, though without enough votes to overcome a Christie veto. It's on second reading in the Assembly.
Upon returning to Paramus, Nolan wanted to share his experiences with his students.
"When I came back to teach the next day I mainly wanted to share how alive I felt by having a passion, number one, and [number two] become as informed as I could about that issue, and number three, by doing something about it," he said.
The issue doesn't have to be environmental, he said. It could be bullying, animal welfare, helping the disabled, or anything else they felt passionate about.
"My message to students wasn't about the bill," Nolan said. "My message to the students was about engaging in life and making a difference and living fully."
After talking to his students, they were dead quiet, Nolan said.
"I think they got it," he said.