The Season of Hope

December 2013 – I want to share some early Christmas gifts – in the form of hopeful news on the sustainability front.

First is the growing awareness of the living wage issue.  More and more people are realizing that poverty wages destabilize the whole economy.  This insidious practice forces hardworking people onto welfare and externalizes the social and economic damage to the American taxpayers who subsidize it – the portrait of an economy cannibalizing itself.  The Economic Policy Institute has published research demonstrating that by phasing in a minimum-wage increase to $10.10 over the next 18 months we would increase GDP by roughly $32.6 billion and foster the creation of approximately 140,000 net new jobs. Nearly a century ago, Henry Ford realized he should pay his workers enough to enable them to purchase the cars they were building.  He may not have used the term “sustainability,” but his enlightened self-interest sustained his business and helped build a vibrant economy.

Closer to home, I am happy that the Climate Smart Communities program is gaining momentum throughout New York State.  Forty-nine communities in the Mid-Hudson Region (the counties of Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester) have signed the Climate Smart Communities Pledge and are devising specific strategies to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in their government operations and across the community.

We will achieve our climate smart goals by reducing our use of fossil fuels (to mitigate the causes of climate change); and by adapting to minimize the effects of climate change through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and improved planning.  These efforts will yield significant cost savings for local taxpayers by reducing energy costs at the town and county level, and help businesses and homeowners reduce costs as well. We will also create opportunities for green energy job growth and, by improving our infrastructure and addressing emergency planning and public health issues related to climate change, we will increase the resiliency of our communities and enhance the safety and well-being of all County residents.

Sullivan County, where I live, is making impressive progress on its commitment to reducing GHG in County operations and adopting an aggressive approach to energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy resources at County properties.  The vehicle for organizing this effort is the County’s Climate Action Plan, an endeavor I am proud to be a part of through the work of Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development and numerous County staff.

Five Sullivan towns have also joined the Climate Smart Communities Program and are in various stages of progress crafting their own energy efficiency goals:  Bethel, Cochecton, Delaware, Lumberland, and Tusten.  Others towns are collecting their baseline energy data as they consider adopting the pledge.

Five NYS agencies are involved in supporting the Climate Smart Communities Program:  the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Department of State, the Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), the Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the Public Service Commission.  Climate smart communities can also benefit from newly-increased technical assistance and customized guidance provided by VHB Engineering through a contract with the DEC.  Information about these resources, and the remarkable activities of our neighboring counties and towns in the Mid-Hudson Region, can be found at http://www.midhudsoncsc.org/.

Let me take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in creating these hopeful developments:  from the tireless activists who engage on these issues, to the town and county officials who are envisioning a more resilient future and the energetic community volunteers who are helping their towns achieve that vision.  Your sustainability efforts are a magnificent gift to us all.  Enjoy the season!

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