Monday, December 5, 2022

Local task force tackles climate change

By Sydney Hakes

In an effort to inform and involve the community, the City of Plattsburgh Climate Task Force held an event to address current environmental concerns and solutions in the North Country.

 The event took place Saturday Oct. 15 at the Plattsburgh Farmers Market on Green Street. Metal chairs created three rows in the warehouse, with booths representing local organizations lining the walls. 

After serving as a city councilor for six years, Rachelle Armstrong saw a void to fill in the local government’s environmental action. She learned about the New York State Climate Smart Community Program which is, from their website, “an interagency initiative administered by the DEC that provides a comprehensive framework for local governments to lead community action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.” 

While COVID-19 slowed down the initiative, since April the Climate Task Force has been undergoing project after project, working with local government bodies and organizations to “promote a healthy, safe and sustainable future in Plattsburgh.”

These projects were explained, along with a talk by Curt Stager, an author and biologist who works at Paul Smith’s College, followed by an open discussion with the audience at the end.

Elizabeth Gibbs, a current city councilor and English teacher at Peru High School, began the event by introducing important individuals in the room and acknowledging the importance of those who showed up. She then went into detail about the work they’ve been doing the past months.

Working with Jennifer Perry, a member of Compost for Good, and the Clinton County Health Department, a policy was enacted that all organic waste accumulated in municipal buildings will be hauled out and composted instead of taken to landfills. They’re underway to do this in households if they can obtain another grant. 

The task force has also worked with Water-Smart Landscaping to urge the city to plant more native species in typical lawn and grass environments, hoping to create more habitats for birds, insects and small mammals.

Stager took to the front of the room after being introduced by councilor Jennifer Tallon, saying “he is a gift to the North Country and a gift to you today.”

Stager could have pages upon pages written about him and his work. His website titles him as “an ecologist, paleoclimatologist and science journalist.” He has researched and taught all over the world before finding residency in the North Country. 

He established a tone with his opening statements, that climate change is real and it’s here right now. 

“Looking back at 20 years of work I did studying climate change in the North Country, looking at temperature, wetness, rainstorm frequencies and ice records, we’re [the North Country] warming faster than the global average,” Stager said.

Many facts he explained garnered reactions from the audience, murmurs of agreement or surprise could be heard across the room. He went on to compare ice records on Lake Champlain from 200 years ago to now, giving a few anecdotes from interviews he conducted with ferry operators.

Besides the surface level environmental struggles, Stager stressed a deeper loss if climate change continues down the path it’s on.

“Winter defines the North Country,” Stager said. “Animals can survive, they can go north into Canada. But humans have to abide by those borders. Our culture can’t survive if this continues.”

He zeroed in on fossil fuel as one of the biggest issues, that “polluters, politicians and Putin.” He clarified that Putin was a general name for anybody who wants to invest in fossil fuels. 

“You ask yourself, ‘What can I do as an individual?’” Stager said. “Don’t be an individual. Join. Educate, organize and activate a plan.”

The event had an unexpected moment when an audience member asked a question to Stager regarding local politicians and their relationships to environmental issues. Stager looked to the back of the room and asked if Matt Castelli wanted to “take this one.”

Castelli, the Democratic nominee for New York’s 21st congressional district, said he was campaigning and heard about the event and decided to stop by. He took the opportunity to speak on his own views of the value of environmental conservation in the North Country.

“People like to recreate. Enjoying outdoor activities is something that crosses party lines,” Castelli said, echoing a thought Stager touched on right before. “We need to recognize the very real threat to that, especially the threat to our winters. Lake Placid has hosted two Olympic Games, Old Forge has the Snodeo Snowmobile Fest and the century old Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. These are community staples that need our support to continue.”

The type of support Castelli refers to is clean energy, which can then create “good paying jobs.” Castelli, recently endorsed by the New York League of Conservation Voters, said he stands by tackling climate change and pushing forward with clean energy.

In a crowd of mostly older individuals, the few younger people stood out. Armstrong noted the relationship with SUNY Plattsburgh being essential. Rachel LaMar, a sophomore environmental science major, was there with classmates from Curt Gervich’s sustainability class to talk about that relationship.

Gervich, a member of the City Task Force, added a project to the class curriculum where students volunteer in various committees within the task force. They compare the cities climate plan to the organizations, and determine what actions could have more positive impact. The students also handle social media to get the word out about the group. 

“We’re really just getting started with this project, that’s why our advertising hasn’t hit the younger people yet,” LaMar said, looking around the room. “But I’m actually surprised to see a lot of older people here. There’s that stigma that maybe they wouldn’t care about environmental issues, that it’s a problem for the next generation. A lot of people in this community care about what happens to it.”

For anyone interested in getting involved with the Climate Task Force, meetings are held the third Wednesday of the month from 5 to 6 p.m. in the upstairs of the Plattsburgh Public Library. Rachelle Armstrong can be contacted at rachellec.armstrong@gmail.com.

Building a sustainable future begins at the local level. Plattsburgh students are a part of the community and are encouraged to do their part in conserving what is around them every day.

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