The New Paltz Climate Action Coalition (NPCAC), which meets weekly at Village Hall, has been around for quite a few years now, and its most active volunteers — among them Dan and Ann Guenther and Miriam Strouse — have been around even longer. But like many not-for-profits founded by idealistic veterans of the counterculture of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the group was in need of some new blood to carry its mission forward into the 21st century. Fortunately, according to Suzanne Flaum, “The next generation is rip-roaring ready to go!”
Just a couple of weeks ago, Flaum was hired by NPCAC to serve as its first-ever paid coordinator. “The CAC has been in existence about seven years. It has always been a volunteer organization with a solid group of core members, and climate action has always been its goal, since Day One,” Flaum explains. “For the last two years it has been a 501 (c) (3), which opens up some opportunities.”
Among those new opportunities was becoming eligible to apply for grant funding, which enabled the organization to start thinking about becoming somewhat more professional. “Since the 2016 election season, they’ve been trying to refocus a little…They expanded their mission,” Flaum says. “They decided it was time to pay somebody to set up operational systems, to run meetings, to reengage with the college and the larger community.”
As a recent NPCAC volunteer, Flaum was in the right place at the right time to take the ball and run with it. An Orange County native, she had earned a BA in political science at SUNY Plattsburgh in 2012 and gone on to work for several years for a company that worked closely with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), incentivizing low-rise residential construction. “That was my introduction to the world of high-performance homes,” she says. “It got me going on the energy-efficiency train.”
Moving to Clintondale, Flaum was introduced by a former college friend to the work of NPCAC. She began attending meetings regularly and becoming an active participant. Dan Guenther liked her ideas and her energy, she says, and together they worked up a job description for a part-time coordinator position.
Much of the work will consist of making sure that the group’s weekly meetings are more productive, she says, by chairing, creating agendas, taking minutes, “creating a bunch of subcommittees and creating accountability within the group.” She will also be expanding NPCAC’s e-mail contact lists, making the organization more active on social media, building connections with other community organizations, planning events and “creating systems that can be handed off” when she moves on from the new position, which is expected to be temporary. Flaum has applied to the Masters program in environmental policy at Bard College, where she hopes to enroll for the fall 2017 semester; she hopes that a SUNY intern will be able to continue her work with CAC thereafter.
Flaum sees reaching out to educate climate change skeptics as an important part of the group’s educational mandate, especially under the new presidential administration. “Climate action isn’t partisan; climate action is factual,” she says. “We need to build a strategy to educate the public on climate change science, to help the public adapt with lifestyle changes, behavioral changes, to show them they don’t have to give up everything at once.”
Part of that strategy is determining “how do you make this appeal to people’s wallets,” according to Flaum, which means showing them that sustainability is not a zero-sum game. “There are jobs being created in the energy efficiency sector; it’s blowing up. The ending of coal doesn’t mean the ending of jobs. There will be clean, green, blue-collar energy jobs coming out of this. America has to stay on par with other countries; we don’t really have a choice.”
A peek at NPCAC’s website or Facebook page, or at its calendar on the Village of New Paltz website, quickly reveals how the organization is involved in a seemingly endless series of events. Right now, Flaum’s top priority is seeking sponsors to underwrite the costs of sending three busloads of SUNY New Paltz students to Washington, DC to attend the People’s Climate March on April 29. Participating in a massive demonstration like that, she says, “makes you realize that you’re not a fringe group; you’re part of something larger.” NPCAC is asking for donations to reduce the price of a round-trip for students from about $70 to a more affordable $20 or $30.
Pipeline issues are very much on the front burner at present as well. A group of students is working with the SUNY New Paltz administration to divest college funds from companies invested in pipelines. CAC is also partnering with a variety of other groups, such as Citizen Action, to organize town hall meetings and hold legislators accountable for their positions on issues affecting energy and climate.
To make a tax-deductible contribution to NPCAC’s work, mail a check to New Paltz Climate Action, P.O. Box 114, New Paltz, NY 12561. To find out more about how you can get involved, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.newpaltzclimateaction.org. Or just show up at one of the group’s meetings, which take place at New Paltz Village Hall from 5 to 6:30 p.m. each Thursday. “The meetings are super-cozy,” says Suzanne Flaum enthusiastically. “And we have food!”