EDITORIAL: Don’t sugarcoat climate change

HARD TO FOCUS these days on anything except news cycle treadmill of primaries, bombings, mosquitoes and a baby kangaroo curled up in an Australian cop’s t-shirt. Meantime, plenty of newsworthy things are happening locally, if you can hear them above the din. It’s a challenge, though, when the news is what didn’t happen.

Take the meeting of the New Lebanon Town Board last week, where four members of the board including Supervisor Colleen Teal deadlocked 2-to-2 over a proposed resolution entitled Greener Cleaner Community. The tie vote killed the measure.

The resolution, prepared by the supervisor, listed seven steps the town could take to “preserve and protect for future generations the town’s natural resources.” Among the most radical steps were: “Encourage and enhance opportunities for our residents and businesses to employ greener and cleaner alternatives for energy resources” and “commit to an evolving process of greener and cleaner activities.”

Asked later in the meeting why he opposed the resolution, one of the two councilmen voting No said he did not believe the town had a right to dictate what private homeowners could do on their own property. His rationale was endorsed by the other board member who opposed the resolution.

That’s an odd position for an elected member of a town board to take for two reasons. The first is specific to the defeated resolution, which contains nothing that would give the board any greater powers than it already has and nothing that limits the rights of property owners. In other words, like so many politicians, they offered an answer that didn’t respond to the question. But some background on the measure could explain why the two opponents perceived the resolution as a threat.

Last month local citizens proposed to the New Lebanon Town Board that the town join the Climate Smart Communities program sponsored by six state agencies. Other municipalities in the county and around the state have already joined this initiative, which state Department of Environmental Conservation website says is “free and voluntary; there are no fees or legal requirements.” But those assurances didn’t convince some in the audience last month, and after a boisterous discussion, resolutions on joining the Climate Smart Communities program were tabled.

After that meeting a month ago Ms. Teal drafted a new proposal, using general ideas and goals found in the Climate Smart Communities program but without a single mention of that program or of climate change, which the program is designed to help combat. She did, however, adopt the phrase “Cleaner Greener Community,” which uses the same words that describe a Climate Smart Communities companion program that finds grants for “locally designed sustainability plans and projects… on land use, housing, transportation, infrastructure, energy and environmental practices.”

Supervisor Teal was seeking compromise, which is not an option when dealing with people who reject the scientific evidence of climate change and have no interest in behaving rationally in the face of a crisis that confronts the entire human race.

Now we come to reason two. Is it fair to question the rationality of the resolution’s opponents? In this case the only way to know is to examine the logic of the position the councilmen embraced when asked about their vote. What do they mean when they say the town should not tell people what they can do on their property? Land use laws limit property rights. Do they want to eliminate zoning? Did they run for office to deprive the community of the tools to guide development? What about building codes? Should fire traps and safety violations be a matter of personal preference?

There’s room for debate over what communities can be expected to accomplish in slowing the rate of climate change. But when a program promises funds for local action, you’d think that reasonable board members would pursue some of that money for their own community. Sure, no single program will halt climate change, but we have to start somewhere.

The failure of Supervisor Teal’s well-intentioned attempt at compromise should serve notice on all local municipal governments that have dragged their feet on joining the Climate Smart Communities program. You cannot appease the  small minority of willful disbelievers by censoring the discussion of climate change.

Keep in mind that the worry climate change deniers express about big government abusing property rights is well-founded. If disbelievers prevent us from creating local ways to make our communities cleaner and greener, state and federal authorities will be forced to make us to do it.

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