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Saranac Lake earns bronze-level Climate Smart Community status

Saranac Lake High School senior Cedar Young speaks at an event Thursday in Riverside Park, Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

SARANAC LAKE — Following two years of work and political action by the village’s Climate Smart Community Task Force and local high school students, this village received its bronze-level Climate Smart Community certification on Thursday.

Saranac Lake’s task force began work in May 2018 and has since met enough green goals to earn the village 125 CSD points, meeting the 120 needed for bronze.

CSC is a state Department of Environmental Conservation program that helps local governments take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate.

Local high schoolers have played a large part in reaching these goals after partnering with the Wild Center nature museum in Tupper Lake and attending its annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit.

Erin Griffin, Saranac Lake’s task force coordinator and the Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program manager, said she believes museums build bridges to get young people interested in climate activism.

Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau speaks at a Climate Week event in Riverside Park Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

“Of course, we’re not just going to stop at bronze,” Mayor Clyde Rabideau said at the press conference. “Next up is silver. What are we going to do about it?”

Rabideau said the village plans to generate more electricity at the Lake Flower dam, work with Clarkson University to install a directional turbine on top of Mount Pisgah and use methane gas gathered from its water pollution control plan to generate heat in the winter and electricity in the summer.

“And we’re going to make sure every darn lightbulb is LED or better,” Rabideau said.

Bronze certification will give Saranac Lake better scoring on grant applications for future green projects, such as the ones Rabideau mentioned, as well as easier access to trainings and other resources.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos speaks at an event in Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park on Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Young leaders

Younger generations see big problems in the world they inherit.

“In my opinion it is already too late to undo all the evils that we have done to this land,” Adirondack Diversity Initiative Director Nicole Hylton-Patterson said. “But we can do more right now to make sure we’re not forfeiting on what we owe to the young people.”

“It’s OK to be scared, because it’s a scary topic,” Cedar Young, a Saranac Lake High School senior, says in a video highlighting young climate activists. “But it’s good to turn that fear into motivation.”

Young is a member of the Saranac Lake Climate Smart Community Task Force with fellow student Tucker Jakobe. The two have been involved in green actions and studies, working with government officials.

Their largest project yet has been a study taking inventory of all the greenhouse gases emitted in the village, which totaled 1,065 metric tons in 2018.

“They take us seriously,” Young said in the video.

“In my almost two years with the group, I’ve begun to learn the inner workings of local government, including the processes and partnerships necessary, even just for changing the streetlights,” Young said.

She said her dream is to work on environmental policy on a national level.

They also run an Instagram account for the task force to educate their peers on the environment, show off the work they do and give green living tips.

Young from Saranac Lake High School and Andrew Fagerheim from Homer High School accepted their village’s certificates from DEC officials. The village of Homer in Cortland County also received certification, and Fagerheim was there to accept it.

Statewide certifications

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos was in town to announce the certification during the state’s Climate Week. He said 251 New York communities have taken the pledge to become climate smart and carbon neutral.

The next step is to become certified. He said there are 49 certified municipalities currently, some representing the state’s largest communities. He said 8.7 million New Yorkers live in certified communities, 45% of the state’s population.

Seggos said the debate over whether climate change is real is over. Barring “talk out of Washington (D.C.) about it being a hoax,” he said the majority of people realize it is a problem that needs addressing.

“We are, I think, at a very minimum at a crossroads on climate change,” Seggos said. “We may have already passed that inflection point. … We have changed the planet in our lifetime. … There is damage going on now and we’re going to be forced to adapt to a new normal on climate.”

Seggos said this issue needs federal leadership, and in an absence of that, the state has to step up.

Climate justice

Seggos said the fallout of environmental issues often impact minority, poor and disenfranchised communities the most.

He said last year the state approved the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which states that 35% to 40% of all benefits from investments the state takes in climate change actions will go back to those communities.

Hylton-Patterson said she thought of her Rastafarian roots, taught to her by her father in her childhood home in Jamaica, which prioritize a healthy relationship to the Earth.

“We are stewards, not masters of all we see,” Hylton-Patterson said. “And there is a critical difference.”

She pointed out that everyone was standing on land originally and rightfully owned by Indigenous peoples, and that everyone now shares stewardship with these people.

She said that racial and environmental justice are “inextricably linked.”

She said she is working with the Wild Center to bring 55 students from Bronx schools up to the Adirondacks to “immerse themselves in the land.”

She said the climate justice movement is mostly comprised of white people, and that she hopes to inspire a generation of young Black, brown and immigrant families to become more active in it.

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