Winter Expo shares climate-smart tips for coping with seasonal stresses

New Paltz Climate Action Coalition member Jess Mullen coaches Stacey Lipari on how to make teas from herbs and flowers in the garden. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

The adage “less is more” could not be truer than in today’s culture of overconsumption. Gone is the “waste not, want not” proverb that guided a generation through the Great Depression and World Wars I and II. Now we have plenty of waste, plenty of want; and the trick is: how to cut down on both in a way that helps both to stop the tides of climate change and to preserve our pocket change. To that end, the local Interfaith Earth Action and New Paltz Climate Action Coalition (NPCAC) synthesized their energy and green-mindedness to throw a Winter Expo “to help prepare the mind, body and home for the cold weather.”

St. Joseph’s Church basement was buzzing with community members excited to learn and impart knowledge on how to make their homes more energy-efficient and winterized, as well as practical and professional guides on how to recycle, compost, reduce food waste and junk mail as well as one’s carbon footprint. All of this came with local apple cider, homemade treats, acoustic guitar and activities for adults and children, including turning old tee-shirts into reusable bags.

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“It’s a fun and fashionable look,” said Holly Shader, modeling one of her old tee-shirts that she had sewn into a bag with just a few stitches, knots and some creative scissor action. “With Ulster County’s ban on single-use plastic bags coming into effect [in July 2019], people are going to have to use reusable bags. So why not start with what you have in your house?” Shader, a middle school teacher as well as a longtime member of the Climate Action Coalition, was joined by Ami and Aki Densmore, aged 10 and 13, who were busy turning their tee-shirts into artsy bags as well. She said that she had agreed to attend “one meeting” of the NPCAC at the urging of veteran environmental activists Ann and Dan Guenther, and is now going on her ninth year of involvement with the group. “It’s such a dynamic group, and we were able to put together a group-buy of energy through a local, award-winning solar company [Lighthouse Solar] that helped us cut costs while reducing fossil fuels. I love this group because they promote sustainable practices and really reach out to people to make these practices accessible.”

Energy resource educator Sean Walsh of the Cornell Cooperative Extension was on hand to talk with people about how he or his colleagues can partner with any resident of Ulster County and beyond to help navigate the many free and low-cost programs that are available through the New York State Energy Resource Development Agency (NYSERDA). Through a grant, NYSERDA has brought the Cornell Cooperative Extension on board to educate the public on how New Yorkers can make the most out of the multitude of programs offered.

“We’re here to talk to folks and help them navigate the plethora of programs NYSERDA has, including basic home energy audits, or what type of light bulbs are more efficient or where someone can purchase solar panels from. Do they put them on their home or subscribe to a solar-panel farm? We’re here to answer those questions and walk people through the various programs, because you’re already paying for them [through taxes on utility bills], so why not use them?” said Walsh. He cited EmPower New York, which offers no-cost energy-efficiency services including insulation, air-sealing and replacement of inefficient refrigerators for low-income owners and renters, as well as other energy-incentive programs for middle-income residents including rebates on the purchase or lease of electric cars.

Whatever you do, Walsh urged, “Get the energy audit done! Then you know where your leaks are, where the drafts are, and you’ll have a report on things you can do to improve the energy-efficiency in your home. You can decide to do one thing on the list or everything, and we’re here to help you.” To get in touch with Walsh or his colleagues, who serve an area that spans over seven counties in New York, call (845) 292-4946 or go directly to NYSERDA at www.nyserda.ny.gov.

Members of both Interfaith Earth Action and NPCAC not only recruited vendors to help community members orient themselves toward efficient, healthy, green winter lifestyles, but also came up with lists themselves. One of these was a “Top 10 Winter Energy-Saving Tips” list for homes, which, as Walsh echoed, included “Do an energy audit and implementation plan” as Number One. Installing attic insulation, sealing exterior air leaks with caulk, putty and spray foam, having boilers and furnaces cleaned and serviced as well as something simple like hanging drapes over windows and wearing an extra sweater to keep fuel costs down were some of the top tips on this particular list.

In terms of keeping the body healthy during the winter months, there were Mason jars filled and labeled with dried herbs and recipes for making homemade tea to help prevent and/or cure wintertime illnesses. Some of the recipes for herb and alternative care enthusiasts included an elderflower, peppermint and yarrow blend for “cold care.” To ward off illness and boost the immune system, there was a suggested herbal tea blend of rosehips, echinacea, calendula and elderflower. For the winter blues, tea-lovers can try their hand with an herbal pick-me-up that blends St. John’s wort, lemon balm, peppermint and oat straw. (There was, of course, a cautionary note that went along with the recipes urging anyone who is pregnant, on medication or suffering from any serious health condition to contact their physician before ingesting herbs.)

Seth McKee of the New Paltz Jewish Congregation was busy chatting with fellow Interfaith member Jim O’Dowd of the Reformed Church when the New Paltz Times stopped by to ask him what he believed was the connection between faith and a healthy environment. “Faiths around the world care about the Earth and community and the sanctity of life,” mused McKee, who also is a longtime employee of Scenic Hudson, a regional not-for-profit land use and preservation organization that boasts dozens of public parks and preservation campaigns in and around the Hudson River Valley. “We’re working to try and create the connective tissue between different faiths that all believe in practical solutions to creating a healthy, sustainable society.” He went on to say that, in his estimation, climate change has been “politicized” when really it is a “nonpartisan issue. That’s why we’re all here: because we care about each other, we care about our community, and the health of those things requires a healthy environment.”

One of the easiest ways that people can lessen their impact on the environment is to reduce food waste. There were pyramid posters set up that detailed the steps that one can take, including composting (indoors and outdoors), reusing leftover food for the next day’s meal, diverting scraps to feed animals, using excess grocery and farm shares to feed those who are in need and providing waste oils for fuel conversion.

None of the lists or booths or pamphlets can help to educate as much as the laughter in the room, the sense of camaraderie and the friendliness displayed at every turn. “What I love about this is seeing such a whole mix of people and ages, all engaged in thinking about this challenge” of climate change, said Ann Guenther, matriarch of the NPCAC. “This challenge is not about one group; it’s about all of us, and coming up with new ideas and different approaches to solving this dilemma. I love being with people that aren’t just interested in themselves, but about the world. It gives me hope. It’s why I love to live here!”

To learn more about the NPCAC, go to www.newpaltzclimateaction.org, which will also provide links and information to many of the Winter Expo booths and areas of sustainability and energy-efficiency issues, programs and how-tos.

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