“Climate change does not respect border; it does not respect who you are – rich and poor, small and big. Therefore, this is what we call ‘global challenges,’ which require global solidarity.”
A merry band of community members and activists joined forces, both foot-powered and electric, at the first annual Zero Emissions Parade in the Village of New Paltz this past Saturday afternoon. Walkers, electric bike, scooter and vehicle owners, SUNY New Paltz dancers, local political leaders, kids and the Tin Horn Uprising band all fused together to help encourage and educate fellow citizens to take whatever steps they could, small or large, toward the path of a fossil-fuelless future. The event was organized by New Paltz Climate Action Coalition and New Paltz Climate Smart.
“I’m here to watch the parade because I believe in the issues they’re addressing,” said Carol Roper, a former New Paltz town councilwoman and supervisor who was cheering on her fellow Zero Emission parading friends. “I know several people who are participating in this parade and I wanted to lend my support,” she said, as the marchers cheered “What do we want?” “Clean Water!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” and “Hey-ho, all this fracking has to go!”
Although the message is serious, the delivery was cheerful as the Tin Horn Uprising band jazzed up the streets with its brass-band rendition of “Down by the Riverside,” and the SUNY New Paltz Dance Team went into a flash-mob version of “The Electric Slide.” The parade moved its energy-efficient selves and vehicles down Main Street and gathered at the Village Peace Park, where there were speakers, green energy vendors, owners of electric vehicles (EVs) and companies that sell, lease and provide those vehicles as well as clean energy.
“I think for the first one, [the parade and green energy fair] exceeded expectations,” said resident Eric Perlman, also a member of the New Paltz Climate Coalition. “We had so many EV owners join us in their Chevy Volts, Teslas, smart electric cars…we have many of our public officials here helping to raise awareness that we need to get off fossil fuels. To do that, we need to create the infrastructure for renewable energy and make it affordable.”
To break it down for the layperson, Samrat Pathania, a teacher and volunteer organizer for the Climate Action Coalition, noted that one of the “easiest steps people can take who want to get away from fossil fuels is to call Green Mountain Energy and have their electric come from wind and solar energy,” as he gestured to the Green Mountain vendor. “Central Hudson is still the company that delivers your electricity, but you can make sure that your supply comes from 100 percent wind or solar by picking up the phone. It’s that easy, and the cost is only about $3 more a month. That’s one or two cups of coffee. I think most of us can try to do that.”
Dan Baumann of Green Mountain Energy explained how it works. “We have solar and wind farms throughout upstate New York,” he said. “When New York State deregulated the big electric companies, they basically said that people can purchase their energy from whatever vendor they want. We supply Central Hudson with our clean, renewable energy and they deliver it.” He likened the utility’s role to Fed Ex: “They deliver the goods to you, but they don’t make what they’re delivering!” He also pointed out that Green Mountain’s most renowned client is the Empire State Building, which has been “lit up” with clean energy since 2011, and that both the Village of New Paltz and the Mohonk Preserve receive their energy supply from Green Mountain.
Jen Metzger, director of Citizens for Local Power, who just days before had won the Democratic primary to run for State Senate, concurred with Pathania and Perlman. “We were able to successfully defeat the crude oil Pilgrim Pipeline from coming here, but projects like that are going to keep coming if we don’t get off our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Metzger. “We need strong US and New York action to address this crisis and to get off our dependence on fossil fuels by 2030. But all change starts at home, and we have to walk the walk and do everything in our power to reduce our own reliance on fossil fuels.” Metzger said that she is “proud owner of a Chevy Volt,” but noted that there is a “real equity issue here. Electric vehicles are not affordable for a lot of people. Our group tries to lead people to a great used EV market, but we need to find ways for all citizens to receive the benefits of renewable energy and be a part of this shift.”
She added that it’s “also about creating environmentally friendly infrastructure, and the state government needs to do a lot more to help shift our economy toward a clean-energy economy and to make it so that everyone can afford clean energy. The Republican Senate has killed every piece of positive climate-change action that has come before them. We are going to change that at the polls this year!”
Climate Action members noted that climate change is already being felt in New Paltz with the increase in temperature, extreme weather events, flooding and resulting sewage overflows.
Pathania noted that he and his fellow members of the New Paltz Climate Action Coalition (which meets every Wednesday at Village Hall at 5 p.m.) want to be a resource for anyone who wants to take steps to lessen his or her fossil fuel intake and to try to live a greener, cleaner life. “We want people to reach out to us and ask us where they can find an affordable electric car or how to make that transition. You can charge those cars at your house! Plug it in like you would any device, or right here,” he said, gesturing to the EV charging units outside Village Hall.
Ulster County executive Mike Hein took off his suit jacket to go “New Paltz casual” before he addressed the enthusiastic renewable-resources crowd. “Our county is the size of Rhode Island,” said Hein, “and yet we were able to Green our entire fleet. We were told that we couldn’t. That ‘they’ wouldn’t let us. Who is ‘they’?”
He went on to say that, after researching all of the properties that the county owned, he and his staff were able to use various parcels of county land to install charging stations for their vehicles, and that they have become the “only 100 percent net-carbon-neutral county in New York State. And we did it while reducing taxes. We don’t have to choose between being environmentally proactive and fiscally responsible. They work together!”
He added that we all have the power “to do what we can, where we can with what we have.” He said that, by next year, “we will have mass transit from New York City all the way to New Paltz and beyond,” via connectivity from Metro North to the Walkway Over the Hudson to the Hudson Valley and Wallkill Valley Rail Trails to the River-to-Ridge Trail and beyond.
To learn more about the Climate Coalition, a “group of engaged individuals dedicated to addressing the causes and consequences of climate change,” go to www.newpaltzclimateaction.org.