EDITORIAL: Are we green yet?

MIRROR, MIRROR ON the wall, who’s the greenest of them all? And Mirror, be careful how you answer this question, because you’re made of glass and, well, you could be… recycled. Ah, but it’s a fairytale to think that any one person or group can do anything about a warming climate or the ways we poison the world around us, right?

Then again, what if helplessness is not a workable strategy? What if small steps and daily activities did matter? Is that a fairytale too?

Ed Simonsen and his colleagues on the volunteer Columbia County Environmental Management Council (EMC) think small things matter. Mr. Simonsen, chair of the EMC, spoke this week about what matters at a ceremony in Hudson. He conceded that our society is experiencing “a period of turmoil,” but despite that turmoil some people in this county are doing “everyday kind of work” that improves the environment.

The occasion was the presentation of the EMC’s annual Good Earthkeeping Awards. It would be coy to go any further without acknowledging that The Columbia Paper was one of the six recipients of the award this year. Mr. Simonsen made it clear that the plaque and the words of encouragement and praise that lead up to its presentation are meant as “recognition not a competition.” That was lucky for us, because other local businesses probably do more to reduce their impact on the environment. If judged on impact alone, we might not have made the cut.

The other business that received a Good Earthkeeping award this year, Sundog Solar in Chatham, operates with a business model that reduces the amount of fossil fuel the company uses–heating its headquarters with used vegetable oil is just one example–and it helps customers trim their carbon footprints big time. Likewise, the two local groups that received the award, the Camphill Ghent assisted living project and the Columbia County Habitat for Humanity Restore, have embedded environmentally sound practices in their daily operations. The Restore is a recycled materials retailer. Imagine that.

Cynthia Creech, one of two individuals recognized by the EMC, operates Artemis Farm in New Lebanon and also conducts her business in a sustainable manner. And as for Jamie Purinton, a member of the EMC, she has played a role in scores of proposals, studies, plans and sustainable projects around the county.

The EMC said it selected The Columbia Paper because of our environmental coverage, singling out the reporting done by Associate Editor Diane Valden on the case of serial polluter Sal Cascino in Copake, and some of the paper’s editorials too.

It’s fair to say that none of the recipients is a celebrity. National news outlets don’t seek us out for comment. Speaking only for the newspaper, it doesn’t seem like our work will make us billionaires, either. So what’s this award, a consolation prize of some kind?

We see it quite differently. It’s a reminder that the small stuff matters. It matters not because of who the recipients are or any single great thing we have accomplished. The damn award sits there whispering daily that there’s no escaping the obligation to put effort into the hardest task of all: changing the way we, as individuals and groups, behave. If have to retrain ourselves. No law or regulation or inspirational leader will be able to do it for us.

Retrain for what–a future with reusable shopping bags? Sure. Did you leave yours in the car again? Better yet, if you live in Germantown, call a friend and arrange for both of you to attend the next Town Board meeting. Ask the board members why the town hasn’t joined the state’s cost-free Climate Smart Communities program. Be informed. Look it up at www.dec.ny.gov/energy/50845.html

You don’t have to live in Germantown. If you live in Austerlitz, Canaan, Claverack, Clermont, Gallatin, Greenport, Hudson, Livingston, New Lebanon, Stockport, Stuyvesant or Taghkanic, go to your town board and ask your town or city government to join this effort.

The oddest things can happen when voters visit their elected representatives. If enough people do it for the same reason your elected representatives might do what you ask of them. Try it; you’ll like it.

There isn’t much time to adapt. But if enough of us adjust in effective ways we might limit the impact of climate change and a degraded environment and in the process we might improve the chances for our species to survive.

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