SCHENECTADY — Climate change is dominating public discourse.
In addition to the constant flow of new data and headlines, there are measurable steps ordinary people can take to play their part in building a more sustainable planet, experts said during a panel discussion on Wednesday.
Dr. Gina Gould said buying local is a chief way for consumers to assert themselves.
One pound of ground beef purchased at Sam’s Club, for instance, contains components from 20 different countries.
The energy costs required to transport the finished product to local dinner plates are considerable, she said.
Consumers should largely stay away from pre-packaged items. Simple measures like growing gardens and reusing packaging makes a big difference and sends a powerful message to businesses, she said.
“We have to stop purchasing these things,” said Gould, president of the Museum of Innovation and Science (miSCI) in Schenectady. “I think in three days, the loss of income for (corporations) is going to be a game-changer.”
Mark Richardson agreed.
“If people vote with their dollars and their feet, that’s a way to build momentum, but also to build a sustainable change to a different way of living on our planet,” said Richardson, founder and CEO of US Light and Energy, a solar developer.
Panelists delivered their comments at an Earth Day-focused forum at URBAN CO-WORKS in downtown Schenectady.
Richardson encouraged attendees to consider using community solar programming, which allows energy subscribers who aren’t tapped into solar networks — including apartment-dwellers — to benefit from solar energy.
Mark King, executive director of Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, said among the most important thing ordinary people can do to combat climate change is to take a walk in nature and appreciate the role of forests in removing carbon from the atmosphere.
“When we protect forests, we’re combating climate change,” he said.
But those consumer choices must be wedded to broader policy changes at the state and federal level, experts said.
Both the solar and nuclear industries will benefit from federal legislation relying on their usage to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
The infrastructure is there and waiting.
“Everything we do is tempered with what can we achieve economically based on the policy construct we have to work within,” Richardson said. “We’re not going forward fast enough.”
Dr. George Young, a material scientist at Kairos Power, said his company is making inroads in developing the next generation of nuclear power, which he said is safer and more efficient than carbon-fired power.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, not only criticized the previous Republican-led Congress for failing to hold hearings on climate change, but the Trump administration as well for pulling out of the Paris Accord and issuing an executive order to repeal the Clean Power Plan.
Tonko assumed the gavel as chairman of the House Committee on Climate Change and the Environment after Democrats won the House majority last November.
Any future legislation would likely emerge from that subcommittee, said Tonko, who pledged Democrats would take a more forceful approach in crafting sustainable solutions to address climate change.
“While I cannot speak for the entire federal government, at least in the House of Representatives, the days of denying sound science are over and the day for debating solutions has begun," Tonko said.
Any legislation should use his set of climate principles as a basic framework, Tonko said, which include achieving greenhouse gas neutrality by mid-century, bringing in local government as stakeholders and protecting low-income households.
Tonko said he aims to spend the next year building a political coalition of supporters and ultimately developing a bill for an "economy-wide” carbon pricing proposal, which would contain emissions reductions along with other investments in research, infrastructure and workforce development.
The lawmaker alluded to the Green New Deal, the sweeping climate change roadmap released by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-Bronx, earlier this year that has been criticized by Republicans as sweeping and impractical in nature.
“I’ve been very disappointed by some peoples' suggestions that Democrats want to outlaw hamburgers and air travel,” he said. “That’s nonsense. We want to solve the carbon crisis.
King urged people to get involved locally — including with their local planning boards, which can play a crucial role in the development of clean energy policies.
“That involvement, I think, is really the key for people to make that next step,” he said.
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy also updated attendees on the city’s Smart City initiative, which seeks to deploy technology to reform how the government delivers services.
Those improvements — including using LED street lights manned with cameras and sensors — can play a role in sound environmental policy by reducing energy usage and developing additional efficiencies, he said.