Here are a few excerpts from past Adirondack conferences preparing audiences for climate change, severe weather events, and consequences.
Photo: Post Hurricane Irene streambank and instream restoration efforts on the E. Branch Ausable River. Photo by Dave Gibson
September, 1989: George Woodwell, global ecologist and then director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, from an address at the Ausable Club, St. Hubert’s, Keene:
By cutting vast tracts of the world’s forests without replacement, humans are seriously adding to the atmospheric pool of CO2 and diminishing the natural background modulating effect of the earth’s lungs – our forests. A 25% increase in atmospheric CO2 since the mid-19th century, if allowed to continue at present rates, will have a severe impact on our climate. It, in addition to even more dramatic increases in methane and other greenhouse gases, will inevitably lead to global warming and climatic changes on a large scale. Ecological and societal changes, many of which may drastically affect the Adirondack Park, are sure to follow.
Note: A mere 32 years after Dr. Woodwell’s address, the increase in atmospheric CO2 since 1850 has gone from 25% to nearly 50% – 417 ppm. The earth has not experienced such a concentration in over 800,000 years.
September, 1992: Wendy O’Neil, ecologist with the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and staff member with the Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century, from an address at Sagamore Great Camp, Raquette Lake:
I ask you to consider your own view of the benefits ecological systems provide you. In the late 1960s, my high school teacher challenged all of us with an essay question on a biology exam. It was: What would you think if you saw the following bumper sticker: “Have You Thanked a Green Plant Today?” Today, I wonder how much a hospital charges a patient for twenty-four hours of supplemental oxygen. Trees and other green plants provide oxygen we use continually yet we seldom make this connection…
We tend to take nature’s services for granted because we don’t have to pay money for most of them…we are aware of the services that contribute to daily functions because we pay for them with money we earn and spend as consumers and taxpayers. For example, we understand directly the problems we face when a road corridor is blocked and cannot be used for travel. A travel corridor in nature which can be altered through weather is a river. In the spring of 1992, the Ausable River was jammed by ice flows and flooded its banks. Traffic was blocked, some residents were evacuated, and property damage resulted. In this case, we have enough understanding to measure economically the expense it caused for road repair, rescue, flood monitoring and property repair or replacement. We know this because the river system impacted us in the support systems of our society that we measure.
What we do not know is the intricate workings of the river that brought about the flooding and what the long-term costs to society and the river system will be if the river is left to its own course or the river course is altered through dredging, channelization or other means…. These are very real and very sensitive issues that come forth when ecological and economic systems are out of balance. A detailed inventory of the river system is needed so that we know its natural processes, rhythms and inner workings. If we know the inner workings, then we are able to focus on the parts that may need adjustment from time to time. Dredging a river is an immediate response, yet we really do not know enough about this river to predict the response of this action…we make a lot of decisions on managing the land and waterscapes based on human need without integrating the ecological principles of the natural world that will, over time, impact human settlement.
I again ask you to consider your own roots in nature, and then to help with ecological analysis. By examining how we are interdependent with the natural systems around us, ecological understanding will follow.
Nov. 2003, Dr. Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Nation, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy) and Associate Professor of American Studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo, from an address at the Crowne Plaza, Lake Placid:
We can’t have peace without health and maintaining the health of the earth is fundamental to our own health and future well-being. People are parasites who don’t put bac what they take. An aggressive human population is eating everything off the face of the earth. Our values today are not survival values. If we don’t change our values, we won’t survive.
We need a long-term vision to protect the interests of the seventh generation. The question is, how do we get that vision back in our leadership? We need to ask, what values are driving us. Are we stewards, or are we part of the problem?
We can learn much about stewardship and life from the Amish, who teach us about the values of community, simplicity and peace. We need to be inclusive. We need to work together.
February, 2007: Prof. Nicholas Robinson, Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law, Pace University School of Law, from an address at the Center for the Forest Preserve, Niskayuna:
What we now know about these climatic phenomena in the Adirondacks is that the climate change models predict that such effects will recur. Rather than reacting to each incident, we should begin to anticipate them and plan for contingencies. Preparations for intense weather events induced by climate change can entail everything from realigning trails to reissuing maps showing that some campsites are no more. It can mean limiting the number of hikers and campers in risk prone locations or at-risk prone times. New York may well need to rebuild its corps of Forest Rangers and restore their many faceted independent functions. Ill equipped public water supplies will need buffering, and publicly owned sewage treatment systems will need to be upgraded to deal with changed design specifications that anticipate the new climatic conditions. Distributed energy resources, independent of any grid, will be needed for resilience. All this is a State-wide responsibility and is not just the burden of the local communities that live around the Forest Preserve.
Developing preparedness for the effects of climate change will need to be a statewide, a national, and an international undertaking. State support for such preparedness will not flow to the Adirondacks automatically. Adirondackers will find it essential to embrace the mandate of Article XIV in order to give the Adirondacks a priority claim on the State’s planning and adaptation funding and expertise. Since the Adirondacks, and the Forest Preserve, are unique in their vast scale, and their essential hydrologic and biological roles in the Northeast of America, they deserve priority treatment based on an objective scientific analysis. Nonetheless, considering that the greatest number of voters in New York cluster along the Atlantic seacoast, encountering the effects of sea level rise, and that they too can claim a legitimate priority, what will ensure that the Adirondacks get the care they deserve? As a matter of law and policy, the Constitution provides the answer, and it is Article XIV. There is no way to escape the logic of law and precedent: the New York Constitution requires care and protection for the Forest Preserve.
We need to rethink today’s conventional wisdom. The scientific message is clear: business as usual is coming to an end. The time may have come to recommend that the Governor and Legislature enact a biodiversity law for the Adirondacks, both to integrate the many duties that DEC, and other State agencies, have with respect to the Forest Preserve, and also to prepare the Forest Preserve and all within the Adirondack Park to better prepare to cope with the effects of climate change.
November, 2012: Prof. Curt Stager, Natural Science/Biology, Paul Smith’s College, from an address at the Paul Smith’s Visitor Interpretive Center:
As the North Country changes under the pressures of backcountry development, invasive species, climate change and other factors, it is increasingly important for diverse practitioners and organizations to work together in developing new and effective visions for stewardship. The changes you observe in the environment could be highly relevant to understanding how climate changes impacts the park. Keep written records, and pass them on. There is a crucial job to be done by amateur naturalists in keeping good natural history records and data. Anybody can help Adirondack Park do a much better job in local monitoring of events in nature, and preserving and communicating that information for use today and tomorrow.