Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Start with Place

Photo by Susie Runyon. Mary Thill at the Adirondack Land Trust’s Glenview Preserve, town of Harrietstown. It can be overwhelming to get a handhold on climate change and the extinction crisis. Really, what can I do to stop smoke from distant forest fires, or to put bats and birds back into in the sky? Extreme weather finally has people focusing on solutions. But if you’re not one of the few attending COP26, where to begin?

“We are told to think globally and act locally. Quite honestly, if you think globally you’re just so depressed,” Jane Goodall said in a recent interview. “But turn it the other way around. You and some friends get together and start doing something, and you find you make a difference. And in other parts of the world, people are feeling like you, are doing like you. It’s an upward spiral of growing hope with action. . . . We’ve got to work to make what we hope for happen.”

Goodall has been lighting the path for a long time. Years ago, when she was in Washington, D.C., advocating to end medical research on chimpanzees, her focus on actionable—doable—steps made an impression on a fledgling Capitol Hill staffer lost in an enormous bureaucracy. Soon, I left for the Adirondacks, where I’ve found satisfaction working on projects that improve life at zip-code level.

Inside the Blue Line, we are feeling the impact of climate change in shorter winters, smoggier summers and intensified floods. Species get boxed into tight spots where people have built dams and roads, or they can be forced to compete with new plants and animals carried in by those roads. As temperatures warm, the region is bracing for declines in water quality and our winter way of life. But we also see resilience in this big beautiful forest’s ability to absorb some effects of climate change, and to provide pathways for plants and animals.

Land protection has made all the difference. People began protecting Adirondack headwater forests in the 1800s and, bit by bit, people have held together what so far remains a pretty intact 9,000-square-mile oasis in a fragmented Northeast.

How well the Adirondack Park withstands accelerating change depends on actions we take today. Of course, the amount of change ahead depends on how quickly the world decreases greenhouse gas emissions—shout-out to the Adirondackers from the Wild Center and Adirondack Council in Glasgow right now pushing on this.

But the first agreement of the United Nations Climate Change Conference was that the emissions we don’t make are also important, and that means keeping forests forested. Trees sequester a third of the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions released each year, and the Earth today has only half the forest it once did. We can’t offset all emissions with trees, but they play a role—as does soil management on working lands, and preserving floodplains and wetlands that keep storms from flooding our towns and polluting our waters.

Parcel by parcel, place by place, land trusts hold tangible power to address the climate and extinction crises. Their core skill is land protection, they work locally, they learn and adapt, and they care deeply about communities and how land benefits them.

How do you get traction on climate change? Please share what you do in your daily life, individually or collectively. Going to work every day at a land trust is the main way I put my hands to it. There’s something about place-based work that becomes a part of you. You can give it everything you’ve got, and the place gives so much back to you.

Mary Thill is communications manager for Adirondack Land Trust

Photo by Susie Runyon. Mary Thill at the Adirondack Land Trust’s Glenview Preserve, town of Harrietstown.

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Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.


14 Responses

  1. Alan Jones says:

    Good article, Mary. We all need to hear, and act, on its message.

  2. JB says:

    Great article! COP26 reminds us that it will always seem like the sky is falling when we’re looking down from two million feet, and it can feel like there is little that we can do about it. Developing connection to place is arguably the most difficult challenge that we face in modern civilization. Few will ever be able to make those deeply rooted connections in the remote wildernesses of yore, despite the proliferation of bucolic social media imagery and backcountry crowds. But people should not let the latest incarnation of the spectaculum–the toxic lifestyle media brand–dissuade them from valuing the places that they call home, wherever serendipity allows. That is the true light at the end of the dark tunnel of abstract concepts: industrialization, climate, subjugation, colonialism, injustice, disaster. Only through the eudaimonia of the steadfast home can we ever truly pass beyond the topography of the mappa mundi and become true stewards of its infinitesimal territory, the sacred groves and villages alike.

  3. Joy Keithline says:

    This was great! Thanks. It is horribly depressing, what
    our global economies continue to do….but in response to your question, I started a little Pollinators Garden at the
    Saratoga Regional YMCA, along with a few other women.
    We were given a grassy drive around spot and now it’s a garden with over 100 species, mostly natives and with little effort released four monarchs at the end of the summer.
    This little patch of native plants located where it is, teaches
    folks everyday about what we need to protect and what we are losing. It has also been very therapeutic for me to be able to spear head something so beautiful. I am very grateful for the support this particular branch has given to us. And I believe we were the first YMCA to have a certified Bee friendly garden. Now I have to convince them to give up the pesticides around the campus. Our garden is free from pesticides but all around us there is exposure. What to do?

    Next year will be our second growing season, can’t wait!

  4. When we buy a car it should be an EV [electric vehicle].
    It we have the right location we should install photovoltaics [solar panels].
    If we have property we should consider putting it in a Conservation Easement.
    We could also put a woodlot into the 480a program to ensure it is managed properly.

  5. louis curth says:

    Hello again Mary, and amen to your well written and timely article. I totally agree with your observation; “How well the Adirondack Park withstands accelerating change depends on actions we take today.

    Like it or not, we are all in this together. so let’s get going. Silence is not an option.

  6. Mel Eisinger says:

    Judith Enck teaches environmental activism in the course she teaches through Middlebury and Bennington, available to audit for $100, called Beyond Plastics, like her nonprofit org. The course is about plastic pollution, brought to us via fossil fuels, but the lessons about what each of us can do spread to other areas. The focus is on policy change, rather than personal behavior change, as though we all strive to pollute as little as possible, we can only beat the devil through policy change.

    • Mary Lou says:

      Judith Enck is also a panel member on WAMC-AM’s Morning Roundtable discussions, at 9:15 AM weekdays.. free for the listening.

  7. Tim says:

    One of the things we can do is make our next car electric. The price is coming down. Most of our driving is local and range is now well over 200 miles. And, here in the North Country, most of our electric is hydro. Win, win.

  8. Vanessa B says:

    I find a lot of meaning in the dual combination of changing my own habits as I can do so, and being politically engaged to ensure that the USA does as much as humanly possible to lead in addressing the crisis. I do not think we’re adequately doing so, but we are constrained by structural problems with our very fragile version of democracy rather than willpower. I really believe that the vast majority of Americans want to save the planet. If we live in a country where large corporations run an oligarchy – and I believe that this is the case – we can’t save the planet no matter how many electric cars we buy. (And to boot, we should all be buying way less anyway.) You have to start there to make the most impact.

  9. David Gibson says:

    Thank you, Mary Thill, and all for a great conversation among you…and stimulating AA readers to engage. Driving less in sweater weather, raking more, leaf blowing…never !

  10. Bobbie Leamer says:

    I applaud the efforts that individuals can make, and also groups such as ADK Action. I have a question: What has happened to the many years old efforts to stop acid rain? I remember when that was in the news, polluting the Adirondacks from factories in the midwest.

  11. Pat Smith says:

    Am I missing something? Looks like no one else around except maybe the photographer and she’s wearing a mask. Almost as ridiculous as being alone in a car and wearing your mask.

  12. AM says:

    Very nice article Mary, and so true! Even those of us who are not large landowners can help by making donations to Land Trusts and other conservation organizations. There are so many good ones to support!

    Some other things we have been doing to reduce carbon footprint are:
    –Reducing use of fossil fuel by installing a geothermal heating system to replace gas-forced hot air and replacing an aged gas dryer and gas water heater with electric appliances. Combined with getting electricity from community solar, this virtually eliminates the use of fossil fuel at home. But there are other ways to do this too, depending on one’s situation. For example installing a heat pump along with tapping into renewable energy achieves the same end.
    –Minimizing air travel. While there are some times one needs to be someplace in person, an important lesson from the pandemic is that zoom can sometimes be an effective tool to reduce air travel.
    –Changing our diet to eat foods with a lower carbon footprint. There are many resources on line to help guide the personal decisions involved.
    –Minimizing use of plastics, which require fossil fuel to make and create a horrendous disposal problem, especially impactful on our aquatic habitats.
    –Walking or cycling, whenever practical. And our next car will be an EV or plugin hybrid. So much travel is close to home and easily accomplished on electric power.