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On cold days I like to joke that global warming is a big disappointment to me.  Some folks, especially older folks, appreciate the humor.  But this being Ithaca and its surrounds, I am often chastised for my joke and subjected to pedantic definitions of global warming, and the now preferred label 'climate change'.  It's just a joke, folks.  Lighten up!  (And I am disappointed.  As I get older I feel colder.  A little global warming would be welcome at this point!)

Along comes a fairly new state program, Climate Smart Communities (CSC).  The program encourages local governments to adopt a resolution that includes a ten-step pledge that will reduce carbon emissions, adopt green energy, use land in more sustainable ways, and "inform and inspire the public".  Because who doesn't love to be informed and inspired?  The recent debates in the Village of Lansing have highlighted the political and practical impacts of the program. Critics say it's a nice thought, but it doesn't really do anything.  Supporters say it provides a framework for making the community ready for mandates that are sure to come from Albany, and by the way, it saves the planet.  We only have one planet so far, so it makes sense to be mindful of keeping it in good shape, at least until we have somewhere else to go.

I agree with critics of the CSC program that it is a toothless, feel-good program.  I agree with supporters of the program who argue it provides a framework for municipalities to actually do something, and it provides a proactive step to prepare communities for the inevitable mandates from Albany that will require compliance.  If the State is being clever, maybe introducing CSC as an 100% voluntary initiative is a way to allow communities to adjust to the idea of mitigating climate change as a key municipal responsibility gradually.

The very worst case scenario for communities that adopt the pledge is that some people are happy that their local government is acknowledging something ought to be done, while at the same time the community isn't actually obligated to do anything.  In the best case, communities will use it as a tool to do less harm to the environment.  Identify things the locality thinks ought to be done, do triage on those goals to eliminate the ones the community can't afford at the moment, and set out to achieve the ones it can.  Both of these scenarios have good outcomes.  Municipalities can't lose by adopting the resolution.

In a nutshell, CSC is a program administered by six New York State agencies: Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which is the main administrator of the program; Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA); Department of Public Service; Department of State; Department of Transportation; and Department of Health.  The purpose is to engage local governments, help them meet CSC goals, and reward them with points for achieving various goals that add up to three certification levels: registered Climate Smart Community, Bronze, and silver.  many of the communities in Tompkins County have joined with enough achievements to be certified at the bronze level, and some have achieved silver level.

Representatives from Cornell Cooperative Extension have been helping local governments get certified, the first step of which is taking an inventory of municipal achievements that already match the ten goals stated in the 'pledge'.  Village of Lansing Mayor Donald Hartill said Monday that the Village probably has enough points to join at the bronze level -- it's now a matter of collecting the data and submitting it to the State.

So any municipality that even wants to be marginally engaged appoints a coordinator, whose job it is to interface with the State, and a Task Force Chair, whose job it is to... well... chair a task force that will examine the ten goals set forth in the CSC pledge and find ways they may be applied to their own community. Essentially it is an advisory board to the legislative body in their community.  So nothing is actually implemented unless the legislators vote to do so.

So far this is not a ceding of power by local governments.  It's a voluntary framework for achieving a climate friendly series of goals.  However, future benefits will be more concrete, and there is no mistaking that the future is closer than we think.  In may Governor Cuomo announced that all coal-fueled power plants in New York State would be shut down by the end of 2020.  As Lansingites are well aware, our own Cayuga Power Plant stopped producing electricity last month.  This morning I received a press release saying that there is going to be a five cents fee on paper bags at the grocery store once the plastic bag ban goes into effect next March 1.

So the first benefit is that local governments may find it easier to get ahead of the state mandates while climate-saving goals are still optional, so they don't have to scramble to comply when they become mandated.

The second benefit is that the CSC point system is likely to become a factor in which communities are awarded grants in the not too distant future.

Critics in the Village of Lansing continue to contrast joining the CSC program with actually achieving climate-friendly goals in a meaningful and concrete way.  Speaking of concrete, I read an article this morning about a secret startup company backed by Bill gates that uses solar energy to create steady high heat over 1000 degrees Celcius needed to manufacture essentials such as cement that is used to make concrete.  The EPA says the kinds of industries that make things like cement are responsible for over a fifth of emissions world-wide.  So you can say that this company is achieving concrete results that will benefit the environment.

Supporters of CSC say the program provides a framework for systematically doing just that, setting goals and making concrete progress on achieving them.  The issue of whether global warming and climate change is real is politically irrelevant in this case.  It's kind of like being religious or being an agnostic.  Religious people actively worship God and pray, one hopes, for the betterment of the world and mankind.  Agnostics don't really believe, but shoot off a prayer now and then, just in case.  And the political agnostics -- in the Village, at least --  don't argue with climate change -- they do object to a top-down approach where a patriarchal governor tells the little people what is best for their local communities, even though they live here and he doesn't.

By the way, the Village adopted the CSC pledge earlier this month, and are preparing to create a CSC task force.  Mayor Hartill, who has been very critical of CSC ('feel-good' is his way of describing it) has said he wants both (my paraphrase) believers and agnostics on the committee to give it a balanced and practical approach.

Signing on to CSC is a win-win for climate change believers and agnostics alike.  At worst it will do no harm.  At best it will be beneficial to the communities, and perhaps even to our planet.

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