After first being introduced to the “Climate Smart Communities” program about eight months ago, the Newfield Town Council invited back Terry Carroll, an Energy Educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension, to pitch the program again at a meeting on May 14.
According to climatesmart.ny.gov, Climate Smart Communities is a “New York State program that helps local governments take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate.” Currently, there are more than 300 communities that have registered to become Climate Smart Communities. Communities such as the Town and City of Ithaca, Town of Ulysses, Village of Lansing and Town of Dryden are registered.
Once registered, a community’s council or board will establish a task force of volunteers to try to complete a list of 12 steps – some mandatory, some not – to help reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Some of those steps include decreasing energy usage through government building energy audits, upgrades to interior lighting, implementation of LED street and traffic lights, and more. Other steps are managing the use of climate-smart materials, like establishing an organic waste program for government buildings. (All of the services from Cornell Cooperative Extension are free, as the program overall would not cost the town any money.)
Carroll outlined multiple reasons for why it is worth it for municipalities to join the program.
“I think for a lot of municipalities, especially in the age of COVID, they’re thinking about money,” Carroll said. “Communities that go through this process, become a certified community, are able to receive extra points when they’re applying for other grants. So it makes you more likely to get those grants. I think that’s an important distinction to make with this program. There’s no money that comes from just engaging with the program, but it does make you more likely to get money in the future.”
“The other part of it that’s important for some communities is being recognized as a leader when it comes to climate change resiliency and mitigation,” he said. “The other reason is that this program was created to create a framework for organizing local climate actions. Often when we talk to communities that are interested in working on climate change or working on adaptation or resiliency, they tell us that there is a sort of a decision paralysis. They see climate change as an existential threat that we have difficulty comprehending, and they’re not really sure first what they can do, and secondly what is the most effective thing to do. So that’s where this program comes in. The program is designed to help communities come to grips with what they can do, and more importantly what the priority actions are to take.”
Councilwoman Joanne James expressed her support of the town pledging to become a Climate Smart Community following Carroll’s presentation.
“I presented the pledge several times, and I’ve attached it to the TCCOG reports, etcetera, and I’m wondering when we can put this to a vote, the pledge,” James said.
Councilwoman Chrstine Laughlin said while she is aware of the pros of the program, she is still skeptical of whether or not the projected severe outcomes of climate change are imminent, and suggested the council revise the pledge so that it is not so definitive in its statement.
“As everybody knows, I’m a little bit weary of the feel-good county stuff, and I understand doing it for the reasons of grants and benefiting our town in those ways,” Laughlin said. “I don’t completely believe that climate change is all because of fossil fuels and what we’re doing. I do believe there’s some cyclical things that happen.”
“When I look at this pledge, everything possesses a real and increasing threat,” she said. “Well, maybe it possesses a ‘possible’ increasing threat, or it will endanger our infrastructure. Well, maybe climate change ‘may’ endanger our infrastructure. Instead of making it such a direct ‘we believe this wholeheartedly,’ because I don’t. But if those amendments were made where … we throw some ‘may’s’ in there instead of ‘definite’s,’ I would be willing to look at it.”
After a lengthy discussion, it was decided that Laughlin would read through the pledge and mark potential edits that she would like to see. The marked-up pledge would then be reviewed by the entire council, and hopefully adopt the pledge by the next business meeting on June 11.