(Tompkins Weekly, 4-12-23, by Guillermo Metz)
Last year, across the US, electricity production from renewables surpassed coal for the first time, and clean energy is one of the fastest-growing sectors in NY State, with more than 24,000 jobs added since 2015. At the same time, the latest international climate change study reminds us just how dire the situation is becoming, especially if we fail to act decisively and quickly.
In all of these larger stories—both good and bad—we sometimes lose sight of all of the important work being done locally to help move the needle in the right direction.
Earth Day is coming up and this year, the Energy & Climate Change Team is putting together a series of articles highlighting some of our work directly addressing climate change locally, so keep an eye out for those on our new blog, coming soon.
We’re also running a special photo “contest”. There will be prizes—gift cards to local grocery stores, LED lightbulbs, and even a portable induction cooktop and cookware—but it’s not about who can take the best photo. Starting on Earth Day and running for a month, we’ll be selecting a favorite in two categories each week: Climate Fixes and Climate Flubs. Fixes could be such things as someone biking or a backyard garden. Flubs are both climate inaction and its effects: this could include a brand new SUV or an eroded stream bank. Examples of each abound all around you!
Tag your photos on Instagram with #ClimateFix or #ClimateFlub to participate. At the end of each week, we will share tagged photos on our new account @TheLeapTompkins, and see what people think. The images that get the most votes and comments will be the fixes and flubs of the week, with a prize for each. We hope this is a starting point, for looking at the world through a new frame, one that sees how everything affects the climate, and how the climate affects everything.
For more than a decade, the Energy & Climate Change Team has been providing people with the information and resources they need to reduce their energy use and transition off fossil fuels. We run programs that cover building energy efficiency, solar energy, electric vehicles, heat pumps, induction cooking, green building, heating with wood, and more. We also administer two regional programs—Clean Energy Communities and Climate Smart Communities—that work directly with local governments to reduce their emissions and become more climate resilient. Through them, local municipalities have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to take on larger projects. And we coordinate the Regional Clean Energy Hub for the Southern Tier, also known as “Smart Energy Choices”, which provides outreach and support to residents—especially those with limited income—to learn about and take advantage of programs that can help them reduce energy and fossil fuel use and save money. The Hub continues the work begun by Get Your GreenBack Tompkins, a program that is ending this summer.
We’re just part of a larger, healthy local ecosystem, with more than three dozen groups working on solutions. Groups like CCE’s Way2Go and compost education programs, the Cornell Campus Sustainability Office, Paleontological Research Institution, Sustainable Finger Lakes, Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative, Bike Walk Tompkins, Sunrise Ithaca, Climate Reality Project, Citizens Climate, Mothers Out Front, Free Science, and BlocPower’s new program in the City of Ithaca. Alongside these, Building Bridges, Ithaca Catholic Worker, Black Hands Universal, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and others are working to address systemic injustices that risk leaving out whole groups of people from equitably benefiting from the energy transition; groups who are often the ones already feeling the brunt of our changing climate.
Workforce development, especially green jobs, is obviously an important piece of the energy transition. Leading the charge is the Energy Warriors program, run out of CCE Tompkins, which provides environmental literacy and work readiness training. Others very active in this area include Ithaca ReUse, TST BOCES, TC3, and Ultimate Re-Entry Opportunity. And focusing on the next generation, New Roots Charter School is launching EarthForce, a program aimed at engaging Tompkins County youth with hands-on experiences in ecological restoration, clean energy, sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurship, and creating internship and employment opportunities in partnership with local employers.
Several groups are addressing inequities in our food system and helping local agriculture be both more resilient and directly address climate change by promoting climate-friendly farming practices, including Tompkins Food Future, Groundswell, Khuba International, and CCE’s own Finger Lakes Payment for Ecosystem Services program.
Water may seem abundant, but ensuring clean water is not a given. The Tompkins County Environmental Management Council, an advisory board to the county legislature, works on local environmental issues and helps identify problems, propose priorities, and promote coordination of solutions. And, for years, the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network has been promoting actions individuals can take to support the health of Cayuga Lake and its watershed.
Finger Lakes ReUse and Sew Green, along with more than 30 other reuse stores across the county, have been promoting sustainability and community development by diverting usable materials from landfills and making them accessible and affordable to everyone for many years, while Historic Ithaca is working to promote and support a circular economy based on deconstruction and architectural salvage.
And, as mentioned, many municipalities in the county are taking direct action to address climate change. While Ithaca has received the greatest amount of attention, the county is engaged in a $14.7 million project to retrofit and upgrade its buildings to help increase energy efficiency and move to electrified heating and cooling, and the County’s Department of Planning and Sustainability offers free energy advising to businesses and developers working on new construction or major renovations through its Business Energy Advisor program to ensure these projects are as efficient and climate-friendly as possible. Last year, the county also passed a Green Fleet Policy to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles among county departments (they currently have more than 35 electrified vehicles, with more on the way).
Other villages and towns across the county are also taking actions. Several have completed greenhouse gas inventories and climate action plans for their government operations and/or their communities; run clean heating and cooling campaigns for their residents; installed EV charging stations, solar arrays, heat pumps, and other clean energy measures; and saved thousands of dollars by converting to LED streetlights.
Many of the groups mentioned above are involved in many different types of initiatives—and, of course, the list isn’t comprehensive. This Earth Day, make a commitment to connect with one or more of these local groups or to take on climate action in your own way—and contact me if you’re not sure how to get connected to them. As the latest climate report from the IPCC makes clear, as dire as things are getting, it’s not too late to take meaningful action. And get out there and take photos of all the climate fixes and flubs you see!
Guillermo Metz is the Energy & Climate Change Team Leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County.
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