Fighting back: how can communities respond?

By Laura Fitzgerald
Posted 7/10/19

On a brisk winter day, the Gardiner Library bustled with residents carrying stacks of CDs, side tables with broken legs, lamps in need of repair, old electronics and more. Stations set up for every …

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Fighting back: how can communities respond?

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On a brisk winter day, the Gardiner Library bustled with residents carrying stacks of CDs, side tables with broken legs, lamps in need of repair, old electronics and more. Stations set up for every item—furniture, electronics, antiques—were manned by technicians waiting to fix whatever came their way.

The repair café’s mission was to prevent waste, and by extension, help the environment and combat climate change. This was just one of many initiatives created or promoted by partnerships with Climate Smart Gardiner, a program that empowers local residents to fight climate change.

Climate Smart Communities is a state program the helps local municipalities take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Benefits of the program include leadership initiatives, free technical assistance and access to grants.

Gardiner, Shawangunk, Maybrook, the City of Newburgh, Ulster County and Orange County are registered Climate Smart Communities.

Climate Smart Gardiner has been hard at work. Since its creation in winter of 2018, the taskforce has installed recycling bins in the town park; began the process of converting the town’s lighting to LEDs; conducted river cleanups with Riverkeeper; explored community solar campaigns; began the process of installing an electric vehicle charging station, and more.

The taskforce also hosted a Go Green Expo, which featured green technologies that residents can install in their homes. The expo hosted educational speakers and booths to educate residents on actions they can take to be more environmentally friendly.

Climate Smart Member Kim Mayer said education is a key component of the Climate Smart initiatives because it empowers ordinary people to fight climate change.

Grass roots activism at its most basic level, Climate Smart changes local culture by inviting residents to take part in the fight against climate change through green technologies and smart climate practices.

“Climate Smart Communities program is a good program because it empowers individuals to go with their vision of how we can become more carbon neutral,” Mayer said.

The Climate Smart program also empowers residents to work with their local governments to fight climate change. Climate Smart Gardiner created a greenhouse gas inventory, a study that evaluated the town’s future performance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and established targets by which the town can reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

Climate Smart Member Mark Varian said the next phase of the inventory is to take a community inventory of residents’, businesses and traffic emissions.

On a county level, Ulster County is a silver certified community, which means the county has completed the steps and actions needed to gain a higher level of certification.

Just a few of many initiatives include incentivizing renewable energy and energy efficient projects, offering compost bins for residents, and implementing a waste reduction education campaign, according to Ulster County’s Climate Smart Certification Report. There are only four silver certified communities in the state.

Orange County is a bronze certified community. A few initiatives include lighting upgrades, solar energy upgrades in government buildings, offering recycling to residents, and more, according to Orange County’s Climate Smart Certification Report. There are 18 bronze certified communities in the state.

Fighting climate change also means fighting the industries that fuel it. Danskammer Energy plans to revitalize the Newburgh power plant with a new natural gas-fired plant. While Danskammer CEO William Reid said the plant will reduce emissions from the old plant by between 80 and 90 percent, the project faces fierce opposition against local organizations for its potential environmental impacts.

Environmental Director for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Manna Joe Greene said the project would continue the region’s dependence on fossil fuels—non-renewable energy that produces greenhouse gases—when it should be investing in clean, renewable energy.

“Many people oppose it because it’s new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Greene said.

Clearwater is part of a coalition of organizations that oppose the project. The coalition organizes residents against the project, attends public meetings and encourages members of the public to attend, and works with local and state representatives.

Residents have turned out in force to oppose the project at various public meetings, especially in the City of Newburgh. The Village of New Paltz village board and the City of Newburgh city council have both passed resolutions against the project.

While much of the opposition is centered around the use of fossil fuels, residents are also concerned about impacts to water and air quality.

Climate Smart Member Jason Mayer said what prompted him to take action was his desire to create a better future for his children. The effects of climate change are potentially catastrophic and threaten future generations’ quality of life.

There are 253 registered climate smart communities in the state. Mayer said the collective action of each resident and municipality adds up to make a bigger impact than one individual.

“These little drops in the bucket add up,” Mayer said. 

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