Writers Bill McKibben and Christopher Shaw were arrested Saturday in front of the White House as they took part in a demonstration trying to persuade the Obama administration to deny construction of a 1,700-mile pipeline that would carry Canadian tar-sands oil to American refineries.
McKibben, Shaw and approximately 65 others were being held in a DC jail over the weekend pending a court appearance Monday. Both McKibben and Shaw are former Adirondack residents who maintain strong ties to the region. Shaw is a contributor to Adirondack Almanack; McKibben is a climate change activist who co-organized the tar sands pipeline demonstration; both teach and lead an environmental journalism program at Middlebury College, in Vermont.
In addition to the risk of oil spills along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path from Alberta to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Canadian tar sands could be North America’s largest “carbon bomb,” McKibben says. “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature,” he wrote last month in an op-ed on TomDispatch.com.
The Department of State will decide by the end of the year whether to issue a permit for a pipeline to cross the U.S.-Canada border, so McKibben says the decision lies solely with the Obama administration and will be a test of the president’s commitment to the environment.
Protest organizer tarsandaction.org issued a press release Sunday stating that 2,000 people are expected to participate in the sit-in before it ends, September 3.
Photograph courtesy of Tar Sands Action. Christopher Shaw is third from the right.
Internationally-acclaimed author, educator and environmentalist Bill McKibben will present a program entitled “The Most Important Number in the World: Updates on the Fight for a Stable Climate,” on Monday, August 1, 2011 at the Adirondack Museum. The program is part of the museum’s Monday Evening Lecture series.
McKibben will share news of the latest science around global warming, its effects on the Adirondack region, and the growing global movement to do something about it. In the past two years his group 350.org has coordinated what CNN called “the most widespread days of political action in the planet’s history.” He will share with the audience what those fighting for a stable climate across the planet are doing. Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, and author of a dozen books about the environment, including The End of Nature, which is often called the first book for a general audience about climate change. Time Magazine has described him as “the planet’s best green journalist” and the Boston Globe has called him “perhaps the nation’s leading environmentalist.” He has spent much of his adult life in Johnsburg in Warren County, N.Y.
The presentation will be held in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. The lecture will be offered at no charge to museum members; the fee for non-members is $5.00. For additional information, visit www.adirondackmuseum.org or call (518) 352-7311.
The Board of Trustees of the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake, New York has announced the selection of Jerry Jenkins as the recipient of the 2011 Harold K. Hochschild Award.
The Harold K. Hochschild Award is dedicated to the memory of the museum’s founder, whose passion for the Adirondacks, its people, and environment inspired the creation of the Adirondack Museum. Since 1990 the museum has presented the award to a wide range of intellectual and community leaders throughout the Adirondack Park, highlighting their contributions to the region’s culture and quality of life. The Adirondack Museum will formally present Jerry Jenkins with the Harold K. Hochschild Award on August 4, 2011.
Jerry Jenkins is an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program (WCS). An accomplished botanist, naturalist and geographer, he has almost forty years of field experience working in the Northern Forest. Over the course of his career, his work has included conducting biological inventories for The Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, surveying rare plant occurrences for the State of Vermont, chronicling the environmental history of acid rain with the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation, and understanding and interpreting historical changes to boreal lowland areas in the Adirondacks with WCS. His enthusiasm for natural history has also led him to study plant diversity and distribution across various forest types – from the Champlain Hills to large working forest easements, and from old growth forests to high elevation alpine communities.
His most recent and notable accomplishments with the Wildlife Conservation Society are his collection of Adirondack publications. Together with Andy Keal, Jerry Jenkins co-authored The The Adirondack Atlas: A Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park, considered one of the most significant Adirondack book in a generation. Some 300 pages in length, the Adirondack Atlas contains 750 maps and graphics, and represents the most comprehensive collection of regional data brought together in a single source. The park’s geology, flora and fauna are featured, as well as the history and the dynamic nature of the park’s human communities. Bill McKibben describes the atlas as a “great gift…that marks a coming of age.”
In his newest book Climate Change in the Adirondacks the Path to Sustainability, Jenkins demonstrates how climate change is already shifting the region’s culture, biology and economy, and provides a road map towards a more responsible and sustainable future. He provides the first comprehensive look at both the impacts of, and the potential solutions to, climate change across the Adirondack region. This compilation, along with his other regional contributions, prompted Bill McKibben to offer that “Jerry Jenkins has emerged as the information source for our mountains…and we are all in his debt.” Photo Courtesy Leslie Karasin, Wildlife Conservation Society.
Climate Justice will be the focus of this year’s annual John Brown Day on Saturday, May 7, 2011. A tradition dating back to the 1930s, John Brown Day is held each year at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid, to honor one of the nation’s most influential abolitionists on the anniversary of his birth in 1800.
Dedicating his life to eradicating slavery, Brown eventually risked all attacking the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. Captured by troops led by Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart, Brown’s trial and execution are considered by many historians as a spark that help ignite the Civil War 150 years ago. » Continue Reading.
Paul Smiths College Professor Curt Stager’s new book, Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) is a fresh look at global climate change. Stager’s approach is that of the paleoecologist, a discipline that has traditionally been focused on reconstructing the paleoenvironment using the fossil record to clarify the relationship that plants, animals, and humans have to their environment in the past.
Typically, paleoecological researchers have aimed their attentions on the Quaternary period (the last two million years), particularity with studies of the Holocene epoch (the last 11,000 years), or the Pleistocene glaciation period (50,000 to 10,000 years ago). Stager’s Deep Future looks in the other direction, 100,000 years into the future. Stager is quick to point out that no, humans won’t go extinct; some species will win, some lose, because after temperatures rise, they’ll fall (at a slower rate). Deep Future is built around the Anthropocene, the first epoch in which humans have come to influence the Earth’s ecosystems.
Scientists are somewhat divided over when the Anthropocene begins. Some suggest 8,000 years ago, when we began clearing forests to raise animals and grow crops during the Neolithic Revolution, others establish a date as late as the Industrial Revolution of the 1750s. Both agree that what’s significant is that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is increasing at a faster rate, and to a much greater extent, that previous glacial-interglacial cycles of the past million years, and that humans are the cause.
Deep Future illuminates the changes of the coming 100,000 years, among them the effect we’ve already had in delaying the next ice age. Describing himself as a “converted climate skeptic” thanks in part to research at Paul Smiths into weather and lake ice records in the Adirondacks, Stager explores the idea that our distant descendants may well applaud us for the changes we cause, but many of the earth’s species will suffer dramatic transformations. Acidification of our oceans will impact sea species, shifting micro climates will force great species migrations to adapt, which on land may be blocked by human development.
The bottom line of Deep Future is that what we decide to do now about controlling our carbon emissions will have tremendous impacts on our future descendants. Putting it into an even larger context, Stager offers this unique perspective: “If we burn through all our fossil fuels now, we will leave nothing for the people of the future to burn to stave off future ice ages and prevent the crushing devastation of migrating ice sheets.”
Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.
National leaders in energy efficiency design, practices and retrofitting will be at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake on Saturday, April 30 helping homeowners, business owners and government officials learn how they can reduce their monthly energy costs. High energy costs coupled with the fact that ‘green’ buildings jobs can’t be outsourced, means energy efficient building can offer local jobs and savings, both of which can improve the Adirondack economy. Rethinking the way homes and commercial properties are built affects Adirondack residents and visitors alike.
Tedd Benson, author, innovator, and leading construction expert will deliver the Keynote Address, “Reinventing Homebuilding: Off Site Fabrication and the Open-Built Solution”, on Saturday, April 30th. He has been featured on This Old House, Good Morning America, and the Today Show and recently in USA Today. Benson has won several awards and is recognized as the premier designer/builder of high performance homes in the U.S. and Canada. Featured presenters, in addition to Tedd Benson, include Jonathan Todd, speaking on eco-friendly lower cost wastewater solutions; Rob Roy on living roofs and cord wood masonry; Robert Clarke, from Serious Materials, the company that manufactured the new windows for the Empire State Building, on super insulating windows; and Dan Frering of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on new lighting technologies that will drastically cut electric bills.
The full agenda for the event can be found online.
The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has released the results of their 10th auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances, held Wednesday, Dec. 1. According to a press release issued by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC): “As with previous auctions, states are reinvesting the proceeds in a variety of strategic energy programs to save consumers money, benefit the environment and build the clean-energy economies of the RGGI states.”
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first government-mandated carbon dioxide control program in the United States. It requires power plant emissions reductions in New York and nine other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States. Over a period of years, the 10 states are hoping to reduce their power plant carbon emissions through a “cap-and-trade” program. There are indications however, that the carbon cap may be too high to have any impact. Additionally, environmentalists hopes to retire significant numbers of carbon credits have also proved limited. » Continue Reading.
The Wild Center will host Wintergreen, a conversation about the future of winter recreation, sports and culture in the Adirondacks on November 12th at 9am at the NYSEF Building at Whiteface Mountain. Wintergreen is an open forum to discuss how climate change will effect the economy and cultural life in the Adirondacks.
Attending will be a delegation from Finland who will give their perspective on the way climate change is effecting Finnish culture and way of life. Community leaders, athletes, business owners and others concerned about the future of the winter culture of the Adirondacks should join in the discussion and sharing of how important winter is to our lifestyle and economy. Best labeled climate disruption, planetary warming is already impacting traditional winter and summer recreation and economic opportunities in the Adirondacks. From shortening the period during which ice covers Lake Champlain and mountain lakes permitting fishing shacks to spring up, to inadequate snow cover for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and certain alpine sports, a shift in expected weather patterns is beginning to affect us and eventually the bottom line. $92 million of tourism income in Essex County in 2009 was earned between December 1 and March 31 that year.
This is the first of two visits from the Finns to the Adirondacks. The team from The Wild Center, including community members, will visit Finland in 2011. These first round of exchanges are focused on education, while the second round will focus on forests and economic issues. During and after each visit, there will be community outreach, lectures and workshops as well as sharing with the online community through the Internet.
Wintergreen is a jointly funded effort. It is part of a project funded by the U.S. Department of State through the Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad (MCCA) program of the American Association of Museums (AAM). The project, entitled “Connecting Finnish and Adirondack Communities: Science Museums Facilitating Awareness and Action on Climate and Energy” is being conducted in partnership with Heureka/The Finnish Science Center. The forum is also sponsored by the Tourism Task Force of the Adirondack Climate and Energy Action Plan (ADKCAP), through a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. ADKCAP is a coalition of about 30 universities, business organizations, community development groups, nonprofits, local government agencies, and energy action organizations around the Adirondack North Country region working with facilitation support from The Wild Center to find energy savings and green economic opportunities that fit the local lifestyle.
The purpose of the project is to facilitate an exchange of experiences between local communities in Finland and the Adirondacks, discussing community learning and action on energy saving, climate issues, and “green” practices supporting the regions’ commitment to sustainable tourism. The goal of the project is to help communities served by The Wild Center and Heureka to exchange experiences and discuss the need for more information related to climate and energy action. Participants and their communities will have an increased understanding of the global nature of the problem and shared commitment to solutions.
Communities around the northern world are seeking ways of participating in climate change action reducing carbon and saving energy locally. They are starting to notice changes in the climate that may affect their winter cultures, lifestyles and economies. In the two regions participating in the project, science centers and museums are facilitating that exploration and raising awareness of why action is important.
“We’re looking forward to the upcoming Finnish delegation’s visit and their perspective for Wintergreen,” said Stephanie Ratcliffe, Executive Director of The Wild Center. “Our environment is similar to that of Finland. In many ways our cultures are often closely tied to our experience of winter and outdoor recreation, which is changing. Wintergreen will be an open discussion of ways we anticipate changes in our winter culture and recreation and understand the effects of climate change.”
By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities Thirty high schools, colleges and universities have gathered together for the 2nd Adirondack Youth Summit held at The Wild Center (Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks) in Tupper Lake. The two-daysummit has been a successful means for students, educators, administrators and staff to work together to build a realistic, achievable plan to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Through partnership schools learn, formulate and implement ideas regarding climate change. “Jen Kretser, Director of Programs at The Wild Center invited members of my Advanced Placement Environmental Science Class to attend the Adirondack Climate Conference held at The Wild Center in 2008 which created ADKCAP (Adirondack Climate and Energy Action Plan),” says Tammy Morgan, Lake Placid High School teacher. “My students were the only young people there. The conference mostly consisted of business people in the area that were coming together with not-for-profits and legislators to figure out a way to make the Adirondack Park a carbon neutral model.”
Morgan enthusiastically talks about how her students branched out to attend the various panels and workshops to achieve a broad spectrum of information. Morgan got more than she wished for. Not only did her students actively participate with adults that may have been intimidating to some but one her students, Zachary Berger, addressed the conference by getting to the heart of an ongoing issue, how to engage youth in climate change.
“At the end of the two-day conference there was an open space for discussion and Zachary stood up and brought up the fact that all weekend people were trying to find ways to engage young people but weren’t giving students a venue to do just that. He felt that students needed a place to be able to discuss and implement change.”
From that stand, many hours and volunteers, the Adirondack Youth Summit was born. That initial year each school set goals to achieve change. Some goals worked while others didn’t but most schools reported a high success rate by keeping goals simple and attainable.
After attending the Summit, Clarkson University created its new Institute for a Sustainable Environment while North Country Community College students developed a campus-wide recycling program. Other schools created composting programs, school gardens, and carbon reduction plans.
This year Lake Placid is just one of the schools at the Wild Center for the next two days. The other schools are Canton High School, Clarkson University, Colgate University, CV-TECH, Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School, Green Tech Charter High School, Indian River High School, Keene Central School, Lake Placid High School, Little River Community School, Long Lake Central School, Malone Central School District, Massena Central High School, Minerva Central School, Newcomb Central School, North Country Community College, Northwood School, Ogdensburg Free Academy, Paul Smith’s College, Plattsburgh High School, Potsdam High School, Salem Central School, Saranac Lake High School, St. Lawrence University, St. Regis Falls Central School, SUNY Plattsburgh, SUNY Potsdam, Troy High School, and Tupper Lake High School.
The Summit will continue tomorrow, November 10th with all plenary sessions streamed live and available for future viewing.With an improved website, schools not in attendence are able to form action plans and given educational tools to start helping lower costs and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Local students are helping to plan for the second Adirondack Youth Climate Summit at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. The two-day Summit, on November 9th and 10th, is expected to bring together more than 170 participants from 30 high schools and colleges across the Adirondacks and ultimately effect more than 25,000 students.
The Summit is the only one of its kind in the country and has already led to financial savings and shifts in mindsets across the Park according to Wild Center officials. Students who participated last year returned to their schools implementing change by creating school gardens to provide food for their cafeterias, expanding recycling and composting programs, replacing power strips with energy smart strips, examining energy saving opportunities by conducting carbon audits for their schools and presenting to school boards about their activities and financial savings. Each school will send a team including students, educators, administrators and facilities staff to develop their own actionable carbon reduction plan designed to decrease their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
I saw my first Adirondack pine marten (Martes Americana) the other day in Newcomb. I was on a marked state trail through Wild Forest, and came to a sizable stream fresh from the recent rains. A log seemed conveniently placed for me, but I hesitated. Knowing I would have wet feet, how badly did I wish to go on? Then I looked up. The marten was staring back at me from the opposite bank.
Give way! Hadn’t I seen the marten crossing sign, he seemed to be saying? The marten loped downstream, and took the next log across, paused and vanished. The animal was larger than I had imagined, redder, too, like my face flushed with excitement. The photo above is not of this animal. It is one of the many fine photos in the public domain provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. When I got home I remembered reading in Jerry Jenkins’ Climate Change in the Adirondacks (2010, Wildlife Conservation Society) that Adirondack martens are isolated by a hundred miles and more from cousins in New England and Canada; and that they can outcompete the larger fisher only by having an advantage in deeper snow. When the number of days with snowpack decline, as they are doing, the fisher may gain a competitive . There is already a 15-30% decline in the number of days with snowpack since I was in grade school c. 1970.
Do we have obligations to ensure Adirondack martens survive, because of their intrinsic worth, and so that our successors experience the same excitement I felt? Many might agree on the moral obligations. Fewer might agree on whether we have legal obligations. Fewer still might agree that those obligations, moral and legal, apply to our leaving the legacy of a planet at least as healthy as the one we now live on.
The hard realities and impacts of the warming oceans and shrinking ice which are already turning so many societies, human and more than human, to survival mode all over the world does challenge a boundary between moral and legal justice concerning future generations. This is because the global science is uniformly advising us that today’s pace of warming is the result of emissions in the 1950s and 60s and 70s.
Given the lag between greenhouse gas emissions and impacts of atmospheric change, we make climate decisions today that are likely to make life support systems much less functional for people – and martens – 100 years hence. This is a debt we are piling up far more ominous for society than fiscal imbalance.
Many philosophers have thought about current debts to future generations, and more than one has lived in the Adirondacks. One who did, and who regularly acted on his thinking, was the Reverend Woody Cole, Chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency from 1984-1992, and a resident of Jay. Woody died recently. He spoke to an Adirondack audience in St. Huberts (Ausable Club) in 1991 about his view that we have an intrinsic duty to protect life forms built into our evolutionary past. Here is an excerpt of what he said:
“In nature, each organism has its own uniqueness in the way it finds to procreate, to endure, and to associate with its habitat. Each organism has evolved its complex way of capturing the energy of the sun and of maintaining its species population, building up its genome or genetic code so that it can adapt, keep going; and keep struggling in a universe that is supposed to be running down.
These millions of organisms evolved from symbiotically derived relationships with other species within ecological systems both over space and time. Contemplating this billion year old record is awesome; biota helped to produce the thin layer on this planet known as the living biosphere. …it is unique in this universe, and of value intrinsically, in and of itself, beyond mere utility for human satisfaction….
Thus it is that the conservation of ecosystems can be seen as an ultimate good, a moral obligation for observers who have been nurtured and sustained by the diverse biomes that up Earth’s biosphere. As creatures capable of appreciating inherent values, we now have a moral imperative as human organisms to protect the rich biotic ecosystems that perpetuate the life systems of the planet.
As suggested by the anthropological – cosmological principle, we have a duty to insure that complex life will be available for eventual transmission into the universe itself. But first we must conserve our own planet’s diverse ecosystems.”
On Sunday October 10th, 2010, communities in over 100 countries are expected to join the 10/10/10 Global Work Party by participating in activities that are designed demonstrate local sustainable food, energy, water, and transportation solutions to climate change. Organized by 350.org, the 10/10/10 Global Work party will represent the world’s largest day of practical action to fight the climate crisis. In honor of this event The Wild Center has a planned a full day of activities for the whole family that will celebrate more sustainable ways to coexist with the natural world. The theme of the day is composting. Come and learn about simple methods to save money and the environment by recycling your organic waste using worms. Then participate in programs that will explore nature’s fascinating decomposing organisms, such as worms, insects, fungus and bacteria, which make composting possible. In addition, learn about the ways The Wild Center has put green practices to work on a tour of the museum’s sustainable building features.
Schedule of Events
11:30 Going Green with Worm Composting – Worms composting is a natural form of recycling you can do at home. Join Wild Center naturalists and learn the simple practice of composting your household waste using worms. With just a few minutes of work each week you can reduce your contribution to landfills, feed your plants, and improve your soil.
12:00 The Mystery of Decay – Why is composting so easy? It’s because all of the work is done by nature’s decomposers — fungus, bacteria and invertebrates. ”Dig” for answers about the organisms that break down our waste at our hands-on table top display.
1:00 Nature’s Decomposers Walk – Join a Wild Center naturalist on a walk to search for nature’s decomposers along our trails.
3:00 New Path Walk – Join a naturalist on a guided walk around The Wild Center and learn about the many ways in which the museum has put “Green Practices” to work.
Please note the schedule is subject to change.
For additional information on The Wild Center, visit www.wildcenter.org or call (518) 359-7800.
While most people like birds, some are totally ga-ga over them, while others downright fear them. When it comes to the corvids, though – birds informally known as members of the “crow family” – it seems it’s an either/or situation: either people hate them because they are “cruel,” “mean,” “vicious” birds, or they are intrigued by them because they are “clever,” “intelligent,” and “ingenious.” Somewhere in the mix, the truth lies.
Here in the Adirondacks we are lucky to have four species of corvids: ravens, crows, blue jays and gray jays. A fifth species, the fish crow, is listed as “rare” in the Lake Champlain Basin, so we can consider it an Adirondack possibility, but one exhibiting low probability. A more southern species, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the fish crow became a more frequent visitor to our region, along with vultures and cardinals, as our climate continues to change. » Continue Reading.
Over the past several hundred thousand years, global atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have remained relatively stable, averaging 280 parts per million (ppm) and varying between 180 and 300 ppm through several ice ages. But over the past 60 years, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmospheric has risen steadicly, at an accelerating rate from decade to decade, to the current level of 392 ppm. Why should we care? There is a strong causal link (shown by ice core and other scientific studies) between atmospheric concentrations of “greenhouse gases” such as carbon dioxide and global surface temperatures. Moreover, scientists who study the earth’s history have discovered periods in the Earth’s history, tens and hundreds of millions of years ago, when high concentrations of greenhouse gases apparently led to global warming and mass extinctions of the earth’s biota as much of the planet became uninhabitable. In the current period of rapidly rising atmospheric CO2, we are already seeing dramatic evidence of ecosystem change. Among many recent examples of climate-caused ecosystem change, two widely publicized ones include coral reefs bleaching and dying as the oceans warm and become more acidic, and dramatic losses of summer ice cover on the Arctic Ocean as the poles warm.
Why should we care? Well, if you live in the Arctic, or if you live on a low-lying island in the ocean, or if you live in an area suffering from climate-caused drought, or if you live an an area where the forests are dead all around you (e.g., southern British Columbia and many areas in the Rocky Mountains), or if you fish for salmon in Alaskan rivers, you care. But for those of us living in temperate regions it is often hard to perceive, and thus to care about, the relatively slow incremental changes that are occurring due to rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and a changing climate. Scientists have only recently started to focus on impacts of climate change on a regional or local level in the temperate parts of the world.
A new study by Dr. Curt Stager and Mary Thill sheds light on climate impacts that have already occurred in the Lake Champlain Basin and what impacts are to be expected in the near future. Funded by The Nature Conservancy, the research was an effort to find out how climate change might affect the aquatic habitat in one relatively small region. Their research showed that average temperatures have risen 2°F in just the past 30 years and that winter ice cover is significantly less extensive than in the past. For example, in the 19th century the lake failed to freeze over only three times, while between 1970 and 2007 it failed to freeze over 18 times.
No one can precisely predict future climates, but a host of climate models do a demonstrably and increasingly good job of doing so. An on-line tool is available, Climate Wizard, which allows anyone to easily access leading climate change information from 16 leading climate models and visualize the impacts anywhere on the planet. Report authors Stager and Thill applied Climate Wizard to the Champlain basin to develop a deeper understanding of how climate change might impact the basin and what resource managers could do. The good news is that many of their recommendations are things that we are already doing or should be doing: reduce pollution inputs, monitor environmental conditions and vulnerable species, be flexible and adaptive and prepared for varying lake levels, and prevent alien species invasions. As the authors state, dealing proactively with potential climate change impacts in the basin will be less costly and more effective than trying to respond after the fact.
The same thought process applies at the global level where I began this commentary. Climate change is real. It is going to get much warmer within the next 50-100 years. There is strong scientific consensus (e.g., Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports) that the primary cause of the dramatically rising atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases are human emissions. But this is good news, in a sense, as it means that unlike past episodes of climate change linked to volcanic eruptions and meteor impacts, we can control our future – if we take steps soon to reduce greenhouse gases before large areas of the planet become uninhabitable.
The steps we should be taking – reducing our dependence on foreign oil, eliminating the burning of coal until its combustion is clean and non-polluting, using renewable energy sources, eating locally grown food, driving hybrid and electric cars, and reducing our heating and electric bills – are things that we should do regardless, even if all the climate scientists are all wrong (inconceivable to me). These steps amount to taking out relatively cheap insurance to ensure that our grandchildren inherit a healthy planet – just in case the scientists are correct.
Curt Stager and Mary Thill’s full report is available here. Graph: Lake Champlain ice dates, courtesy Curt Stager.
If global warming is ever to be reversed, or even slowed, Americans must consume less of the energy produced by coal fired power plants.
Wind and solar power are among the alternatives New York State is promoting, said Adele Ferranti, a Queensbury resident who’s a project manager at New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
“Every little bit helps,” Ferranti said. “The potential for reducing emissions is tremendous; we can make a significant dent in the consumption of energy.” More and more people are taking advantage of alternative technologies, Ferranti said.
“They’re doing it because it’s the best thing they can do for the environment,” said Ferranti. “They’re replacing the energy made by burning fossil fuels with clean, natural power.”
Among the Lake George residents reducing carbon footprints are Rebecca and Candida Smith. The daughters of the late sculptor David Smith, they live part time at the home and studio he created in the hills above Bolton Landing.
A few years ago, they contracted with GroSolar, a Vermont company recommended by author-turned-environmental activist Bill McKibben, to install solar energy systems in the property’s three buildings.
“Global warming caused by human activities was a problem I had been aware of for a long time but it was too big, complicated and scary for me to bear thinking about for long,” said Rebecca Smith.
But after recent visits to Australia (“where I was relatively close to the ozone holes in Antarctica and actually felt how much stronger the effect of the sun was down there — it burned into my eyeballs painfully at times”) and Great Britain (“where climate change was an accepted, observable reality that government was starting to do something about”) as well as extensive reading on the subject, Smith said she became “interested and excited about the new technologies and decided to see what could be done at my family’s home in Bolton.”
Smith adds, “One person can’t do much, but there are many, many people out there doing lots of things and I am inspired by being part of that effort.”
According to NYSERDA’s Adele Ferranti, New York State offers financial incentives to homeowners like the Smiths to encourage the use of alternative energy. “Our goal is to build an infrastructure that will not only make solar power more affordable but reduce the consumption of fossil fuels,” Ferrante said.
Eliot Goodwin of GroSolar says that New York State will pay 40 to 50% of the costs of installing a solar energy system in the form of a rebate. “The homeowner is also eligible for a 25% state income tax credit and a 30% federal tax credit,” said Goodwin. “This works out to be about 60 to 65% of the costs paid for by outside sources.”
Nevertheless, the initial investment is expensive. Whether an alternative energy system is cost-effective depends upon how one determines value, groSolar’s Eliot Goodwin suggests.
“Is a car cost effective? Is a marble countertop cost effective? Is a pool cost effective? Is a hot tub cost effective? Is it cost effective to have no mountain tops left from coal mining? Is it cost effective to no longer have clean air to breathe?” he asks.
Still, Goodwin said, “With solar, no matter what, the system will pay for itself in its lifetime. You can usually expect a 7-11% return on your investment and you can also expect the house to increase in value by as much as the system costs.”
Short-term costs are offset by long-term savings, and, of course, by environmental benefits, said Rebecca Smith.
“By my calculations, it will take about 9 years to pay for the solar panels (which are under warranty for 25 years).” said Smith. “I don’t regard this as a money-saving strategy in the short run but as an investment that will pay off in dollars and environmental benefit in the long run. The satisfaction of making a difference is a really great feeling and it inspires me to do more.”
According to Fred Brown, the property’s year-round caretaker, approximately 80 flat solar panels were installed on the roofs of three buildings last spring.
“The system is comprised only of solar panels and an inverter,” said Brown. “ The panels produce direct current (DC) electricity which is steered toward the inverter where it’s converted into the Alternating current (AC) electricity, the same kind of power you get from the power grid.”
The power is not stored, but, rather, either used immediately or sent backwards through the meter, creating dollar for dollar credits in a process known as net-metering.
“We send power to the grid and the meter runs backward,” said Brown.
“During the summer solar panels create more energy than the owner can consume and the utility is required by law to buy it from you and credit your account,” said Rebecca Smith. “The power companies now depend on the small percentage of solar owners to feed in a critical extra margin of energy during the peak summer months.”
For Rebecca Smith, the environmental benefits of using alternative energy are local as well as global.
“If warming trends continue, there won’t be maple trees in the Adirondacks for our grandchildren,” she says. “I decided that it was better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.”
Every year, more New Yorkers are adopting that attitude, said Eliot Goodwin.
“We have approximately 75 installations in New York under the current programs. There’s probably another 2-300 installations in the state divided amongst 30 other installers. People care about the world they’re leaving to their children.”
Photo: A solar-powered workshop on the David Smith estate in Bolton Landing.
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