A green future

I have driven through the countryside in many regions over the years, and have always been intrigued by the wonderful barns that farmers used to build. How was it, I would ask myself, that a single family unit had the resources and motivation to build such impressive buildings? Only later did I realize that this amazing effort by ordinary families was, in fact, an investment in the well-being of future generations of that family. They were taking what little they had and were building an asset for coming generations.

There is little of that kind of hope and trust and faith to be seen in our society today. Not only have we failed to provide for the future of our families and communities; we have actively consumed, polluted and despoiled the resources they will need to survive. We are now facing an environmental point of no return, with the opportunity to effectively respond diminishing more each month. Young people know this. Scientists know this. Even we Boomers know this, if we’ll admit it. I remember talking about climate change in the ’70s, but with the naive certainty that something would be done well in advance. Fast-forward 50 years. We’re still waiting for a significant response to a pending catastrophe. So yes, it’s time for action.

Can we initiate a massive response on a national or global level? No, but we can make changes on a local level. Our vulnerability to climate change must be met head on locally. That’s where we’ll feel the impact, and that’s where we can make a difference. I would therefore like to see the establishment of a formal, funded village committee, the CSC notwithstanding, with a mandate to identify specific climate threats and specific local solutions through which we can respond. This committee would address matters of clean water and air, food supplies, energy, local economy, housing, emergency planning, etc., and make recommendations to the trustees.

Also, very importantly, we must begin to build a sustainable economy — an economy that is based on local families, one which benefits local families and is directed by local families. I advocate paid village-sponsored internships for young people and the unemployed. The initial focus should be on weatherization of existing homes but should expand in short order. I propose a surtax on vacant store fronts, encouraging building owners to incubate new business opportunities. These new businesses can employ the subsidized interns during the first few years. This will also benefit local business, provide jobs and sales year round and provide much-needed work skills to young participants. And what about raises for village employees? I’m sure others may have many good ideas for consideration, too.

But here’s the problem: Our local government is functionally the same as it has been for the last 50-plus years. The faces may have changed a bit, but the operation, motivation and decision making are largely stratified and completely unable to address the coming crisis. There’s no leadership. There’s no one who will look ahead at the coming threat and consolidate a local response. Take the mayor, for example. What’s his response to climate change? Cut down more trees to build more of his upscale houses for non-residents? Perhaps he thinks more flowers on the street will be effective. Or maybe artwork in vacant storefront windows? How about a movie theater? Unfortunately, these are the old lipstick-on-a-pig approach. I like flowers and artwork, to be sure, but every dime we spend like this is a dime not available to prepare for the climate crisis. So where is real leadership?

And now we’re being asked to (re)elect a couple of good old boys to the trustees, both of whom are well beyond their “sell by” date. We don’t need these blasts from the past to wink and nod at the mayor’s shenanigans, and doze off during the meetings. Yes, I know we won’t be able to make significant changes next Wednesday, but we need to get started. Let’s elect the Green Party candidate to the board as a first step in righting village government.

Secondly, I’m calling upon a millennial to stand tall and run for mayor. I personally believe it’s time for a strong-minded young woman to take that seat. In any event, we desperately need someone young to step up. As a generation, we Boomers have failed to carry out our sacred obligation to provide for a safe and abundant future for our progeny. So, you older folks, thanks for your service, but it’s time to step aside. Let the younger people have their turn. After all, they are the ones who will have to face the coming threat that we have allowed to happen. Let’s get local, and let’s get busy, and perhaps we can make a difference.

Stephen McAuley lives in Saranac Lake.