For two decades, Sustainable Hudson Valley (SHV) has nibbled away at our collective denial and focused on concrete action against climate change—and while no one group or region can possibly take on a problem of that magnitude single-handedly, their numerous projects have helped make the Hudson Valley a leader in eco-friendly practices. And the good word is spreading.
“The climate crisis and recognition of the climate crisis has been a source of a whole lot of creativity and collaboration, working with a whole lot of organizations and with state organizations, which are wonderful and could be even more so,” says Sustainable Hudson Valley’s executive director Melissa Everett.
But they’re not wasting energy being upset by how much more wonderful things or people could or should be. “We are building a particular kind of social movement—a creative groundswell that focuses on the power of direct, positive action. While there is always a need for better policies and a fairer playing field, we believe that action to implement climate solutions directly builds political will for better policies, while achieving concrete progress,” reads the “Our Approach” declaration on their website.
That progress is reflected in an array of initiatives organized into three prongs: Marketplace Empowerment, Climate Solutions Lab, and Resilient Region. There are programs focused on electric vehicles, refrigerant management, green business, water innovation, and other initiatives, with clear, actionable guides to taking action on each issue.
“We actually took a crazy leap of faith and pitched a regional action plan, and it’s under way,” Everett says. “This region is the right scale for thinking about systemic changes; the towns and villages make great nodes for creating leadership models. There’s a strong sense of place, and networked organizations can work for the region as a whole—groups like Scenic Hudson and Clearwater. And we hatched a list of potential collaborators we hadn’t been talking to yet and asked them to please contact us and put their concerns forward.”
Everett says progress is being made in five vital areas. “On energy, we need to keep shifting to renewables. Regenerative agriculture; this region has some brilliant innovators moving that forward. We’re working on materials management—things like trucking of waste and methane emissions from landfills. We’re looking at water innovation and how to manage it better—many people don’t realize that bodies of water emit greenhouse gasses. And transportation is another huge issue.”
To try to improve on that last point, SHV is at the table with state leadership, advocating for climate protection. “The state is doing a transit plan connected with implementing the Climate Protection Act,” says Everett. “Department of Transportation policies come from the feds, so we all need to vote, but there are a handful of important things we can do and are gearing up to do. There’s transportation demand management—encouraging people to rideshare, telecommute, walk, bike; tactics for creating incentives and peer support. That needs to happen on the workplace and community level.”
Another piece of the transportation puzzle is the shift to electronic vehicles (EV), and SHV’s “Drive Electric Hudson Valley” program offers a list of resources and a PlugShare guide to help drivers stay charged. “Shifting to EV is another community process,” Everett says. “The prices are coming down; there are residual concerns about range, and there are now all kinds of different materials being used in batteries.”
It’s a work in constant progress, and one that requires a balance of global, regional, and micro-local thinking. “We strive to nurture a sense of place in local development, encouraging desirable choices like mixed-use neighborhoods. We are educating communities on ways to site renewable generation on already disturbed land rather than building on farms and forests, rather than enacting a moratorium.”
For many involved, saving the planet is a passion project. “We have groups of volunteers working on things—there’s no money for deep-dive planning,” Everett says. “But people are participating with great enthusiasm, and we’re uncovering all sorts of opportunities for action.”
Take materials management. “It never used to be considered that refrigerants are potent sources of emissions,” says Everett. “The materials management system we have is broken, so the state is trying to fix it. They’ve got experts coming up with more advanced plans.
There’s a lot involved; with building materials, for example, you have to consider efficient performance, but also about the energy involved in creating and moving insulation, roofing, and so forth. “
All this focused intelligence and planning can work if we work it, Everett says, and there are reasons to hope if we keep pushing for change. “Paul Hawkens, the author of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, has said we’re nearing an inflection point where there is as much money to be made in solutions as there is in perpetuating the problem. The Bard College Center for Environmental Policy has been running a national speakers’ tour and a monthly webinar series—Dr. Eban Goodstein, the director, has organized Solve Climate by 2030—he’s focused on the sharp decreases in prices of solar and energy storage. He makes a powerful business argument that investing in fossil fuel right now is a bad business decision.” (The webinar series is available to all on the Bard CEP website.)
Locally, Everett points to the February 2019 victory in which GlidePath Power Solutions agreed to eliminate fossil fuels and smokestacks for its plan for a power plant in the Town of Ulster. “They went away and came back with a plan for solar,” she says. “We had a coalition asking the right questions, and the state had an Energy Storage Roadmap in place.
“A lot of good things are being done. Pushing for change over a long period of time makes people resilient; we’ve matured. We have strategies. Around 60 percent of Americans are concerned or alarmed about climate change; we need to recognize that we are the mainstream, and start acting like it.”