Groups host sustainability screenings and talks countywide

Last Thursday, the film “In Transition 1.0” was shown at SUNY New Paltz. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

On Groundhog Day this past Thursday, five Ulster County activist groups were not looking for their shadows; they were looking at how to be prepared to respond to economic upheaval, energy instability and climate change, with the focus on strengthening local resources.

Transition groups active in New Paltz, Woodstock, Marbletown, Saugerties and Kingston simultaneously launched thought-provoking films including In Transition 1.0 in their respective towns on Feb. 2, and then facilitated discussions centering on environmental sustainability, local agriculture and local transportation and energy independence.

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At the Coykendall Science Building on the SUNY-New Paltz campus, there were more than 120 community members who showed up to watch the film and then break out into smaller discussions groups on how to take action. “This is what inspired me to run for office,” said Ariana Basco, a village trustee who helped facilitate the post-film discussions.

“It’s very exciting,” said Ann Burdett, who like Basco has been part of the New Paltz initiating group. “All of these issues are close to my heart: sustainable agriculture, alternative energy, strengthening community resources; and I’ve been involved in many protests. This is the exact opposite. Instead of protesting and glooming-and-dooming, this is about ‘Let’s do something!’”

“We want to educate, raise awareness and establish a community infrastructure that we can turn to in the face of climate change, peak oil and continued global financial instability,” said Brad Berg, who encouraged the crowd in New Paltz to come to the next meeting on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at Village Hall.

In Woodstock, a similar conversation and awareness-building, take-action event was happening at the Colony Arts Café, where the film Fix the Future was shown, followed by a discussion on how to catalyze community action. According to Pamela Boyce Simms of the Woodstock Transition group, the goal of the simultaneous film-showing and discussion was “to raise public awareness about upcoming accelerated climate change and the paradigm shift away from fossil fuel dependency to local, resilient sustainability.” She noted that at least one member of each Ulster County transition team had taken the Transition Training process at the same time, and they continue to “communicate and support each others’ town-specific initiatives…we also share information on larger New York State issues such as fracking,” she said.

This groundswell of action in Ulster County is part of a worldwide transition initiative movement, many of whose members are registered on the Transition Network website www.transitionnetwork.org, where communities have started up projects in the areas of “food, transport, energy, education, housing, waste, arts, et cetera as small-scale local responses to the global challenges of climate change, economic hardship and shrinking supplies of cheap energy. Together, these small-scale responses make up something much bigger, and help show the way forward for governments, business and the rest of us,” states the Transition Network, whose co-founder is Rob Hopkins, the author of the Transition Handbook.

In New Paltz, the conversation moved to key points of action, where those in attendance raised the need to “improve the use of the Loop Bus on campus and in the entire community so that we can have enough ridership to have it run on the weekends as well,” said one SUNY-New Paltz student. Another point raised in terms of moving away from fossil fuel dependence was to “improve carpooling,” said one attendee, who pointed out that there is a “ride-share” on Craig’s List and that she’d like to see a “New Paltz ride-share site so that we could carpool more and do it with people that we may know or who are safe and live close to us.”

There were discussions on how to create a “New Paltz dollar” that could be used to purchase local products from locally owned stores, or to use as currency to purchase locally grown food, fertilizer, compost and labor.

An idea that met with great support was to have “local strains of fruit-bearing trees, nut trees, berry bushes and edible plants in public and municipal spaces, so that someone walking past could pick a piece of fruit.”

A representative from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) was there to offer her support and let people know that NYSERDA has various low-income programs that offer free fluorescent light bulbs and other energy-saving items through the Home Energy Assistance Program, as well as all kinds of financial incentive programs for homeowners to utilize renewable energy like solar, geothermal and wind. The agency also provides free energy audits of homes.

Simms said that in terms of taking action, there are many things that people can do, the first of which is to join a local Transition community group or start one. Beyond that, she said that simple steps could include “not wasting food; go vegetarian; don’t litter; use no Styrofoam; less paper; less plastic; turn off the lights; recycle; plant your own vegetable garden; use water filters rather than bottled water; bring your own shopping bags to shopping outlets; pull the plug off electrical devices from the wall when they’re not in use; carpool; compost; use energy-efficient lighting; plant trees … shut down your computer at night.”

For those who are interested in learning more about local transition movements or global transition movements, they can e-mail nptransition@gmail.com, woodstocknytransition@gmail.com, sustainablesaugerties@gmail.com or www.transitionkingston.blogspot.com, and for a more global perspective go to www.transitionnetwork.org. ++