By Aleksandra Sidorova
The City of Plattsburgh achieved Bronze Climate Smart Community status Oct. 2, as announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul. SUNY Plattsburgh gets to take some credit for this accomplishment.
Climate Smart Communities is a New York state program that helps municipalities, such as villages, towns, cities or counties reduce carbon emissions and adapt to effects of climate change. The program, which began in 2009, starts with municipal action, but ultimately aims to engage the entire community. CSC Coordinator for the North Country Carlie Leary said Plattsburgh got its certification relatively quickly. Five other communities in the seven counties that comprise the North Country are certified, including Village of Saranac Lake, Village of Lake Placid, Lewis County and both the Village and Town of Potsdam.
“We have several registered communities — we have a lot across the North Country, people have passed the pledge — but to actually do enough things to get enough points to become certified is rare up here,” Leary said.
The main force behind the City of Plattsburgh’s efforts toward sustainability is its Climate Task Force, established in 2019. Action from students, both from the high school and the college, is the reason the Task Force exists, Task Force Coordinator Rachelle Armstrong said.
“It was a wonderful product of community action that, in no small way, was a result of student action. Once Greta Thunberg had been out doing her climate strikes, I think, students felt empowered to approach their governmental officials and make certain requests but maybe demands, even,” Armstrong said. “I was a city councilor at the time, and as a result of students coming to the council meetings and making these statements asking for action, a community group was formed called the Plattsburgh Sustainability Committee. Over a few months, they urged the city to become part of this New York state Climate Smart Community Program.”
Some of the Task Force’s are members of SUNY Plattsburgh — Professor of Environmental Science Curt Gervich, Adjunct Instructor in Biology Aude Lochet and Director of the Center for Student Involvement Jacob Avery. When the Task Force first restarted in 2022 after a pause in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Emma Stewart, an environmental science student at SUNY Plattsburgh, was appointed as a member.
In order to achieve Bronze certification, a municipality must complete enough tasks, called actions, from a checklist to earn 120 points. As of Oct. 2, Plattsburgh earned 144. The number of points each action is worth depends on its difficulty and scale.
The next goal is Silver certification at 300 points, and Gold certification does not have a benchmark yet. To help with its goals, the Task Force hired its first intern this semester, anthropology major Alexis Adamkowski.
“I love my internship and I’m proud of the work that I’m doing, and I’m proud of the work that Climate Smart Communities is doing,” Adamkowski said.
The house Adamkowski grew up in in Central New York has a greenhouse complex, and she saw the effects of climate change firsthand, from year to year. The internship with the Task Force was a perfect fit for Adamkowski — she, Armstrong and anthropology professors Deborah Altamirano and Amy Mountcastle spent two hours at their first meeting together, bonding.
Adamkowski has the task of preparing educational materials tailored to various groups within the Plattsburgh community. They chose to start with a presentation to students of Plattsburgh High School with the mission to empower them to act on environmental issues and instill hope in them.
“I’m very close in age with some of the high school kids. I graduated in ‘22, so I’m just old enough to have an adult perspective, and young enough to understand what they’re going through. All these kids, you hear it when they speak, you hear it when they talk about the environment that they’re being crushed under this big, existential issue that they can’t solve themselves,” Adamkowski said. “It’s such a big anthropological issue to look at that I think is very important because we’re seeing it right before our eyes.”
Lochet, also a water resources extension specialist with the Lake Champlain Research Institute and the Lake Champlain Sea Grant, conducts community outreach and educational activities, including “Friendly Conversations on Climate Change” and webinars.
SUNY Plattsburgh students participated in several of the Task Force’s initiatives, big and small. Some of Gervich’s students developed a plan to help the city manage organic waste, which included short-term goals of community outreach and weighing food waste as well as long-term goals of establishing a city-wide composting system. Some of Associate Professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship Richard Gottschall’s students joined in the greenhouse gas inventory, funded by a $30,000 grant from the state and in partnership with Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. Professor Michelle Ouellette’s class of public relations students increased the Task Force’s social media traffic by 114% in the time they were in charge of posts, Leary and Armstrong said. They also doubled its following on Instagram.
SUNY Plattsburgh was also the venue for the Cardinal Sustainability Summit, held April 21. It showcased student and faculty research and highlighted environmentally friendly practices and technologies both on campus and within the community. Students were involved in the planning of the event, as well.
“I think it’s been a great experience for the students to have these real-world experiences,” Lochet said. “Like, what they do in class actually matters. It’s going to be used by the Task Force, by the city. I think it’s extremely motivating.”
However, students don’t need to wait for an opportunity to come to them. Anyone can become involved by attending the Task Force’s meetings on the third Wednesday of each month from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on the third floor of Plattsburgh Public Library.
“The Task Force is one of the driving forces behind climate action in the city. We do have professors and staff members on that task force, and their expertise and skill sets are extremely valuable. That being said, if there are things that SUNY students want to see happen in the city, they have a right to participate in the Task Force and, if they’re interested, I encourage them to come,” Leary said. “Young people are so needed in this climate movement, and having them be engaged and participating in climate action at the local level is very, very impactful and very needed.”